The adrenaline of everything being new really got me through last week, giving me much-needed energy during such a turbulent week for all of us. This week my body has just crashed and I'm sick with a rather bad sinus infection. I guess it's good I'm not on a plane right now to America, planning to run in the Chicago Half Marathon on Sunday... I wouldn't have been strong enough to pull it off.
I've realized that much of what has made this week harder comes from differences in cultural expectations -- the lack of certain practices and amenities I had always just taken for granted in the schools I taught at in Connecticut, New Hampshire, Texas and Michigan.
Here are some of things that I now truly appreciate about when I taught in America:
We have copiers, but there are only two shared by all the teachers in grades five through eleven.
I think I must be dreaming when I remember copiers in America... Copiers that could take your multiple-paged document and create single- or double-side copies, collated, and even finished off with shiny, silver staples... Here you have to make each copy separately, then collate it all on your own, then try to find a stapler...
EASY ACCESS TO NECESSARY SUPPLIES
I never would thought that a large paper-cutter wouldn't exist! They simply don't have them!!! FORGET having a laminator...
I can't even reliably find basics such as staplers, paperclips, scissors, tape and glue. There are some, but with so many people trying to share them, you can't count on finding them when you need them. I'm going to bring in my own and keep them hidden in my cabinet.
ADEQUATE WORK SPACES
The room where the copiers are is more like a large closet, so it's hard to lay out stacks of papers and collate them. It's also hard to form a line to use the copiers.
The teachers' room can't hold all the teachers, so it can be very hard to find a space to sit and work during a free period.
VARIETY OF TEACHING SPACES
I've always liked to take my classes to larger spaces when we're doing certain group activities, or when I want to give them the space to break off into small groups/pairs. I can't do that here in Moscow; there's no room!
Our school is located in a building that used to be residential, so the classrooms are very small. A few walls were knocked out to create a hall/gym room, but that's usually in use. I also can't rearrange the desks to create different configurations, the classroom dimensions are too small. You'd never be able to teach Rassias Method language drills in a semi-circle here!
Never having taught in New York City, I don't know how much space I'd have available to me there -- in a city where real estate is also so expensive. In the midwest, however, one thing we certainly had in abundance was SPACE...
Substitute teachers aren't used in Russian schools; they don't even know what they are. The whole concept is unknown. Other teachers instead cover all the classes when another teacher is absent. When you cover a sick colleague's classes and there isn't a substitute, you're reimbursed for the extra classes. Not here.
In America, if you're going to miss your classes for whatever reason, you are responsible for providing the substitute with detailed lesson plans and all necessary copies. Not here. Here the person covering is expected to figure it out, and the sick person might even complain later on about what you ended up doing. (I've heard of this happening from other teacher friends).
Such a system could, in theory, work fairly -- if all teachers are absent the same amount and coverage is always equally distributed. Obviously, that's not the reality; some people never get sick while others catch every bug around.
I ended up with a rather heavy load this week because other teachers were out; it wouldn't have been very hard under normal circumstances, but as I wrote at the beginning of this post, I'm sick, too. If I were in the USA, I'd probably call in sick tomorrow and stay in bed. Knowing that my fellow teacher who has already been covering for others all week would have to then take on my classes, too, there's no way I'll stay home tomorrow... I just couldn't do that to her!
EASY ACCESS TO THE INTERNET AND PRINTERS
We do have the internet and numerous computers throughout the school -- they're simply not that easy to use for my needs. Only one computer in the faculty room can print, and there's always a line of people waiting to use it. There is a computer room, but when there are classes meeting in it, I can't print there, either. The school's laptops can't print, for some reason.
I wish I could just rely on my own laptop -- but only the school's computers can access the internet. You'd think someone could add mine to the network, but I've been told it's not possible. I think I'll ask again... And again...
Lest you think I'm only complaining, however, I should mention that one of my classrooms has a lovely SmartBoard. I LOVE SmartBoards; I used them often at the last school I taught at in the USA. A SmartBoard looks like a dry erase "blackboard" -- but it's actually a board-sized computer screen that you can write on. When you touch it, your touch also works like a mouse clicking. It will be great to use it in my American Culture classes to illustrate certain points. Those babies are EXPENSIVE and I feel very lucky to have one again.
TRUE "CHERRIES ON TOP"
The items I've mentioned above seem so basic that it's almost silly to add such things as easy, free parking or an actual lunch period when you can count on being able to sit at a table with colleagues.
Then I think of the true "over-the-top" luxury I had in America: free access to sports facilities during free periods and before or after school. An ice rink! A swimming pool (well, that was completed the year I left, but it's there now...)! Gym equipment!
Ahh... I will be such an appreciative employee when I'm back in America one day.