Top 10 Questions Asked of a Current Teacher

October 22, 2008

— Written by a Teacher in Slovakia —

1. Did you graduate yet?

No. I wore a cap and gown and walked across a stage this summer in good faith that the work I complete this semester will be satisfactory to finish with a Master of Arts in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages by Christmas. Twice monthly until then I will submit chapters of a final language program design project. It’s a good way for me to articulate what I’m actually designing and teaching, and at the same time provide a workable product for the school to continue to modify and change in the future. Azusa Pacific University was something that I did in addition to my TeachOverseas contract, so even though my studies will be coming to an end in December, I will still continue to teach under TeachOverseas at my school.

2. Do you still raise support?

Yes. With my returning teacher discount for this year plus the remaining balance from last year, I need to raise a total of $3100 plus airfares (which are usually in the $1200-$1500 range for round trips). You can help me stay here by giving at http://teachoverseas.org/contribute.php . One time gifts are greatly appreciated, as are commitments to give $20 or $50 monthly for 10 months, or until June 2009.

3. Are you going to live in Slovakia forever?

Maybe. But right now I’m just committing to serve my school for one year at a time. Exciting news: as of this month, I have a work visa that’s good until the summer of 2010! Pray for me as I think about the future.

4. What does your ministry look like? This summer someone commented that I was “not a real missionary” in the classic sense of the word. I would agree in that I call myself a teacher first. However, some of my best conversations with students have come out of class discussions. Teaching Literature and Writing is a great way to get teenagers to really think, form and support opinions about meaningful themes. For example, once, after reading Edgar Allen Poe’s The Telltale Heart, students moved to different parts of the room based on how strongly they felt about statements about having a conscience, committing crimes, and experiencing guilt, grace, and forgiveness. One girl stayed afterwards to find out what I really felt, and I was able to share about Jesus in my own life! This year I’m excited to strengthen relationships with students, some of whom I’ve interacted with on an almost daily basis for 2 years now.

One way to do this is to continue the “coffee-time chats” that my former teammate Katie and I tried a few times last year. We announce the time and place in advance, and see who shows up for English conversation in a more informal, non-school setting. My goal is to organize one at least once a month, maybe even weekly as everybody gets into a regular schedule.

Also, most of my students are my “friends” on Facebook, which is a great way for me to be transparent about my life and faith as well as keep conversations going. Once I updated my status in Slovak and was surprised by the number of comments I got from students. So I know they’re watching me and will read whatever I write or look at whatever picture I post.

5. What do you actually teach?

This year I’m teaching freshmen General Literature and Writing, sophomore American Literature, junior British Literature, senior Elective Academic Writing, and super senior Advanced Literature for English Maturita and State Exams. The last two classes have never been taught before, as this is the first year that the school will be functioning as a complete 5-year bilingual program. So it’s still kind of crazy, but I get to be creative, and I like it. I have the coolest job.

6. How can we pray for you?

More and more I’m recognizing a theme among my friends and colleagues, in my students, and in the people I see in my neighborhood and around town. It’s simply this: they have no idea that they are known and loved by God, and they try to fill up their lives with beautiful clothes, thermal spas and perfect holidays, alcohol, a great education, a boyfriend/girlfriend, etc. Living here, it’s easy for me to get sucked into the same mindset, even when I know better. Pray that my life would reflect the truth and freedom I know in Christ, and that I would open my mouth to tell about it.

7. What’s your TeachOverseas team like this year?

This will be my third year teaching in Slovakia with Educational Services International(or anywhere). I still live with my two original roommates – Karin and Jenni – my good friends, closest encouragers, and accountability partners. The larger Slovakia team includes Vic, Darla, Anna and Dominik (a family), plus an additional team of three new women (Katie, Kate, and Kim).

8. Did you go home this summer?

I WAS home (meaning western NY) for a quick few days at the beginning of July before heading out to CA for 2 ½ weeks to study. Then I was home again for 2 ½ weeks before flying back here in mid-August. Pray for my family.

