Friday, June 29, 2012

Jesus' Diapers

Today was another great day in the countryside. It's my favorite place to be in Romania. We are so welcome there that it doesn't matter if our comprehension plummets as soon as we cross the city line. Sometimes truth here is stranger than fiction; sometimes what we understand in Romanian seems like fiction, and we have to double check to make sure we got it right.

As we were wandering through the garden and learning the names of the plants, Theron saw what he thought was a marijuana plant. After many jokes and a lot of explanation, we realized it was actually a hemp plant. The fibers are used to make traditional Romanian costumes. Even more amazing to us, the seeds are used to make a special Christmas dessert called Jesus' Diapers (Scutecele lui Iisus). This time we triple checked.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

All Worth It

The school year is over and I'm finally writing my first post about teaching English in Romania. I haven't written yet because my thoughts have been too muddled. The transition from being the person helping the teachers to the person helping the students has challenged most of what I thought I knew about education. I've done things in my classroom this year that would make my educational heros cringe. Plus I've struggled to operate within the Romanian education system which has some practices and assumptions that conflict with my values and knowledge about teaching and learning. Still, I must have done something right. An eighth grade student wrote this and read it at his class graduation.

You meet in life people with whom you bond above words, people that see in you much more than you see, and make the decision to work with you until you discover that part of you that you didn't even know was there. These people are made for your soul and one of them is my English teacher, a teacher that managed to reach to our souls by her way of being open, amusing, and understanding.
I wish that all of your days in life are special and the days at school are like holidays.
With respect, admiration, and friendship,
Yours truly,
Palade Valentin and Class 8B

I'm proud that my belief in the potential of each student has shone through the fog of this year. My year in Romania has been worth it.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Teacher for a Day

I want to brag about my wife for a little bit. She's an incredible teacher because she believes that her students can and will excel. She trusts them, and therefore she gives them challenges and opportunities that other people don't even imagine are possible.

The Peace Corps has given us the option to create small group Romanian language weekends. If we want to participate, we think of a creative idea, design a curriculum, and find a teacher. Then we invite other volunteers from our region and the Peace Corps pays for travel and expenses. Past weekends include touring the Bucovina monasteries and learning to cook various Romanian dishes (all while speaking Romanian, of course). 

But I think Sarah has had the most inspired idea yet. She decided to turn the tables and ask her students (ages 13-14) to teach us. 

There are so many beautiful things about this idea. Many students are smart and hard-working, but may not be comfortable in English. This gives them the opportunity to interact with their teacher and other Americans in a new way. It also gives students an opportunity for leadership. If they're thinking about a career in education, it translates directly, but this kind of experience is useful for almost any job. 

One of the biggest lies we tell children, through words but mostly through deeds and attitude, is that we know better than they do. My favorite thing about this experiment is that it gives the students the opportunity to be experts in a subject where adults aren't. 

Seven American volunteers visited for the weekend and a total of 10 student teachers worked in groups to teach thirty to sixty minute lessons. Topics included adjectives, summer vocabulary, music, dancing, touristic places, and holidays. The kids have been learning more than just English from Sarah as well. The classes were dynamic and the pacing of lessons was excellent. We played games like Bingo and a cool trivia game called Zong. And, the teachers always asked if we understood the material and patiently answered questions. The bonus - we got prizes! They know how to motivate!

In the end, the project was a huge success, and I think it would be easily repeatable. Way to go Sarah and way to go to our awesome student teachers!