(Edited at the bottom on 10/5)
I'm so glad that I was well enough to go back to work today; it was "Teachers' Day," a special holiday in Russia. Last year I wrote quite extensively about how we celebrated it at the other school where I taught.
This year's celebration was much more "American" in nature, much less "Soviet." There weren't pages and pages of memorized over-the-top poetry in ode of teachers and the kids weren't prepared extensively for weeks so that they could do highly orchestrated dance and song routines during the assembly.
Instead, the kids were all lined up in the school yard, waiting with pins they had made for all the teachers to congratulate us. Music was playing LOUDLY (sure the neighbors all loved that...) and the atmosphere was very festive. Inside the school, there were colorful balloons everywhere. I mean EVERYWHERE. It was fantastic! I love bright colors and balloons...
Students ran around all day presenting their teachers with flowers, mainly roses. It was hard to find enough containers to keep them in water!
All the teachers were dressed up, and our faculty room was packed with flowers in buckets and vases, and trays of cookies and chocolates. I must confess, however, that by noon we were all craving vegetables and salt... CHOCOLATE OVERLOAD.
The class schedule was condensed to make time for a student/teacher silly soccer game, and we all crammed into the courtyard. The "silly" part was the disregard for the rules, including wandering goal nets that moved to get closer to the ball. I wish I'd known in advance; I'd have brought appropriate clothing so I could have joined in as a goalie. There weren't any women playing and that bugged me!
(I wish our school were big enough to have a gym or a grassy outdoor area... The lower school has more outdoor space than the upper school, so Katya doesn't feel the shortage of space during her school day. I can now understand why there's such a hefty entrance fee when you first join the school... They really do need the money to acquire more space for the school...)
In the afternoon, the students put on a concert for all the teachers, a "talent show" of sorts, the kind you'd have in America. There were some singers, dancers, a rock band, a pianist, a magician... I really enjoyed seeing how talented some of my students are; I had no idea that one of them could very well end up singing professionally.
My eleventh graders slipped me a very nice bottle of champagne, much to my surprise. It turns out that the dad of one of the girls is in the business, and his brand will even be served at the Olympics in Sochi. Pretty cool!
While we were waiting for the concert to begin, one of my colleagues and I had a really good talk. Her son has attended the school his whole life and we have a lot in common as moms who are teachers here, as moms of kids who aren't rich like the majority of the other kids. I told her about scholarships in the USA, about financial aid... The whole concept of "alumni," of former students maintaining ties with the school -- receiving copies of the school magazine/newsletter, visiting for reunions, making monetary donations... The mere idea of it made her dream of the possibilities, of how incredibly different the student body must be at our elite American private schools as a result. She really "felt it" as my face began to glow as I talked about the schools I went to, of the scholarships I received, and of how important it is to me to make my donations --however small they may be -- so that some other child could also be helped.
I think she now has a better understanding of what it means to me to be a teacher in a private school -- that I see myself as being part of a community of learning, establishing ties that will last long beyond when I'm no longer working there. Another colleague had asked me similar questions that morning about my working there; based on what both of them said, I think that greater sense of belonging, of appreciation, of a mission would fill them both with such energy and motivation... I can feel so much raw potential in the school, I have such a vision of the school in the future... It's exciting to be in a position where I can help to develop that future.
The Russian capitalist economy is still in the newborn stage... Russian private schools are still so, so young... Who knows how our school, and others like it, will have changed in one hundred years. Maybe by then they'll have changed to be more reflective of the greater society.
In any case, as I look out at my privileged students every day, I can't help but think of what an incredible opportunity this is. These are the kids who are going to be in positions of power and influence, making decisions that will truly help to chart Russia's future. The ideas we discuss could actually matter, and matter on a big scale.
It sure makes things exciting.
Here are my roses...
Wow. Did this post touch a nerve... Before I begin, let me ask that people not post anonymously. If you're going to comment, please sign your name.
I get the sense from the anonymous post, that the writer had a lot more to say. I'd like to ask that people not judge a book by its cover. My kids are in private schools here because they have special needs that couldn't be met by any of the public schools here in Moscow. My older daughter would be quite damaged by being in a typical "Soviet-style" school and we're so relieved to have found a place that can meet her needs.
If we were in the USA, we would carefully evaluate our public schools. If the place we lived had such phenomenal schools as you had, Olga, we would gladly send our kids to them. When Katya (Olga's daughter) told me about your town's schools, they even sounded like a small university at times! If, however, the town's schools couldn't offer what we wanted, and we could afford it, we would have our kids in private schools. (And while our kids were in the those private schools, we would still, of course, be paying our taxes in support of the public schools, voting locally and nationally in our public schools' interests, caring that they be the best they could be).
Education is the most important thing we'll ever offer our kids (I obviously mean this beyond the far more important lessons and love learned at home), far more important that any material item or vacation. We've had one vacation as a family since our kids were born, instead spending our money on education.
When I made the comment in the paragraph above about my privileged students and the position they'll be in to influence Russian society, I meant it -- but not in an egotistical way. Russia is what it is -- and for the next generation, at the very least, it won't be changing so much... The elite few that gained control of the country's wealth when the USSR dissolved are in the position to make great changes.
If the children of those families can gain an appreciation for the concepts of tolerance and diversity (in all forms), if they can learn about social responsibility, if they can learn to understand the debt they have to society because of what they've been given.... These kids can then help to really change this country in a positive way.
Right now the country is run on corruption. It's a vastly unfair place and much of what made Russia so special has been contaminated.... There's no more equal opportunity, free education, shared ideals...
Even the free kindergartens now require bribe money in order for your child to get any individual attention, in order for your kid's psychological needs to be met. The bribes are extensive, relying also on "who knows whom" to get your kid into first grade in a good public school. And university? The bribes for the top universities, beginning with the bribes you pay to university professors who tutor you for the entrance exams, all the way down the bribes that must continue until graduation (for passing scores) make these universities more expensive than many American universities!!!!! It's sickening! The non-rich are being totally left behind; only a few manage to snag spots each year and the divide is constantly widening.
I didn't realize just how corrupt the educational system had become until I started teaching here; my students, the teachers and parents have given me quite an earful!
If the educational system is corrupt, then EVERYTHING is contaminated.