Sitting in middle school English, watching kids take a test, Prishtina Kosova
When Ted and were first married, my job was substitute teacher. I woke every morning for a few years to the ring of the phone rather than the ring of an alarm clock. Sometimes when you sub for a living jobs come sporadically, but I worked every day for nearly 3 school years. Why? Because I was willing to sub in middle school. In fact, I let them know I preferred middle school. Yes, I know, crazy, but high-schoolers were too close to my age at the time (yes, this was long, long ago!) and not having kids of my own, elementary-schoolers were too little. So, I found the best fit in middle school.
Do you remember being in middle school? Or junior high school, as we called it back then. Do you remember the raucous, giggly, emotion filled conversations? Do you remember “I’m not your friend” one minute and, “You will be my best friend forever” the next? Do you remember always feeling awkward, stuck somewhere between childhood and young adulthood? I do. You see, these days I am back to my roots in education, perpetually stuck in the wonderful world of middle school. And I am loving it.
It all began back in 2013 when we first arrived in Kosova. I came with my 50 pounds, two carry ons, and my mind made up. I was going to be the person in charge of our household and Ted would be in charge of the school. I would cook, clean, do laundry, entertain the teachers, but I was not going to teach. After all I am a first grade teacher at heart and there are no first graders in this school. Well, of course like many times when I have had my mind made up, Our Father had a different idea. After all, He had had me specifically trained to love middle-schoolers all those years ago.
I remember well the day we were in the car, enjoying the view as we headed from O-town into the school. Gary Palmer was with us, we were having a lovely conversation when he said it.
“Luanne, I think we are going to need you to teach.”
“Uhmmm, teach what?”
“Probably middle school science or math.”
OK, I thought, “I can do this. I can teach middle school. I have done it before, but Father, if you have someone else in mind to do this, please send them fast. I accepted your Macedonian Call to this land right next to Macedonia, but I didn’t know middle-schoolers would be involved. ” And so my conversation went, but as it turned out, I was needed to teach 6th grade.
And from the first day I loved those crazy kids. Inquisitive, full of life, and eager to begin at a new school, those 14 kids reminded me that middle school can be fun. Sure we had our days, don’t we all, but they quickly became “my kids” and I quickly became their “school mom”. We laughed, and played and learned together. What a great year we had. But, I must admit, I am getting a bit old to be running after those energetic kids all day long.
Last year dear Heather showed up on the scene to teach the 6th graders (thank you Heather!) and I came full circle to become permanent middle school substitute. I have taught history and science and math (lots of math) and currently I am teaching English filling in for lovely Jackie who has been in the states with her husband, Skender, for 6 weeks on school business. Yes, over the last couple of years I have gotten to enjoy the middle school life.
Why do I love these kids so much? Well, they tend to keep you on your toes with questions and they have an energy that can’t be rivaled, just like you would expect from middle-schoolers in the US. But, these kids are different in some ways.
First of all, they are a bit more innocent than US middle-schoolers. For example Ted, Katie and I were just now sitting on couches near the base of the stairs talking during break time and whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, middle-schoolers kept running by at full speed, up stairs, down stairs, all around the school. Turns out they were playing a game (most likely hide-and-seek as best we could figure), no sitting and relaxing during break for them. No sitting and gossiping about the latest pop culture drama. No, break time is game time, time to run and play. It was really quite entertaining. These kids remind me of US 4th through 6th graders. They love their teachers, they work and play together with little of the boy/girl drama of US kids. Oh yes, we still get plenty of drama, but it is more about dogs eating their food (which does happen, love those dogs) or who beat who in tetherball or yesterday it was about “is it possible to have two best friends at the same time?”
And they love to help. Every Friday Katie and I host “Cooking Club” at our home.
What fun. They all have ideas of what to make and they want to be in the middle of the action (unlike the high school cooking club of a few years ago where the girls loved to sit and watch me cook for them :] ). “Can I stir? Can I help roll out the dough? Can I . . . ” are heard through out the kitchen whenever they gather in the kitchen. It kind of reminds me of cooking with my own kids all those years ago. We have made muffins, painted cookies, and decorated gingerbread men.
Next week we are moving onto cookie “gingerbread houses”, I had to show them a picture to let them in on what we will be making.
Every single day I find something new that I would assume they know, but they don’t. Sometimes it is a language issue like when I first began teaching 6th grade math and asked a question about the sum of two numbers. It was an easy question, but no one would answer. Then one brave soul raised their hand, “Miss, what is a sum?” Oh I had lots to learn back then. These days I know not to assume that they know all of the vocabulary for any subject, simple or not, they probably know it well in Albanian, but these kids are not only learning English, they are learning the language of math, science, history, PE, and art too. That is a lot of new languages.
Then there are the cultural issues. The other day in English class I was reading to them about why people in olden days, before electricity (as opposed to when I was a girl), were afraid of the dark. The article said that, among other things, people were afraid of falling into cisterns. Knowing that they would not know what a cistern was, I began explaining that it held water and was often placed in the ground to keep the water cool, so if someone left the lid off, there would be trouble. Still blank looks. Hmmm, well, it is like the reservoir we all have to hold water, in case the water gets turned off (oh, yeah) and being in the ground, it is like when someone takes the manhole cover off and doesn’t replace it and then if you are walking down the middle of the street because the sidewalk is full of parked cars and you don’t see it, you can fall in or at least hurt yourself tripping. Oh! now they got it.
There was the day I was reading the poem “How I learned English” by a man who immigrated to the US from Egypt as a boy. The poem is about a boy playing baseball on a vacant lot with his friends and he was “just off the plane”. I read the whole poem and they really didn’t get it. So, I began back at the beginning, drawing on the board as I went. I explained about everything from the cirrus clouds in the sky and what a vacant lot is to the whole concept of baseball and how it works. At one point as I am explaining how the ball is hit and where the outfield is (because the boy was out in right field – trying to stay out of the way), one girl said, “So, it is like kickball!” Yes, exactly, well except you hit the ball with a bat instead of kicking it. I guess they have been playing kickball in PE these days. The climax of the poem is when the boy gets hit in the forehead with the ball. He grasps his head and yells, “My shin, my shin!” and all his friends fall down laughing. So, I ask why they are laughing. “Because it was his forehead, not his shin, Miss.” Yes, now we are getting somewhere. I then asked, “Where is your shin?” Everyone sits there. One boy points tentatively to a spot just under his mouth. OK. “No, that is your chin. Your shin is the front part of your leg (and I point for good measure).” A collective murmur of “Ohhhhhhh.” is heard and smiles break out around throughout the room. I am not kidding, a couple of days later I heard the word “shin” come up in conversation. Gotta love these kids, they are learning and using what they learn everyday.
But, what I love most about these kids is that no matter what confusion there might be, no matter what mistake is made, they never laugh at another classmate. They help each other to understand; they work together. They know that the person reading right now, making all of those mispronunciations might be them in a few minutes. The friend asking the question “What is a vacant lot?” now, might be them asking “What is a cistern?” another day. Sure we laugh together at times, but it is all in good fun and not at the expense of another. And the few American kids we have become the experts patiently helping their peers.
Yes, I love these energetic, crazy, full of life kids.
Today is my last day teaching them English for now, Jackie is coming back home this weekend. But, you can be sure I will be around laughing, loving, enjoying these kids. Yes, the middle school life is for me.