9. How’s your Slovak?

Pretty good! I’m at the fun stage where I can piece together meaning during sermons and staff meetings when I know the context. I can eavesdrop on buses and students, and I can read signs and children’s books. I can carry on simple conversations with my friends and the old lady whose house we stayed at this past weekend. Slovaks are very complimenting and encouraging when they see that an American is trying to speak their heart language, which makes it very motivating for me to try. And today I ordered postage stamps to the US in the plural form with the correct grammatical declensions at the ends of 4 different words(with the help of my friend, but still, now I know how to do it). Great success!

10. Were there any Slovaks in the Beijing Olympics?

Yes, and they won 3 medals in canoeing/kayaking, 1 medal in shooting, and 1 medal in wrestling. Woohoo!

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Oh yeah…. school

October 22, 2008
— Written by a Teacher in Hungary —




Well, I’m finally feeling sort of settled in. That’s nice because I’m getting tired of thinking about myself all the time. Don’t get me wrong, I still will think of myself most of the time, but I’m beginning to think about others too. Specifically, I’m thinking about how I can be more intentional in showing the love of Christ with fellow teachers and students.I’m definitely enjoying teaching and getting to know the students. I find that teenagers are teenagers. Besides a few minor cultural differences, the high schoolers here don’t seem too different from the high schoolers in America. Some want to learn, some don’t care. Some are bullies, some are victims. Most just try to enjoy the day while doing what they know they have to do. As in America, I mostly teach the youngest and oldest (9th grade, 12th grade, 13th grade), and I enjoy the differences. The 9th graders are squirrely and goofy and sincere and forgiving. The older students are a little more mature and skeptical and subtle and adult-like. All of them are pretty respectful and willing to go along with the program.

Speaking of the program, several people have wanted to hear more details about the teaching, etc…so here goes. There are some differences, but also several similarities to teaching in America. As I said, students are very similar. But the whole schedule is quite different. At my school, students can choose a bilingual track and, if they do, end up taking many 9th grade hours studying English. My role is “conversational English”, which means mainly listening, reading, and speaking. Part of my job is to prepare students for a final exam that they must pass in order to advance and graduate.

I teach 22 hours per week (as opposed to last year’s 30). My schedule varies quite a bit. For example, Mondays I have only two classes starting at 10 and ending at 11:40 (nice), while Tuesday I have 7 straight classes starting at 8 (not so nice). There is no lunch break, but there are 10 or 15 minutes between the 45 minute classes. Teachers don’t have their own classrooms but change each period.

A big difference is the attitude. American schools are very student-focused (maybe to a fault), but Hungarian schools place a high value on respecting the teacher. The teacher arrives after the bell rings while the students are waiting by the door. After unlocking the door (sometimes with a sweet skeleton key), the students enter and remain standing until the teacher allows them to sit. Often class begins 3-7 minutes after the bell rings, thus shortening the classes even further.

Overall, I really enjoy the school and life here. I’m excited about further opportunities to demonstrate the love of Christ but also to verbally share how He has changed my life. I appreciate your continued prayers. I also welcome any communication. Actually, I have way more of a social life here than in La Conner (probably not hard to believe), but still miss people from home. In addition, if God puts it on your heart, there is an opportunity to give financially. Let me know if that’s something you want to do…or just go to the teachoverseas.org website. I’d just prefer you didn’t give any stock at this point.

Oh, [I had the opportunity to play] paintball with some 13th grade students. We played at an old Russian army base in the woods and in old decrepit buildings. It was an American lawsuit waiting to happen, but what does Hungary care? It felt like WWII and was possibly the coolest thing I’ve ever done. We started off using the friendly fire signs “flash” and “thunder” like they did in Normandy (students’ idea), but then switched to “hey” and “you” for accent purposes. Those same students asked me if I wanted to do a “Band of Brothers” marathon day…and also if I like chocolate fondue. Umm, yes and yes.

The 3 pictures are in my communist “flat” and are my living room, kitchen, and bedroom, respectively. Not too bad.

