A Matter of Class

I yet live! Here I sit my constitution tested but unfettered. Such a bronchial malady was poor equipped to assault my immune system. This bacterial interloper determined to lay its challenge clear. Alas in the duel of multi-cellular organisms I had garnered the hand and attentions of the fickle mistress victory. My superiority was in the end unquestionable. I do however still retain a persistent cough. I suppose no victory is without its sacrifices. Overall though, this little brush with illness has actually been the exception over the rule. Of the four American English teachers at my school I was the last to succumb to the illness. In this imaginary contest of constitutions I declare myself the victor for no reason other than an inflated sense of self. Nevertheless, I have returned to work and my awaiting captive audience. Well look at that, I seem to have just given myself the opportune chance for a natural segue into today’s discussion. Then I succinctly ruined its seamless nature by making sure everyone knows that I am shifting subjects to……..

It was the day after our little medical misadventure, and I was going to be given a second take at first impressions. My girlfriend was still ill, voiceless, and on doctor ordered leave. This meant that I would be on my own attempting to do what I was meant to do the day before. Early mornings in a school are always a somewhat hectic time. My school is a primary school teaching grades 1st through 8th. There are scores of children running about, screaming whether through joy or displeasure is up to the whims of the day. Parents walk the younger children to their rooms or give them good luck kisses to begin the day. Teachers are meeting and discussing plans with one another. There I stood in the center of it with a list of room numbers and a schedule of which to visit. I march up to the first one and wait outside for the bell. Each grade is subdivided into groups of thirty two, and each of these has their own room where they stay for the majority of the days’ classes. Each teacher in turn comes to disperse knowledge to the little mob and then retreat back to the teacher’s room. The classrooms belong to the children as their base of action. It is a terrifying thing to enter into, in a way reminiscent of a Bond villain shark tank.

I was waiting for the minute hand to reach 8:00 on the nose, and I was also waiting with quickening pulse for my co-teachers. In the few days I had been at this school I was told that I would learn the job on the job, because there is no better teacher than experience. However, with a forty five minute class just seconds away and no plan in mind for how to fill the time I held a growing sense of dread. As time counted down, the cacophony from the halls returned to a calmer state. The noise retreated back into the classrooms where thirty two screeching banshees were still coming down from their summer highs. The clock ticked and my nerves of steel seemed to lose their metal. In moments of high stress, I have this habit of re-checking facts just in case I somehow misunderstood simple instructions. Keeping the outward facade of unreasonable confidence, I looked at each room number on my list, cross referencing the time. I walked up to the doors several times to make absolutely sure that the number on the door had not altered itself through some kind of terror alchemy. To add on to this lovely little tableau, lest it be forgotten, it was hotter than Mephistopheles’ Jacuzzi. It was on record as one of the hottest Augusts in Hungary. It was at least a solid ninety degrees Fahrenheit with an unpleasant humidity. Coupled with these unfortunate facts, I was rapidly learning that Hungary did not believe in air conditioning.

Prior to applying to this teaching position I had taken classes in teaching English as a second language. I had also as a prerequisite of this program racked up forty hours of classroom experience. Both of these experiences were entirely forgotten as I stood in front of the door like a nervous date. In terms of preparation, I had been given a textbook the day before; but as the subtitle of this blog will hint, I had found less useful outlets for my time than reading that. The time had come and the morning bell rang out its happy tune; adrenaline and sweat flowed in equal measures. I stood notebook in hand, my somewhat formal button up shirt and khakis being drenched with perspiration.  Luckily for me, my salvation arrived. My highly experienced, confident, and most importantly for me calm co-teacher rounded the corner. She greeted me as I was ushered through the portal to my very first class.

Thirty two fresh young faces turned to face me and bellow their greeting. The students and my co teacher had known each other for years which left me the only stranger in the room. As the biggest unknown, I was asked to tell a little of myself. I told them briefly about who I was and where I had come from, not entirely sure just how much of it the students would actually understand. Because I had never met any of the students until this juncture in time I had no factual grasp on the students English capabilities. I opened the floor for questions though and the students began asking me in English about jobs and hobbies that I had in the United States. I began to realize that their grasp of English was stronger than anticipated. With my little show and tell out of the way my co teacher managed to alleviate all of my fears. She informed me that for the first week of classes I would be required to do no teaching, but instead I would observe the teachers and students in their natural state. So I put on my best Jane Goodall face, and she went on to simply teach a class. Not one of memorable nature, just one out of many that populates the normal day of education.

The pattern of my first day was set. No longer a bumbling participant, I was free to get a feel for the task at hand, able to catch glimpses of each co-teacher’s methods. In my notes I analyzed the flow of each class. How much time was spent on this activity as opposed to this one? How were instructions given to the students, and did they understand the tasks? The dynamic was a good thing to see and it helped me to actually start devising a teaching style of my own. This opportunity also allowed me to take note of the students. I tried to see which children had problems, and which ones just were problems. I just observed the professionals at work.

At the end of the day I had met five full classrooms filled with my future students. So with the Hungarian names of near one hundred and sixty students rattling about in my brain, and a notebook full of hastily scrawled observations I rounded out my first day of “teaching”. The rest of my first week was pretty much the same. I would greet the students and then sit back and observe the interactions and means of imparting knowledge to the pupils. With actual classroom experience taking place I began to gain confidence. Actually understanding the moment to moment of a class was what I had been hoping for since before I had left the U.S.

Thus ends the story of my first week at school. The time passed by quickly as I was preoccupied with learning. Without the chance for observation I don’t have any idea of how I would have managed to do the job I had come to do. Which reminds me, tune in for next week’s installment when I may actually talk about my experiences teaching abroad. In the meanwhile, thank you to everyone for reading, and have a good morning, evening, noon, or night, signing off from Budapest.



English funtime notes:

The word assault is a word that I feel has one too many vowels for the unprepared. I completely and totally did not have a moment in which I was forced to rewrite that word six times in rapid succession. I also was in no way snickering as I continued to write the word ass over and over again.



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