I Taught My First Lesson! (And Some Random Stories)

I’m really not in the writing mood so this will be a short post, but I just felt like I had to write about this milestone: I taught my first lesson! Although my schedule will probably change and the English Department hasn’t communicated very clearly their expectations of me, I managed to get through my first 90 minute period with a group of fourth year students, and I think they really liked it.

A few days ago, I was given the textbook for the class, but was given little instruction on how to use it, just that they were on unit one, which was about the American higher education system. Ironically, the book is rife with Britishisms and I found myself getting a crash course in vocabulary (anyone ever heard of an invigilator [exam proctor] or to swot up [study]? I tried to plan as simple a lesson as I could, but the set up of the classroom makes it difficult to conduct class as I would like. I prefer setting up chairs in a circle to encourage discussion (shout out to Dr. Graeme Bird!), but the desks in my classroom are heavy and immovable. Because of this, group work was a bit awkward, and the students were pretty quiet anyway, but I am determined to find a way to encourage interaction, despite the awkward set up.

I quickly found that I wasn’t as bad of an improviser as I thought, because it soon became clear that I had prepared for something they had already gone over. Trying to think on my feet, I told about my experience in the American system of higher education, taught them words like “to plagiarize,” “to procrastinate,” “G.P.A.,” “summa cum laude,” and “syllabus.” I wasn’t surprised that they had never heard of the word syllabus, because compared to an American university, class schedules seem very tentative and disorganized. Although students are a month into the school year, their schedules are just starting to get finalized, and I have the feeling that my schedule is going to change pretty frequently as well. Although this is my sixth time in Russia, I am definitely not exempt from culture shock, and as an American who is especially attuned to schedules and deadlines and clearly set-expectations, it has been a challenge for me to adapt to the lack of clear parameters for what I am doing.

All in all, I think my lesson went over well, and I think I made a good impression on the students. By the end of the class they were not as shy, and many came up to talk with me after I had finished. Tomorrow I will have three hours with the same group, but I will be teaching both a conversational English class and a newspaper/current events class (discussion about the government shutdown, perhaps).

To close this hastily written blog post, I’ll share two random stories that don’t deserve their own post, but I would still like to write about.

1. Linguistic Victory! I was able to help a group of Chinese people who didn’t speak Russian very well find a restaurant they were looking for. They mistook me for a Russian and asked me in broken Russian for help. I switched over to English, which they understood, told them I would ask someone, then translated a nearby Russian’s directions into English for them. It definitely felt great to realize that my language skills have gotten to a point where I can help people who don’t speak Russian find their way.

2. Apparently Russian men find glasses attractive. I was standing at a bus stop when a car pulled up to the curb, a man of about 30 got out of the car and if I heard right, he said “ei umnaya!” (Hey smarty), and motioned as if he were offering a ride. I didn’t think he was talking to me, so I didn’t make eye contact, but when he drove off I looked behind me to see only a white-haired babushka waiting for the bus. (Note: there is definitely the possibility that I misheard him, but either way, it is not the only time this week that I have seen random people try to make extra money by pulling up to bus stops and offering rides-I saw it again today).

Well, that’s it for today, but be on the lookout for a post on culture shock, which I did not expect but has definitely hit me full force. Until then, disjointedly yours,

Hope