4th week of teaching

October 22, 2008

— Written by a Teacher in Kazakhstan —

On Thursday before class I was standing in front of my classroom door with some of the other teachers. None of my students were in the classroom, and usually about half the class arrives at least 15 minutes before class starts. Then, we looked and saw a herd of people coming at us down the hallway. This mob was most of our students from our 4:30 classes, and they came bearing gifts. Saturday or Sunday is teacher day here in Kazakhstan, so the students surprised with some small gifts. It was a wonderful surprise. And like good students, each class gave us an apple – and some chocolate along with some other things!

Also, in my class we had a small celebration at the end of class time to celebrate Ait, or Eid which is a three day celebration at the end of Ramadan. It is traditionally a time to celebrate the end of the Ramadan fast where families will cook big meals and dine with relatives and neighbors. In class I brought some sweats and one of my students, a business woman, brought in 3 different kinds of traditional bread with yogurt to share with the class. It was awesome and delicious! We had a good time enjoying each others company, and I loved being able to celebrate a traditional holiday with my students.

The weather here in Karaganda has been absolutely beautiful the last few days. It’s been in the high 50s to mid 60s during the day and the skies have been a peaceful shade of blue. Many of the trees are turning or have turned and fall seems to definitely be in fall swing. I hear that by the end of the month it could start to get pretty cold. I’m excited about experiencing some intense cold. However, I’m sure I’ll be singing a much different tune in the midst of lifeless winter when I have to wait 20 minutes outside for the bus. But regardless it will be fun to “endure” winter in another part of our glorious world.

And I do truly believe that this world is glorious. And I believe that our Father wants us to believe this and act like it. Heaven – a far away by-and-by in the sky – as some people define it, is not and will never be my home. The Prince of Peace prayed to his Father that his kingdom (the kingdom of heaven) would be on earth as it is in heaven. Heaven’s kingdom was inaugurated by a descending dove when our Lord was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. Heaven has come, it is coming, and it will continue to come. Heaven is here and now, and it will continue on into the eternal future. And as believers it is our divine commission to aid in this process; shining the light of heaven’s glorious possibilities and transformation into situations of deep and saturating darkness.

Just as heaven is here and now, so is hell. There are places in this world that are suffering hellish oppression, injustice, torture, slavery, persecution, genocide, poverty, malnutrition, etc. And as citizens of one of the richest, fattest, most polluted, biggest resource consuming nations on the planet we must consider that we, each of us, could be partially responsible for this hell that over a third of the world is burning in. Hell isn’t always run by demons and devils; sometimes they have help from us who are indifferent, gluttonous, greedy, and squanders of God’s good creation.

Which kingdom are we helping to establish? Is it one of gated mansions, infinite wardrobes, manicured gardens, oil rigs, mega-buildings – things that appear to be heaven for some, but most definitely mean hell for most others. Or are we establishing an entirely different kingdom, which at its very heart beats the rhythm of heaven and pumps the blood of heaven – blood that was shed to save us from ourselves and save the world from the sins of greed, pride, violence, lust, and gluttony which bestow their hellish wages to everyone?

May it be said of me that I denied power and glory to the powers of hell and that instead, I took part in the holy communion of heaven.

May our Father have mercy on us for we are all sinners.

May Mercy make right

The things that we have made wrong

May It look into our hearts and minds

And find Itself not too far gone

If all the Rain Drops…

October 21, 2008

— Written by a Teacher in Vietnam —

Today has been a lazy day. It’s a quarter past noon and I’m still in my pj’s. (a first for this year) It appears that rainy season has arrived and with the onset, an initial sense of demotivation. Thus Erin and I are trying to motivate ourselves to get out of the house. You see, during rainy season, life still happens and the sooner you get out of the house in the rain the sooner you’ll gain renewed motivation.

Rainy season is a time of year when naive foreigners can learn a LOT. For example, a poncho that costs 5,000vnd (30 cents) is probably worth about, 30 cents when it comes to staying dry. Taxis, buses, and motorbikes somehow are all capable of doubling as jet skis in the rain, and one should always think twice about riding a bicycle in a terenchal down pour.

