Tuesday, November 8, 2011

End of First Quarter: Struggles and Successes

We have reached the end of the first quarter of classes. Next week, I’ll have fall break to relax and celebrate surviving 9 weeks in the Mongolian school system. To commemorate, I thought I’d archive some of my struggles and successes.

Class size: My 9th grade class has 39 students. My fifth grade, 42. These are my largest classes (which I solo teach) and classroom management is extremely tiresome. Logistically, I just do not have enough resources to keep my 3 ½ dozen students occupied at all times with out someone getting off task. Group work, while ideal, is nearly ineffective, because since the groups are so numerous, it makes assessment practically impossible. Therefore, I am left without knowing whether my students comprehended the material or not.

Material: I do not work from books in any of my classes, so I am the sole opinion on what curriculum we should cover. Sounds great in theory: I can teach what I want, when I want. But I want to be preparing my students to meet whatever goal they have for learning English. And since this is my first time teaching English as a foreign language, I do not always know what is the most helpful way to learn what I am realizing to be a very intricate and complicated language.

Resources: Teachers have to supply their own resources—paper, chalk, markers, anything you might need to use in class. Having a very small living budget and class sizes that make creating effective resources the biggest challenge ever, I constantly have to decide whether or not a certain visual or manipulative is really vital to whatever lesson I’m teaching. Plus, I’m running out of single-sided handouts from Pre-Service Training that I’ve been recycling by printing on the other side.

Weather: It’s getting cold.

That got pretty lengthy. Nothing is terrible.

Clubs: I have started two clubs at school, a drama club for students in 7th-9th grades, and a song and poem club for students in 4th-5th grades. These have easily become my favorite classes and the highlight of my week. My class size is small—less than 25 students, and I get to teach whatever I want (I realize this sounds like my previously listed struggle, but in this context it is wonderful). The idea is that these are English clubs, but we are practicing our skills through drama and poetry. I get to revive games and warm-ups from my repertoire that I used to play back in my theatre days, and I get to incorporate fun songs for my little kids complete with hand motions and everything. Also, I get to teach these two classes in our school’s “art room,” which is like a dance room with mirrors and a stage. I use the mirrors to write down dialogue or song lyrics with a marker, and my kids eagerly circle around to see what we’ll be learning next. I just broke up my drama kids into pairs for their first scene, and they have been adorable with it. My song kids know “If you’re happy and you know it” and “The Moose Song.” It is fun to be out of desks for the hour.

Phone Calls from Eej: Weekly, I talk on the phone with my host mom from Orkhon. I get a chance to practice my Mongolian and get caught up on life back in my soum. Recently, she told me that one of our hashaa dogs, Mojgai, had 3 puppies. Other newsworthy information: the cows were fine, the river was freezing over, my siblings will come home soon, and my host dad was sleeping in the other room. Eej always asks if I’m warm and eating food. I tell her I am both. I tell her that I may visit in February for Tsaagan Sar, and that би танд дандаа сандагI miss you always.

Cooking: I didn’t lie to Eej; I am eating. In fact, I really enjoy cooking here with what I can find. I have only one burner and one pan, but I make due. Last month, I bought a rice cooker, and it gets the job done. I need to figure out what I’m going to make to bring to Thanksgiving in UB.

Traveling: Last weekend, I successfully traveled to UB alone. As in, I navigated the insanity that is transportation in Mongolia, and arrived safely where I should have, and then made it back to the bus station, bought a ticket, and made it home. This was my first trip back to the capital since being there one night after Swearing-In in August, and it was my first time exploring the city. Cheesburgers! Bacon! Escalators! I’ll be back in a couple of weeks, more confident in my abilities to take a trip there when I need to.

With a quarter of the school year complete, I’m still at times shocked to remember that I’m living in Mongolia. Life is feeling routine. Both the struggles and the successes I have here are just a part of my normal daily life. Here’s to fall break!

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