Wednesday, March 7, 2012


It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

I don’t think there’s a better way to summarize my experience with teaching so far. I’ve never encountered a job where I can be on the highest high one class, and plummet into the depths of despair the next, then meteorically return to euphoria again later on. It’s the most rewarding, and most challenging, job I’ve ever had.

And it’s the most exhausting. I was discussing this with some other volunteers the other day who are first-time teachers here in Romania. One of them, like me, worked in the professional world before coming here, in a job where 80-hour weeks were not uncommon. And we both agreed that we NEVER remember being as spent after any of those days as we are after a six-class day – in other words, an 8-2.

It’s why anyone who tells you teaching is an easy job either 1) has never been a teacher, or 2) has been – or regretfully still is – a teacher, but is a crappy, careless one.

But that’s not the point I’m getting at here. This post is to highlight some of the highs I’ve felt lately as a teacher. I’m avoiding the negative partly because I see no point in highlighting it, and partly because it’s typically lost at the bottom of a plastic bottle of 4-lei ($1.25) wine.

I’ll start with the kindergartners.

I have five kindergarten classes, four spate-în-spate-în-spate-în-spate. When I finish the last of the morning, I’m smiling due to the adorableness of the little ones, but I can barely walk straight. I feel like I just went about 11 rounds with cuteness. Here are a few examples why:

“Domn. Profesor, ce frumos sunteți azi.” (Mr. Teacher, how handsome you are today.)

One week later, same kindergartner: “Domn. Profesor, arătați mișto azi.” (More or less, Mr. Teacher, you look cool today.)

Mothers, lock up your sons.

I’ve also been using this song to help them learn numbers.

Well, I don’t want them to focus on the language that’s not that important for now, i.e. anything NOT numbers, so I try to distract them during the parts when they’re not counting. Enter air instruments. If you haven’t ever seen a room full of kindergartners rocking out with air guitars and pianos, well, I submit that you have not lived, my friend.

But the happy moments aren’t monopolized just by the little ones. The last couple weeks, with seventh and eighth grades, we’ve been building a pretty thorough restaurant roleplay. Most classes stick mainly to script, but an extra class period with one of my most experimental seventh-grade classes led to them going WAY off script, and we landed on gold. I’ll do my best to present it as a play.

[Skip ahead to the middle of the meal. Enter waiter; customer is already seated and has received his food.]
Waiter: How is everything?
Customer: There’s a problem. There’s a hair.
Waiter. I’m sorry. Would you like something else?
Customer: Yes, champagne and pizza. [Seriously.]
Waiter. OK, just a moment. [Waiter goes to the classroom window, which was designated earlier as the refrigerator, opens it and grabs a handful of snow. She then brings it back to the table, sets it down, then throws some in the customer’s face. He’s appalled. At this point, Teacher has to help with some language.]
Teacher/Omniscient Narrator: She’s been fired. [To the customer: Say, “May I see the manager?”]
Customer: May I see the manager?
Manager: I’m very sorry. She [the waitress] is gone. [Meanwhile, she’s not really gone; she’s inexplicably running around the classroom. I assume this is because she extrapolated from the current situation that her character went crazy due to her firing and is now terrorizing the very same restaurant that, five minutes ago, employed her. I give them artistic license.]
Customer: OK, may I have the check please?
[Manager turns around to tally the check. Meanwhile, the customer quietly slides from the chair, then crawls on his hands and knees to the other side of the restaurant (classroom). Everyone in the restaurant (classroom) has seen this but the manager. The manager turns back around with the check to an empty chair. His sincere shock elicits belly laughs from Teacher and the rest of the restaurant patrons (students). Scene. Exeunt. (Bell rings.)]

Finally, I can always count on my English Club for a few smiles. It’s a group of fun, creative kids who like to experiment. Some of my best moments have come when they, as a class, have written a story. There are three installments.

The first:

"It was a stormy night, and I can't sleep. I hear something strange: a mystery object. It's a U.F.O. I saw alien. It was green, big and came from Mars. And it have smelly breath. He try to eat me. It say you look like a hamburger. I beat it."

The second:

"It was a day like no other day. I don't play soccer, I play pool. I play CS 1.6. Is dead. Then in the afterlife, I haunt houses. I see a gun and I kill myself again. I got to heaven. I reincarnated as Selena Gomez and I kill Justin Bieber."

The third:

"It was a stormy night. I am sailing on stormy waters. I was fishing. I was searching for shark robots. I found one. Inside there was a body. It was Mr. Bean. Inside Mr. Bean was Chuck Norris. Inside Chuck Norris was a hamburger. I want to eat that hamburger. But... Chuck Norris stops me. I call Bruce Lee to fight him. Mr. Bean threw up and made them laugh and they made peace and I ate the hamburger."

Once all this Hunger Games brouhaha has passed, I plan to market it as a trilogy.

I’d be lying if I said there weren’t moments of “Why am I here? These kids don’t care, why should I?” Although it’s my job to make them care, some days you just don’t have it. However, in the long run, it’s moments like these that make those days vastly less memorable by comparison.