Thursday, September 28, 2006

Negotiations, I Mean Conversations

Don’t get me wrong, I do like my contact teacher. She is grudgingly helpful, she’s an amazing teacher, and I know she’s under a lot of stress right now. She really is a good person.

Having said that... we seem to be unable to communicate, and I don’t think it’s a language problem. A typical conversation for us:

Me: So, am I teaching this 6a class today, or not? (I knew full well that that correct answer was ‘or not,’ I was just looking for confirmation)
Her: How many classes do you have a week?
Me, thrown off by the change of topic: Um... Twenty. Well, now 19. Why?
Her: Oooh, it’s not good. You should teach 20.
Me, becoming irritated: Why?
Her: It says in your contract that you should teach 20 classes a week.
Me, scoffing, said quickly and under my breath: Huh, well, my contract also says that my classes should only have 15 students or fewer, and that’s sure not true.

She looks puzzled, so I repeat myself.

But, the class with 20 students, is only because this 6a class is switched. Because these students can’t come any other time.
Me: I know, and I don’t mind about that one class. But almost all of my classes have more than 15.
Her: Yes...
Me: (staring, waiting for her to continue)
Her, said firmly and in a tone indicating the conversation is finished: Yes.
Me, sighing: So I’m not teaching this 6a class today, right?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Tuesday Trifecta

In the spirit of good weather, classes being canceled, and being talked into happy hour between classes (my arm was twisted), I give you three completely unrelated tidbits:

1) False Friends...

...(also called false cognates) are a topic close to my heart - I once forged an entire thesis’s worth of research about false friends in German and English. If you don’t want to click the link, the short explanation is that false friends are two words in two languages which look or sound the same, but have different meanings. Like, how ‘kuki’ does not mean ‘cookie.’

Today I discovered that the Hungarian word ‘harmonika’ means... what do you think? It means ‘accordion.’ Of course it does!

2) Kind Colleagues

Typical situation at my school: I go to teach a class, and only one girl is there. I know that I should just send her home, but trying to be professional (and save myself from a scolding later), I look for one of the other English teachers to confirm it. They’ve all gone home.

After I stood in the teacher’s room for a while, clutching my books and looking forlorn, one of the older teacher/administrator/secretary ladies took pity and tried to help me. It was interesting, because our only common language is German, despite the fact that we both speak German at about a 4th-grade level.

Not only did she give me official permission to go home, as I was leaving, she explained to me that on Thursday there’ll be a fire drill. This is the type of thing that people (ahem, contact teacher) never tell me... and which inevitable leads to me looking incompetent. So I really appreciated her making the effort.

3) and Ten Little Geniuses

Today I had a realization about my 6b class. Not only can they put sentences together (the 6a can’t even do ‘There is...’ ‘There are...’ yet), but for some reason these ten kids have near-perfect accents. Really, it’s amazing; they’re better than any other class, any other grade - better than some of the English teachers. I have no idea how this came about. But I plan on studying the phenomenon further.

And having a class I look forward to always makes the week better.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Weekend Debris

My flat looks like a tornado hit it. My body feels the same. The living room is covered with blankets, clothes, dishes, food, misplaced furniture, CDs, papers, ATC-making supplies and ephemera. Do I have a floor? My kitchen is filled with food, but all of it half-eaten and/or been sitting out overnight (or longer). The dirty dishes make such a pile that it escapes the sink. There’s bags of trash behind the door. The only cold drink in my fridge is an overlooked half-can of beer. I feel like I just ran a marathon (which is some sort of twisted karmic irony, considering I spent the majority of the weekend in bed). I’m dirty, I’m bruised, my hair looks like straw, my skin is blotchy, my throat is swollen, and I’m so tired I can barely stay upright.

It was a good weekend.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Great Minds ...

Or maybe it would be better to forgo the claim to greatness and say, Like minds think greatly. Here’s what happened: imagine me sitting in my flat, yesterday afternoon, pondering what I was going to do with myself on a lonely Friday night. I figured everyone already had plans, but on whim I sent off an email to John and Donna asking if they wanted to come to Szolnok for dinner.

Five minutes later John smsed me, “Dinner?” and we made plans from there. We ended up, them plus me plus Larry (the new teacher in Varga), in some trendy-ish place by the creepy communist ‘water tower’ (if you’ve been to Szolnok you know what I mean). All around, a fun evening. After much squabbling, they finally let me pay them back for their hospitality last weekend.

But here’s the catch - it wasn’t until John and Donna got back home later that evening that they even got my email. Like I said, great minds.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Freedom's Fury

The only people who read my blog are those who already have some sort of vested interest in Hungary. So no doubt y’all are up on the latest Hungarian political scandal, and there’s no need for me to recount here how beloved Prime Minister Feri G was caught on tape talking about how his government has absolutely nothing for the past four years, unless you count the difficult job of lying to the public ‘morning, noon, and night.’ Oooh, savory.

