Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A little bit about Daryn

As much as I enjoy teaching business English for upper intermediate students at our language center, what really adds spice to my week is the time I spend at the nearby Kazakh boarding school Daryn. At 13:30, while my teammates are finished up their lesson planning for their evening classes, I depart from our flat alone and grab bus number 7 (or sometimes bus number 07, which I have been assured is different) which gets me to school in just under ten minutes. Daryn is maybe 5km from our flat and situated just off the road that leads directly to Karaganda's airport.

Because it's a boarding school, it always smells like a cafeteria when I walk through the door. This smell makes my boss from the language center wrinkle her nose, but I love that many of its students live at Daryn (coincidentally, the Kazakh word for talented or gifted) because it means that I get to talk to kids from all over the country. One of my business English students tells me, "Ah, Daryn, I know this school. This is for kids who like studying." My eight graders inform me hat they hate reading and don't really care for school, either. True to smartypants stigma, though, it seems like all of my students want to be engineers or doctors when they grow up. 

On my way to the classroom I often pass a few of my students in the hall. "Teacher!" They gesture outside and look at me with begging expressions. I tell them they can play outside until class starts, but I better see them in their seats at 2:15. Faces exultant they rush outdoors. I wait outside of classroom 19, the biology room, as the cognate on the sign next to the door indicates. At 2:10 the bell rings and students rush out. This is the end of the school day, except for the poor victims of my class. I fiddle with the fancy smart board, and try to take attendance. As I try to say their names correctly, they giggle every time. 

See? You can sound it out. BEE-OL-O-GEE-YA. Cabinet is the word for classroom, I guess.
After class I sometimes walk to the bus stop with my students and they slowly teach me Kazakh. So far I have a tenuous grasp on the words for hello, good-bye, thank you, how are you, and Monday. The kids all speak Russian of course, but they think it's hilarious to listen to me stumble through the syllables, and as nationalism grows in this country so does my desire to make an effort at their language. And here I am on equal footing with my Russian students who know about as much Kazakh as I do. 

My students themselves are a total trip. The sixth grade boys love video games, particularly Minecraft and Assassin's Creed. The girls are feisty, alternatively yelling and rolling their eyes at the boys. Two of my eighth graders speak only in jokes, insisting that they are Italian and Guatemalan, and they they run a mafia within the school. Many of my students are my neighbors. If they don't live in Yogovostok in general then they live specifically within our apartment complex Tatimbeta or on the other side of our supermarket Norma. And the connections don't end there; one of the sixth grade girls is the niece of a former SBTC student who welcomed us to the country when we first arrived. We swap stories about her uncle and his girlfriend, who is a former teacher with my organization.

Through all the pizazz I enjoy from being someplace different each day, there are nevertheless some things that throw me for a loop while teaching at Daryn.

One is the level of my students. I got almost no practice teaching beginners during practicum because it was assumed I wouldn't have beginner students. So imagine my surprise when I conducted placement interviews for the sixth graders and most couldn't tell me what day it was. I count the lesson a success if the students seem to comprehend the meaning of one vocabulary word. To amplify the curse, there are a handful of students in both sixth grade classes who are much further along in their English mastery and they sit in the corner of the classroom looking bored out of their minds. I can't blame them. 

For another thing, there's the noise. Maybe it's because I failed to be strict the first week, but the classes are almost always at a dull roar. Students chatter constantly with each other in Russian or Kazakh, and insist on speaking to me while their classmates are speaking. I have tried separating students, trading games for worksheets, calling out the noisemakers, and even the Kazakh teachers' strategy: yelling. No dice. And if the students WITHIN my class were not noisy enough, fifteen minutes before class ends we are disrupted by students from other classes. My boss from the language center visited my class one day and was appalled to see students from other classes raucously fetching their things from the back of my classroom. Shushing is pretty much ineffective.

The administration also makes me nervous. Though the director of Daryn and the head English teacher know who I am, all other staff at Daryn seem stupefied by my presence. About once a week someone yells at me in Kazakh, as if to say, "Who is the girl and why does she think she can walk freely through the halls of this school?!" Various adults poke their head into my classroom with questions, and my students shout in unison, "Oна не понимает русский!" She doesn't understand Russian! I can't help but wish I appeared as a little less of an interloper there. On some level it must be the human aspiration for belonging.

The bus stop behind Daryn where I wait for the bus to the language center. Zhan's a lucky guy!

Some days, after struggling through a lesson, I look forward to taking the bus (either 01, 45, 43, or maybe 12 . . . from a foreigner's perspective the bus system has no transcendent organization) to the language center, and teaching a class of calm adult students who are nearly fluent in English and laugh at my jokes. There is a comfort and a calmness that accompanies rejoining my teammates at our language center. But if SBTC keeps me sane then Daryn keeps me engaged, and I would never trade my classes there because I always enjoy that there's never a dull moment.

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