Friday, March 31, 2006

Lessons and Gossip

Yesterday I met with two new private students. Unlike others, these two didn’t find me in some random-and-vaguely-creepy method, like calling my school after seeing my name in the newspaper. The first is the sister of Oxford School’s director, Anita, and the second is the daughter of my contact teacher Kati. I’m pretty sure that half the reason Kati wants me to teach her is so that Kati can keep an eye inside my house. But since I’m desperate for both money and English conversation, we both get something from it. Not to mention, during our first lesson yesterday, which was supposed to be only half an hour, we talked for an hour and a quarter. Mostly we talked about ourselves and people we know in common, which brought out a good deal of interesting information about the Kassai teachers, the Varga teachers, and the various Szolnoki Americans.

The second gossip-provoking lesson is one I’ve been doing all week with 7th and 8th graders. They work in groups and each group gets an envelope containing 12 pictures of The Happy Couple. Each picture is some small situation, like couple meeting at party, couple at restaurant, couple getting married, couple holding baby, couple breaking up, etc. So the groups make up stories, tell them to the class, and the class votes on the best one (on a side note, the you-vote-for-the-best was my greatest idea this week - it actually makes them listen to each other).

Anyway, most of the classes made up perfectly typical stories. Until today, the 7abT class (this is why I love them): after making up almost-normal stories, they continued playing with the pictures, and made up stories about various celebrities, their classmates (two of their classmates are sleeping together - 7th graders!), and one disturbing story about how a classmate had been given a 1 by one of Kassai’s teachers because he turned down her advances. Yikes.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Meeting

It began on Monday, when my contact teacher approached me and “asked” me to stay late on Wednesday. Actually, her exact working was something like, “You should stay late on Wednesday, to have a meeting with Éva (the director). She wants to talk to you about your future plans.”

So, being the easy-going (read: lazy) person that I am, I first assumed that this meant she just wanted to confirm my staying next year. But then, two days is a long time to mull over what the director could possibly want with me. Especially since the other shoe never dropped. And I’ve been saying since September that I’m staying here, and anyway that one simple question wouldn’t seem to warrant a Meeting. So my mind started coming up with other possibilities. My favorite scenario involved me being fired. Because really, this wouldn’t be so terrible - I was looking over my contract (for no particular reason, just checking up on things) and I think it says that if I am fired, depending on the reason for firement (it’s a word, right?) the school might still have to pay me and for my flat until June. So, hey, that would really be great.

Anyway, the meeting. Éva was half an hour late, so I waited in the teachers room, not biting my nails. Finally, Kati tracked her down and we went into her office. On a tangent, I hate that office, because it has padded doors. I mean, really - I’m sure they’re for soundproofing or something legit, but it’s just so sinister looking.

Right, no more tangents. The Meeting. Was. Awesome. They love me. They want me to stay forever. They want to help me in a variety of ways to make my life easier. They want me to design some of my own project classes for next year, they want to give me a completely free hand - I could do a film class and do nothing but watch American movies, I could do a literature class and they would make the students buy books, or I could do a history class and they would let me take the kids on excursions to Pest. They wish that we could communicate better, because everyone thinks I seem like such a nice, good person. They think I am an excellent teacher, that I prepare well, and I learned that the classes which give me trouble (namely, most of the 8th grade) also give Kati trouble. And Kati is wicked fearsome, so if she can’t control them, no one short of God could.

So, unfortunately I guess, I wasn’t fired. But I can’t mean that, because this outcome is so much better than I could have imagined.

And the day ended even better with - yes, it’s basketball again - Szolnok beating nasty Kesckemét. Their fans were louder, and had three drums plus airhorns, and yet... both our team and our fans still beat them.

By the way, for anyone who can’t appreciate my recently-found obsession with the Olaj, it’s only because you’ve never seen a game. In which case, I invite you to Szolnok for the last game of the season, April 12th at 6 pm, against Nyíregyháza. Then you’ll understand...

Sunday, March 26, 2006

I Mean It This Time

I know I say this every time, but this weekend’s basketball game - best one yet! But I get ahead of myself.

