Monday, November 10, 2008

9 November 2008
Dearest everyone,
Teaching Practicum is over! Hurray! Well, I guess in hindsight, it actually wasn’t too terrible. This year, Peace Corps decided to start our training in the fall. The main reason for this push is so TEFL could hold their practicum when school was actually in session. Sounds like a great idea in theory. Instead of PCT’s teaching a small class of hand-selected pupils who chose to come to extra English lessons in the summer, PCT’s had to teach real classes and use the books that we will have to use at site. The idea is for the TEFL to be better prepared when we actually get to site.
As I said, in theory this sounds like a great idea. Except the closer we got to our two week teaching practicum, I wasn’t so sure if I was keen on this idea. We have our language classes at a local school, and every day, I am assaulted with “Hellos!” and the like. I wasn’t sure how serious the students would take us. We observed classes for two days, and the reality of teaching these children was even more frightening.
The education system leaves much to be desired. In the classes that I observed, only the brightest are rewarded. And when I say brightest, I mean the children who seem to respond best to lecture based learning and seem self-motivated enough learn a bit on their own. It is really quite sad. In English class, if a student waits for two seconds after their teacher speaks English, she/he will be rewarded with the teacher immediately translating the sentence into Azerbaijani. It is really sad. Poor kids. Then again, many of the teachers have never spoken to a native English speaker. When trying to find out what lessons we needed to teach, many teachers had to turn to our language instructor to translate our requests.
The first day of teaching was HORRIBLE. I taught 8th form. I will not say that this was the students’ fault. Overall, they were a very well behaved class. It was a comedy of errors if you will. First, my lesson was to cover Armenian Terror! We’re not supposed to touch that issue with a ten-foot pole. So, I made visual aids and taught the kids such words like “massacre,” “gun,” and “peace.” Then I ran out of material. I also completely over-estimated their ability to understand English. All I wanted to do was go home and cry. It was so over-whelming.
But before you judge harshly, please remember that this was my first day of teaching EVER! Everyone in my cluster told me that I will look back and laugh. It’s true I can laugh now at it. Having a room full of kids yell “gun” at you is a funny memory to have. Needless to say, practicum became much, much better.
My favourite classes were my 8c and 5c classes. 8c only had 6 students in it. Because of a miscommunication between the teacher and I (she was more than willing to let me teach her class and not do anything), I thought I was supposed to teach Armeanian Terror again. However, I was not teaching that lesson again. So I taught them weather. I really think they got it! It was super exciting. Then 5c just has the cutest kid in that class. One of the little boys in that class is super tiny with big eyes and bigger ears. We call him the “Yemek olar?” kid. It translates into, “May I eat you?” Fifth form just is so excited by everything you do. They respond really well to all the games.
At the end of the first week of practicum, Josh, Marina, and I went to Sara’s house for a Halloween party. We kept telling our families that it was an American holiday, so they kept wishing us happy holidays. It was a bit amusing, for I am sure some of the parents are wondering why Americans have holidays based on witches and skeletons. It was fitting that Halloween was at Sara’s house because her host mom is basically the wicked witch of the west.
I know that sounds harsh, but she doesn’t really cook, she doesn’t talk to Sara (or any of us), and she is just plain mean. Luckily, the story has a happy ending. Sara moved into a new host family on Thursday. Her new host family are the sweetest people. Her host mom laughs more than my host mom. This is an accomplishment to be sure. She also has three new host siblings. One is in my 5c class. She is so smart.
Back to Halloween… We decided to make breakfast burritos. Cooking is always such a treat. It means first and foremost, we can control that which we are eating, and second, something different from the normal menu. After the delicious meal, we watched Hitchcock’s “Dial M for Murder.” Not exactly Halloween in the sense that I am used to, but it was a nice Halloween nonetheless.
Monday brought a second week of teaching. This week was undeniably better than the last. It just felt so much smoother. I am learning how to put my foot down. Monday’s teacher told me on Friday that they would be doing control work on Monday. Control work is their version of a test. However, come Monday she had changed her mind and wanted me to teach a lesson. Unlike many teachers in the states, Azeri teachers do not make lesson plans. So I guess she was rather confused when I refused to go in there and wing a lesson.
To make up my lesson, I co-taught a class with Sara on Thursday. When Sara taught this class last week, it was so awful. The students just didn’t listen. The teacher could not control them. The vice-principal came in, hit a student on the back of the head, and threw the student out of the class. It was very hard to watch. So this week, I taught with Sara in hopes that they would be more controlled. Polad – my LCF – even stood at the door looking like a bouncer. The class surprisingly went really well. We made the students do a dialogue teaching them how to greet and that the proper response to “How are you?” is “I’m fine,” not “How are you?”. The exciting part was that a couple of students really got it.
Wednesday morning, the M____ clusters gathered to watch the election results. No huddling around a radio for us, as Obama stated. We watched the election results on her host dad’s satellite television in English! It seemed a bit surreal. There we were in a seemingly slice of America only to leave later to teach the English to Azeri children.
To celebrate the finish of Practicum and the election, a large group of us gathered at Jacqlin’s house to make curry. It was so wonderful. Her host family really liked the curry. This week, I have decided that I want to cook for my family. Because of the cold weather, I want to make a gumbo for them. I think that they would really like that. Plus, gumbos are easy! And did you know that they can grow okra here???? Now, if I can only find it….
Winter has finally decided to be upon us. The wind blows, it rains, and it is overall cold. I never really want to leave the warmth of the wood-burning pec. I might eventually, but today, I skipped out on Sumgayit just to stay warm. When I told my host mom that I was going to stay home, she thanked Allah and gave me a carrot to eat.
I am fed all the time here. I am glad that my skirts are elastic. I do not even want to know the weight I have gained here.
With the cold weather, the smell of the pec, and the anticipation of site announcements, it feels like Christmas. I leave my house in a relatively good mood in the morning because each day is one day closer to knowing where I will end up. Friday, I will find out where I am going to spend my next two years! Isn’t that exciting! For those of you who didn’t already know, I have asked for a village with no sitemate. I have also asked for a site where no American has gone too. I wasn’t overly specific about north or south. But I do hope that it is pretty. I cannot wait to know where I am going.
My family asked me where I was going. Ata and Ana are curious, but I can tell Ata is not very keen on my leaving. He reminds me that I am his daughter and that I always will have a home in Azerbaijan. I told them that I will visit. It makes me want to cry thinking about leaving them. They are my second family. Marina does find it funny that sometimes I prefer to go home than to do anything else.
I was writing this letter in my room, but Ana has decided that my room is too cold, so I have moved into the kitchen where the pec is located. I guess I have written enough of a novel for everyone. Until next time!

Much love,