And you’ve probably already heard about the riots and protests which resulted Monday night in Budapest, when several thousand right-wingers converged on Parliament, and proceeded to harass police, flip and burn cars, and take over and loot the MTV building before finally being ‘subdued’ by the police (read: they ran out of booze and matches, got tired, and went home). On the plus side, they did desecrate that hideous Soviet statue on Szabadság tér... so there’s some good in everything.

And I’m sure you’ve already heard about the newest movie commemorating the 1956 revolution: Freedom’s Fury, A szabadság vihara. It’s the story behind the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games’ ‘Blood in the Water’ water polo match between Hungary and the Soviet Union.

So I guess I can’t tell you anything new. Except to say that last night, as I was sitting in the cinema watching Freedom’s Fury, protesters were gathering on Szolnok’s main square. As we left, the street was being blocked off and the mist in the air made it look smokey. We sat some blocks away at an outdoor cafe and had a long conversation about politics in our loud English-speaking voices. It was surreal. Unique, and just a little unsettling.

Sunday, September 17, 2006


This week, I should do a lesson about adjectives. Specifically, adjectives to describe people. How many ways can one person be described? Well, let’s see - recently, I’ve been called all of the following:
But my favorite description came from John, who said I was like a “soft-spoken sponge.” Meaning, I look sweet and innocent... until I soak up all your beer.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Excuses, excuses

So I do have a couple excuses why I haven’t been posting lately. Please choose from the following list the ones you would like to believe:

- I got busy spending my days planning out every single lesson for the remainder of the school year. Complete with charts and worksheets, and everything together neatly in a binder arranged by month and grade level.
- Having never properly registered with the police, I was technically an illegal worker. Therefore, I was trying to lay low and not call attention to myself.
- I became drunken with such frequency that even ‘sober’ moments were still hazy. No drunken blogging allowed.
- I was on vacation somewhere sunny and warm.
- After a very minor ‘incident’ with a student, I was forced into the Hungarian version of community service.
- I got really sick, to the point where I couldn’t eat for days, which of course led to further sickness and weakness and other unwellness.
- I got really lazy.
- The pipes in my wall finally exploded, and I got to spend the week in a hotel while they fixed it. Nice, but unfortunately a hotel without internet.

So which are true? Let’s just say, about half.

Monday, September 04, 2006

First Day Teaching

This morning at 7:30, still schedule-less but armed with lesson plans for any eventuality, I reported to school. My schedule (see entry below) was sitting on my desk, and it turned out I had two classes, first and second hours.

With my lesson plans in hand, the classes were relatively successful. There was the usual first-week confusions about who should be in which class, with which teacher, in which classroom. There was the problem of me forgetting to speak Hunglish (“What did you do this summer?... I mean, what you do this summer? You go to Balaton?”).

But overall, a good first day. It’s hard to think of the students as one year older. In my mind, 6.ab still means the class with Hella and Krisztina and all those loud boys, not this new 6.ab with Akos and Virág and the Vikis. It’s funny how the class changed, or didn’t. Today’s 6.ab is exactly the same loud, clever, not-so-bright but well-intentioned group that they were as 5.ab last year. On the other hand, the former 4.a - 26 munchkins running around the classroom, jumping on desks, shouting and playing football - has transformed into a 5.a of diligent, notebook-and-pencil-carrying, attention-paying students. I can’t wait to see how / if the other classes have changed.

Wait, did I just say I’m looking forward to teaching? Wow, maybe I’ve changed too.

My Schedule

I got my teaching schedule today. It’s, um, interesting. They made some changes from last year:

First, I’m not teaching fourth grade (unless they’re going to spring that on me later). I’m a little disappointed, because I was looking forward to a fresh crop of kids, a group I can start from scratch with. But I guess it’s for the best. I did spend all of last year wondering out loud what possible good it was for me to teach 4th grade... who knew someone was listening?

Another change: you can see on the plan red lessons (“compulsory lessons”) and blue lessons (“voluntary lessons”). These voluntary lessons sound like a great idea: kids sign up for an extra hour, and we do something fun (movies, field trips, etc). In reality, I’m afraid they will turn out just like last year: remedial classes for the kids whose parents decided they needed extra English. And this year I have a lot of these lessons.

And the worst change: starting every day at 7:30 and finishing everyday at 2. I don’t care about the times, I understand that life in the real world often includes less-than-perfect work hours. But the gaps in the middle of the day always feel like wasted time.

But because I’m being positive this week, I’ll end with the upsides: First, I don’t have to teach the “voluntary lessons” until next week. And second, most importantly, this won’t be the final schedule. Far from it - last year they made three or four versions. So there’s always room for change.

Friday, September 01, 2006

First Day of School

As it is everywhere in Hungary, September 1st was the beginning of classes at Kassai Úti Általános Iskola (Kassai Street Primary School). You can see this is a short entry; that’s because it was a short day, especially for me: I went to the school. My schedule wasn’t ready. I chatted with the other English teachers. I mentioned that I’m planning on leaving in October. They asked who would replace me, but not why I was leaving, or where I was going, or with who. Hm, priorities.

Then they left to go teach their osztályfõnök classes (the only classes of the day), and I went home.