Friday evening was tame - mainly, me watching movies in my flat. Later, Juli and I went out driving. She let me drive around in her car a bit, which was amazing after I figured out where first gear was (I do drive standard, but her car is different than mine).

Saturday we went to the game. Szolnok vs Paks. Beyond being a rival, Paks is also the team that formerly owned Davis, Szolnok’s newest American player. They had a large group of fans there to support them, and the fans had brought their own drum, noisemakers, and banners. So in addition to the match, there was also an ongoing battle between the fans to see who could be loudest, who could out-drum the other, and who could yell the nastiest things. Juli and I sat right in the middle of Section Crazy (those of you who have been to a game know what I mean) and chanted and clapped and screamed and jumped as much as we could. Highlights include:

-when one of Olaj’s players dunked the ball so hard, the timer above the basket was knocked sideways
-the fact that we have cheerleaders, honest-to-short-shirts-and-perky-hair cheerleaders, and moreover, when they lost the beat of their performance because we were chanting too loud
-learning some new chants and taunts, such as “Indul a busz!” and “Hol a bajnokok?” and one song that was just “picsa” every other word
-getting fallen on by people higher in the stands who jumped too hard and lost their balance, or who were trying to charge onto the court
-the fight that broke out after the game when an old man (a Paks fan) called Szolnok a bunch of gypsies
-the fact that we WON! Despite a gloomy outlook and a close game for the first 3 quarters, Szolnok pulled it off 72-59. Oh yeah, we rock. Hajrá Olaj!

After that, what could really make the weekend better? Well, being invited for lunch to one of the other English teacher’s lovely house in Szandaszölös (one of Szolnok’s nicest suburbs). The weather was perfect, the food was amazing, and Edit and her son (who will soon be taking one of the English exam) were great company (as were her husband and daughter too, they just didn’t talk as much).

So knock on wood, the coming week shouldn’t be too bad, since I already have complete lesson plans (gasp!) for each and every class. Plus, there’s a midweek game (yeah, sorry, I’m back to basketball again) on Wednesday. Then hopefully I get out of here for the weekend. Then a short week, and then Transylvania. Then spring break. Then it’s mid-April, and there’s only two months left. Wow, happy spring.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Waiting For The Other Shoe

Halfway through the day today, I suddenly realized that it was Thursday already. This came as a surprise to me because, for the most part, my weeks drag on endlessly between weekends. But this week, everything has just come together. For example:

The weekend was fantastic all around, beginning to end. Due to Ikea, my flat is starting to look, if not act, more like a real home. My lessons were like one miracle after another: every single one (so far) was either canceled, half the students were gone, or they were just shockingly well-behaved, or some combination of the latter two. Even the 5ab Terrors, when faced with an activity that was way over their heads (my mistake) were frustrated but still pleasant. The English teachers decided they loved me because I let them use my Penguin photocopiable books (which aren’t even mine; they’re Oxford’s). At home, I actually did some house work, including successfully fixing my vacuum. I watched movies, Walk the Line in the cinema and Moulin Rogue courtesy of Limewire; I watched the Simpsons, I watched Scrubs. I worked on making fabric postcards. I studied Hungarian. Everything was great.

All of which is increasingly frightening to me. I’m not a huge believer in anything, but I do have a vague idea in something like karma. So with that fact established, there are two possible explanations: one, that I did something really good recently and am being rewarded. Or two, that shortly something terrible is going to happen to me. Knowing that I’ve done nothing so good recently eliminates the first option, so I’m left wondering what the punishment will be. It’s been a while since anything in the flat broke, so it might be time for another round of Repair Wars. Currently, the only three things fully functioning are the TV, computer, and gas. TV would be sad, computer would be excruciating, and gas would be deadly. So I’m going to go enjoy this while it lasts.

PS. I think I’ve mentioned the basketball obsession before, but just to stress it: this weekend, I am actually passing up a trip to TOKAJ, wine capital of Hungary, to see Szolnok play Paks. What’s become of me?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Hotel Guests (Lesson Plan)

Two successful lesson in one week? My life is amazing. This one I’ve done so far with 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, and although some classes got the concept better than others, the actual English was neither too easy nor too hard for any of them. I plan on doing it with every single class this week except for the 4th graders, the worst 5th graders, and the 8th grade class I mentioned in the previous entry.