Some things that I am truly coming to love about rainy season are as follows. I have more time to cook/bake b/c I’m home more. Fried bananas are ONLY sold during rainy season & I LOVE fried bananas! The relentless shouts of nationals when they see me walking or biking in the rain “Mua, Mua”(it’s raining, it’s raining) Really? Is it? Thunder storms, it’s relaxing to just lay on my bed and listen to the storm. Sometimes, if I’m real adventurous I’ll go to the bay to watch the lightening

For the past 2 years the beginning of rainy season has always come with demotivational feelings and even slight discouragement. But you know, yesterday, as I was walking home from my canceled class, I really wanted to just twirl in the rain & burst into song “If all the rain drops were lemon drops and gum drops Oh what a rain that would be standing outside with my mouth open wide…” Don’t worry, I refrained from bursting into song as I didn’t want people to think I had totally lost my mind.

I guess all that to say that, you know, rainy season is a challenge at first, but once you realize that it’s just part of life here then you can go on about your daily business & the only consideration of the rain happens when you put on your poncho to leave the house. You could even surprise yourself and, heaven forbid, come to enjoy the rain.

leaving the states

October 9, 2008

–Written by a Teacher in Russia–

It is a quiet Monday morning in St. Petersburg, but the past four days have been a whirlwind!

  • LA-Atlanta-Moscow-St. Petersburg on Thursday and Friday.
  • Lost ALL checked luggage.
  • Dinner on Nevsky Prospekt and a long walk on Friday night with some Brits, Russian students, and one of my roommates.
  • Luggage found and trip to International airport to retrieve on Saturday.
  • Shashlik (shish kabob barbecue) on the “beach” with a few Americans, Russians, and an Aussie on Saturday night.
  • Church at a small Vineyard Church on Sunday afternoon. (Planning to attend a Calvary Chapel next Sunday evening.)

I am focusing on the Russian alphabet early this week.  It will make it so much easier to navigate the city on the Metro, buses, and on foot if I can actually READ signs.  Shopping will also be much easier.

The schedule will be light for the next couple of weeks.  Teaching will not start until September 8th at the earliest, possibly September 15th.  I am taking advantage of this time to focus on Russian language and to become a more proficient at shopping.

In late September, I will move into a smaller flat that is some distance from the large flat (apartment) that I am sharing with three other American guys.  I will finally be able to unpack then. It is probable that another American working in St. Petersburg will share the flat with me.  We are discussing the details now.

Weather in St. Petersburg is quite different than Salt Lake City.  So far it has been overcast most of the time with a chance of rain.  The humidity is high and the temperatures range between 55-65 degrees.  The constant daylight of June and July are gone, but it still gets light early and is not dark until about 10 PM.

I am thankful for the weather since the cold, damp, and dark days of winter will be here soon enough.

transitioning overseas

October 9, 2008

–Written by a Teacher in North Africa–

The first week of school is officially over, as well as our first weekend. Does the countdown begin yet? )

It was an overwhelming week, but good. I am impressed with the teachers, the administration, and the students. We were all grateful for only a four day week to begin, and now the real grind will start. The hardest part? Learning the names. Several of the kids have the same names, and I need to not only learn which goes to who, but how to pronounce it. It is not a bad things, just an added stress. 7 classes of 25 kids…it will take me time! But I already have a few of the “bad ones” down )

This weekend was awesome. Friday night four of us went down to the beach and tossed a frisbee around. 3 of us ended up in the water, either by tripping, chasing the frisbee, or being tackled. The sun was setting, and the water felt amazing. Afterwards we made chocolate chip cookies and played nerts. It was a little piece of home…it almost felt like vacation. I am so thankful for it!!!

Last night I ate at a fancyshmancy restaurant. We were one of two tables in there, so of course they sit us right next to the live music stage. Three men singing arabic music. It was almost a flashback to the local music scene in nashville, but not quite. It was a cultural experience for sure, but with all the warm bread you could want, you cant complain!

Today, Sunday, I have missed home more than any other day here. Sunday’s are always hard, but I think now that there is a routine, it is starting to hit more that I’m staying here, and right now with limited contact to the states. I actually went to a friends myspace page that has some of his songs up so I could “hear” his voice. Although it was a weekend full of people and adventures, after only a month there is not the depth of relationship that you long for and miss back home. But I know it will come….I am hopeful.