In addition to our language classes, we have also been doing "practicum" for the past 4 weeks or so. This is a chance for us to observe an English teacher in her classroom, as well as slowly start to do some teaching ourselves.
The Romanian system is different from the U.S. system in a few ways. The most noticeable is that the students typically stay in one classroom while the teacher moves around. That also means that the students stay together in the same group all day long. From what I can tell, this same group will stay together for years at a time, and they are heavily tracked. If you are in IX-a, then you are the top of your class for the ninth grade. IX-b is the second best and on down the line, etc. IX-a will typically become X-a with very minor changes, if any.
This can be a practical issue for teachers, since they do not have the ability to make a classroom their own. They can't keep a poster on the wall with the alphabet or common vocabulary, for example. On the other hand, the students take ownership of a room, and student work is often displayed.
I started out in high school with a group of four other volunteers. This went quite well for me, and I finished our two weeks there by teaching a full lesson on what it takes to be a good teacher. I got a ton of help planning from Alicia, one of the Peace Corps Volunteer Leaders. She's just finishing up her third year here in Romania, and she was a teacher in the U.S. before moving here. My small personal contribution was having one of my volunteer colleagues (who was also in the room) call my cell phone during class. Then we proceeded to have a conversation about what we did last night in front of the class, as an example of bad teaching. Everyone seemed to have a good time and I think they learned a little bit of new vocabulary.
After this we moved to middle school. We observed for one day and then I dove into a seventh grade class on the second day. This time I got a ton of help planning from Sarah. But, I was extremely nervous to teach this lesson for some reason. It was on the topic of music, so it should have been right up my alley, but the class did not respond to me at all. Maybe I shouldn't have started with that Nietzsche quote….
You might think I'm kidding, but I'm not. The quote was, "Without music, life would be a mistake," and I only asked them to agree or disagree. In any case it didn't fly and I was flustered enough to never fully recover. I bailed on our Romanian counterpart and asked her to take over the next class, on the same topic and with the same level. She took my (read Sarah's) lesson plan and knocked it out of the park. That was the most interesting and revealing lesson for me. Her changes were subtle, but very important. When something wasn't working, she moved on without taking it personally. When the students weren't engaged, she tried a different tactic. She also has known them for years, but that doesn't guarantee she has a good relationship. It means that she has built it carefully over time.
We had our last practicum yesterday and had a conference with our counterparts today to review our experience. We also had something like a midterm exam on language. Today felt like a real turning point for me, and it feels like training is nearing its end. In reality we have four weeks left, but we find out our permanent sites tomorrow, we meet our long term counterparts on Friday, we have sessions all weekend, and then we leave for our sites on Monday to return next Thursday. Once we get back, we only have two full weeks of class and then we swear in. It will be over before I have time to think about it. That's very exciting and very scary!