Friday, October 3, 2008

Teachers' Day

(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...

Edited the next day:

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. 


Anonymous said...

The discussion on private schools only reinforces my belief that private schools serve to reproduce an elitist social hierarchy. How sad:(
PUBLIC schools all over the world need our support now more than ever with the gap between the rich and the poor growing at astronomical rates.
The ideology of neoliberalism is destroying public education!

Tina in CT said...

I am putting in my two cents. I worked very hard as a substitute teacher in public and private schools while my daughter Tamara was growing up so I could give her a top rate education in the country's best private schools. She NEVER would have had the exposure to her foreign languages with all native speakers with advanced degrees. Tell me if a public high school could meet the needs of a gifted student that spoke 4 foreign languages at the age of 17. Her private school could and did. One of her teachers (with a PhD from BU) even gave her 1 on 1 lessons in Italian her senior year of HS because of her interest and gift. Don't get me going on private schools. My daughter flourished and soared and I gave her that opportunity. I did not make enough money as a substitute teacher so she also was the recipient of fantastic financial aid. That's why I continued for many years to work on her preparatory school's fund raising campaign so other deserving girls would have the same chance.

She started out in our town's public school and we took her out after 4th grade as she was not being challenged. I'd been subbing in the school and the Jr./Sr. high and saw what was ahead. It was the best decision for her. We live in a professional town in the burbs outside a major city in New England and have good public schools but they were not meeting our needs. I did what I thought was the best thing for my daughter. I felt very strongly about this.

Anonymous said...

I am all for public schools education as well.

Anonymous said...

You know,i feel like I need to add my two cents to it as well. If you would be talking about some distant land I have never seen, I might feel different.
I have graduated from Soviet era public school and University. It served me well over the years. I came to US at age 28 very pregnant with 6 years old child in my hands and 2 suitcases and the backpack. Neither I or my husband spoke a word of English( we could read it so). All we had on our site is our Soviet Public School education.
It served us well for almost 30 years.
Neither of us was privileged enough to get any other kind of education.
We need to make American Public education to work. It is the only way to give children a true opportunities in life.

Annie said...

In my experience it has been the PUBLIC school that is elitist. Only the rich, well-known or parents of the radiently gifted need hope that a teacher might actually remember their child's name long enough to not have a blank expression on his/her face at conference time. Because of our financial situation we expect that our kids will attend the local community college before doing the second two years at University. When this was mentioned to the HS counselor, she literally threw my son's file across the desk into a pile of trash (yes - her fast-food lunch trash) - "oh, well in that case" that case she didn't think there was any point in her giving him [or me] another thought. And this is a good, highly rated school....just an "elitist" public school.

I don't suppose the small Catholic Schools that my younger children attend can give them anything like the opportunities that your girls are getting, Tamara. Quite the opposite. The art training is a joke. The theatre opportunities make me want to cringe (yet the person in charge has been there so long that there is no use attempting to even volunteer my time). But, if you want the basics, math, english, science and social studies the teachers are excellent - and more to the point the school is small enough that they know each child and aim to help each child reach his or her potential. And they care for ALL of them, whether their parents are wealthy enough to pay the full, and hefty tuition, or whether they are lost boys from Sudan, refugees from Burundi or any other child.

Anonymous said...

I have an idea: let's debate the differences between a child attending "any" school, verses being homeschooled...!!! heehee!

Tamara, and everyone else who has responded, is just doing what they think is best for their child at that particular time. We, as moms, need to support each other in our decision making as opposed to "tearing down". We women hold ourselves down - that is a lesson for all young girls to learn, regardless of "where" they learn it!

miss you!

Anonymous said...

why do you say that we woman "hold ourselves down"? What do you mean?

Anonymous said...

That is so sad to hear (on Tamara's addition on Russian corruption). And they even managed to destroy one good thing they had - public education. I suppose the society was always corrupt, but you could get by in the old days, you just did not get much, but you still could get your education without bribes.
I hope, your are right Tamara, and those kids will learn some civility and responsibility to bring the country around.

Anonymous said...

I am very interested in hearing a debate about homeschooling vs any other type of schooling, mostly because my elder grandson is home-schooled right now. What is your take on homeschooling?

Anonymous said...

ok, my "homeschooling" comment was just a lame joke - meant to deflect the seriousness of the conversation somewhat. i admit, it was lame... i personally do not have strong feelings about where/how a child gets an education as long as the parents are comfortable with the situation. my point about "holding ourselves down" refers to how some women readily critize each other and "nitpick" in order to find fault as opposed to simply thinking "i am sure she have given that situation serious consideration, and although i may not agree, it is best for her". this is just a general comment on life as a female. again, probably lame... as for us, em goes to a public school, and will continue to do so as long as she/we are happy there, and we are very happy. in general i support the public system and come from a long line of teachers. this is getting long, so tamara could you please give olga my email address and olga please email me and we can chat further if you would like ; ) you sound nice ; ) any friend of tamara's is a friend of mine!

miss you!

Anonymous said...

I see what you mean.

Muddy said...

I home schooled my daughter from kindergarten to graduation (this past June) My son is also home schooled-and is in 11th grade. IF anyone wants more information about what homeschooling is like in the USA seriously and has sincere questions, email me via my blogger profile. It is and has been what was best for our kids, but isn't for everyone. (kids and parents alike) It worked for us as it was a part of our family's mission and purpose.

Tamara, Thank you for all you share from your point of view of what you see there. I enjoy having a deeper understanding of what life is like for you there as I read your blog and get to know the differences and hardships you experience. As a mother, keep doing what you know is best for your kids! You know them best and what they need to thrive and survive as they grow up. God bless and take care

Anonymous said...

I see it now. My first comment was misunderstood, or may be I did not put it right.
My first comment was purely political. In response to "Anonymous" comment. It had nothing to do with parents choices.
And I strongly believe in parents right to make educational decisions they feel are right for their children. We made enough good and bad decisions when our children education was concerned. Kids are resilient, so they survived both good and bad ones.
I guess my point is, that to make this kind of decisions, you have to be equipped with some education, deep interest in your children education and some means to achieve your goals.
Not all children are that fortunate, and as a society, I believe, we have an obligation, to give all children a chance to get the educational foundation they can build upon, weather they are fortunate enough to have educationally minded parents or not.
And my feeling is that we are failing in it as a society. And it is very sad.

Anonymous said...

Estoy de acuerdo con Olga.
La conversación sobre eduación pública o privada se debe de enfocar sobre ideología no sobre asuntos personales. Si la clase media y alta escogerían escuelas públicas donde asisten niños de color, niños mejorarían las escuelas públicas. Mientras la clase media huye de las escuelas públicas, la clase baja está más y más segregada y sin recursos para mejorar un sistema que no les sirve. Apoyen sus escuelas públicas si quieren una sociedad justa y demócrata.