So Hotel Guests is a logic puzzle. Students work in pairs and get two lists of clues, and using these they have to fill out a chart with who is staying in the hotel, what room they’re in, what city they’re from, and what their jobs are. This took 45 minutes for most of them, including going over the answers at the end.

Student A’s clues:
- The man in room 104 is an architect.
- Mr Carter is a librarian.
- The nurse comes from Leeds.
- The woman who comes from Brighton is in the room directly opposite Ms Smith.
- Ms Brown is a web designer.
- Both Mr Jones and Mr Watson have rooms next to the left.
- The woman in room 106 comes from Brighton.
- The architect is from Belfast.
- The man between Mr Jones and Ms Webber is called French.
- Ms Webber is a journalist.
- The man from Cardiff is in the room opposite Mr Watson.

Student B’s clues:
- The man in room 102 comes from Cardiff.
- Mr Watson is an engineer.
- The web designer is in the room between the teacher and Mr Watson.
- Ms Webber lives in Brighton.
- The woman in room 109 is called North.
- The architect is directly opposite the web designer.
- The man from Birmingham is in the room next to Ms Brown.
- Ms North comes from Leeds.
- Mr Jones is a dentist.
- Ms North is in the room next to the woman from Cambridge.
- The man in the room nearest the drink machine comes from London.

And, you need the map:
And you need this one extra clue, because for some reason they just forgot to tell you that Ms Brown is from Dundee, and a couple of my students got really pissed about not being able to finish. Anyway, the answers:

room, name, home city, job
102, Mr Jones, Cardiff, dentist
103, Mr Watson, Birmingham, engineer
104, Ms French, Belfast, architect
105, Ms Brown, Dundee, web designer
106, Ms Webber, Brighton, journalist
107, Ms Smith, Cambridge, teacher
108, Mr Carter, London, librarian
109, Ms North, Leeds, nurse

And the last things I’ll say: watch out, the kids’ll think “Belfast” is hilarious. Points to the first person who gets why.

How Wrong Is It? (Lesson Plan)

The very last thing I ever want to do at 7:30 on a Monday morning is to go teach a bunch of snotty, disinterested 8th grade girls. In general, the better my weekend is, the less I want to go back to life on Monday, so I was in a particularly rotten mood yesterday morning. I decided to torture both myself and the girls by dragging them into a philosophical discussion - another thing which is quite low on the list of things I want to do at 7:30 on Monday.

Amazingly, it turned out to be the most productive lesson I’ve ever done with them. They talked, they argued with each other and me, they shared stories - frequently in Hungarian, but some in English. They amused themselves by yelling, “English, please!” at each other. Most incredibly, they stayed on topic for a whole 45 minutes.

So, here it is, the miracle lesson: basically, it’s a list of 20 questions with the form, “How wrong is it to...?” I had one student read them, and the others answered. You can ask additional questions like, “When is it right to....? Have you yourself ever....? What happens if you...... and get caught?” At the end, I had some extra time, and they each made up some questions.

How wrong is it...
- to lie about your age?
- to claim for “extra goods” from the insurance company after your house has been burgled? (I skipped this one)
- to have plastic surgery to look younger and more attractive?
- to sell your countries secrets (especially defense secrets) to a foreign country?
- to refuse to fight when your country is at war?
- to phone work or school and say you are ill when you just want a day off?
- to keep 10 pounds change given to you by a shop assistant by mistake?
- to do “extra work” but not pay tax on the money you’re paid? (in Hungarian, this is fekete munka, black work)
- to not vote in a national election?
- to cross a road when the traffic lights are red?
- to throw litter in the street?
- to hit someone in self-defense?
- to forge a cheque? (this one was very confusing)
- to fail to stop after bumping into a car, if no one saw you and no one was injured?
- to park in a no parking street?
- to smuggle goods through customs when coming back from a holiday abroad?
- to drive through traffic lights when they are red, if no one gets injured?
- to travel on public transport without a ticket, if you aren’t caught?
- to hit a naughty child?
- to copy CDs, DVDs, movies or computer programs for your own use?

In general, my students told me that most things are okay, provided that you aren’t caught. The last 6 or 7 questions provoked the most debate. The questions they came up with were about things like cheating on a boyfriend, lying to your friends and parents, cheating in school, and killing animals. And I found out a lot of interesting laws in Hungary, not to mention some interesting stories about the girls and their friends. One of their classmates, a kid I don’t like too much, had to pay a 10,000 forint fine because he took the bus without a ticket and tried to run away when they caught him. Ha, couldn’t happen to a nicer kid. Anyway, great lesson. Please use it and tell me how it works for you.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

More Time Killers

I should be cleaning, I should be lesson planning, I should rearranging my house to fit the new loot I got from Ikea, I should be watching the movie I put on, but what am I doing? Messing around on the internet. If you have a blog or not, you should still check out BlogThings.

My Fortune Cookie:

Your Fortune Is

It's ok to let a fool kiss you, but don't let a kiss fool you.

My Sellout Price:

On Average, You Would Sell Out For


My Machiavellian-ness:

You Are Somewhat Machiavellian

You're not going to mow over everyone to get ahead...

But you're also powerful enough to make things happen for yourself.

You understand how the world works, even when it's an ugly place.

You just don't get ugly yourself - unless you have to!

My Weather Type:

You Are Lightning

Beautiful yet dangerous

People will stop and watch you when you appear

Even though you're capable of random violence

You are best known for: your power

Your dominant state: performing

And now I just need to stop.

Friday, March 17, 2006

I'm Back!

Well, sorry I haven’t posted anything recently. This time, it really wasn’t my fault - I was having an on-again, off-again relationship with my internet, which eventually devolved into it not working at all. I barely noticed at first, being caught up in a frenzy of Lost-watching (I watched all episodes to date in the space of a week). Long saga short, the cable people agreed to come and look at it today between 4:30 and 8 pm. So by some sort of ugly, ironic twist, the Internet decided to start working again last night at about 10:30. I’m telling you, there’s something diabolically clever about everything in this flat. Rach, what was that movie with the killer house? You know which one I mean, with the garbage disposal and the switch? That’s going to be me, armless and screaming, any day now...

Back to normalcy. For a while, I was keeping a list of things I wanted to write about when I could. But now somehow it seems kinda pointless to write: “One morning a couple weeks ago I woke up to no electricity...” etc. Because it was only vaguely interesting then, and by now if I hadn’t written a note, I would have forgotten all about it. Anyone, to be short about it, in the past two weeks...

- I developed an obsession with Lost (see the casting, below)
- I missed both Pancake Day (because of the Lost obsession) and Pie Day (because I was on the way to Bp)
- I went to Budapest three times, and will go again this weekend
- I got a bunch of loot from Women’s Day
- Both of my 8th grade private students were accepted to Varga. Congrats, guys.
- I decided to let basketball take over my life, to the point of not traveling some weekends so I wouldn’t miss the home games. This led to...
- I spent several consecutive weekends in Szolnok. Four, to be exact. A whole month worth.
- I discovered that I have a fourth-grade fanclub, in the form of two little girls who follow me around, beg to come to extra lesson with me, and refuse to let me go home until I pretend to be fainting with hunger.

So that’s it, two weeks in less than 200 words. To finish, this is the casting list which Gaines and I came up with for Lost (maybe I should have asked before making this public, Gaines, but in any case I’ll take the blame if anyone is insulted):

Emily is Charlie (without the drugs or musical talent)
Gaines is Sawyer (without such an evil streak)
Jeremy is Hurley (without the fat)
Chad is Boone (without the death)
Jenna is Claire (because how do you not like Claire)
Yerik is Locke (without the baldness)
The New People are The Tail Section
Laura could be Kate (because they're both really cool)
Hajni is Rossau (without the crazy)
Janos is Ethen/Nathan (because he's just too chill... its suspicious)
Rosemary is Rose (for the quiet contemplation)
Jack is too [something] to cast
JoAnna and Kyle are Scott/Steve and the chick in the water
Our students are The Others because they're killing us slowly