Tag Archives: teaching

Where Are the Fathers?

The love,  respect and pride that I have for my family isn’t a secret I harbor. They are the strength that I wrap myself in every day, as I go out in the world doing whatever I want, saying whatever I want, believing I am capable of whatever it is I choose. Furthermore, the special relationships I have with my father is evident through the stories I tell about things he has said, advice he has given, stories he once told me, what he believes in, what he hates…And on…And on… Again, the love for the patriarch in my family is no secret.

So this week, when my partners and I taught our lecture on Family Life to our 5th and 6th grade classes, I was genuinely enthusiastic. I wanted to learn more about who my students were and where they came from. This particular lesson was less lecture based and more analysis based. The goal was for students to be more introspective and examine the relationships they had within their family.

In one of our activities, the students had to answer the following questions in detail:

  1. Who do you consider members of your family?
  2. Who do you spend the most time with in your family? Why?
  3. Who do you feel closest too in your family? Why?
  4. What are some conflicts you have in your family?
  5. With who would you like to have a better relationship with in your family?

The students were given 15 minutes to respond to all 5 questions. Many times students rush to be finished first without providing adequate responses,  but with this activity we stressed the importance of giving complete answers with thorough explanations.

Let me start by saying that prior to this activity I was aware of the “common” issues within Moldavian families: alcohol abuse, domestic violence, poverty, parents are abroad, etc… However, I did not know which of my students were subjected to these problems…But quickly, I learned.

Here were a few surprises:

  • Gheorge is a one of my hyperactive 6th graders that is always joking and smiling, but is willing to work after the task is explained to him three times. I suspected Gheorge behaved this way for attention, but when he presented his responses and told the class that he had a bad relationship with his father because he drinks all of the time and sometimes hits him, I was caught off guard.  I am not a counselor or anything, but Gheorge has not exemplified withdrawn or even violent behavior. To me, he’s just a hyperactive 6th grader, a class clown with lots of potential. But no…He is a child in an abusive home.
  • Then there was the 5th grade Gheorge who has a father in a wheel chair that is an infamous drunk within the community. Gheorge’s mother lives abroad and has not been home to see him in nearly 3 years. Gheorge has no rules, no guidance, no structure at home and it is evident given his behavior problems in the classroom. And yet… Gheorge named his mother as the person he had the best relationship with. The mother that is never there?
  • Outside of fathers who were drunks or physically violent, the majority of the students didn’t mention their fathers at all. They claimed to be closest to their mothers and their sisters and on a rare occasion their brother. However, the father figure was missing from nearly every family profile unless he was emphasized in a negative capacity.

Moldavian’s place such a heavy emphasis on family, but it’s becoming more and more ambiguous to me as to who that includes. The father figure within my students’ family profiles completely vanished and/or were unnecessary to address, which didn’t make sense to me.

How is it that the father is not a person they are close to, but is also not the person they have the most conflicts with, nor is he the person they want to have a better relationship with? It’s as if he doesn’t exist. Doesn’t matter. Completely insignificant. However, the patriarch can’t be insignificant considering how formal gender roles are intricately interwoven within the Moldavian culture. Needless to say, a lecture that I thought would provide me with such great insight left me bewildered and unsettled. I know what a critical role my father plays in my life, but for my students, the role of the patriarch is simply forgettable.

I know that many fathers have to go overseas to work. The economic situation in Moldova is devastating  and people have to take opportunities wherever they can, especially when it comes to supporting their family.

Even so, I am still  left wondering…Where are the fathers? And what the hell are they doing?

That is all.

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Removing the Cancer

The day started off rather mundane.

In my 2nd hour 6th grade class, only 2 students had their homework. Knowing that I had an amazing lecture planned for them, I refused to let it discourage me. After all, students not having their homework (to my dismay) is normal.

And yet, an eerie feeling swept through me as I surveyed the class.

Every hand was up in the air as the students begged for the opportunity to participate…Not normal. When it was time to take notes, every student had their notebook and proceeded to write with the utmost concentration…Not normal. To my surprise, the typically disruptive Dumitru sat attentively in his seat for the entire lesson, and then, he proceeded to show me at the end of class how he had written down every word!

“Doamnișoara Profesora,” he called, running up to me. “Look!” And I looked, unable to mask my elation I embraced Dumitru and told him how proud of him I was…NOT NORMAL!

Furthermore, Ion, a student from a “Vulnerable Family” had a notebook today. Not only did he have his notebook, but he wrote in it. Not only did Ion write in his notebook, but he participated in the group work, as the students discussed short term and long term effects of alcohol. Ion wanted to participate. So when other students complained about working with him, I harshly chastised them. I didn’t want anything ruining this sudden metamorphosis in Ion. After all, it is not normal.

By the end of the class, the students could tell me the way alcohol is processed within the body and what happens to the liver when there are elevated alcohol levels in the blood. This was supposed to be a complicated lesson…But I truly believe every student understood. Not to beat a dead horse…But this is not normal!

Fast forward to my 5th hour 6th grade class, I found the same peculiar (though appreciated) change in behavior from my students. Mihai, a boy with wandering eyes, who catches flies, and refuses to ever sit down or write, or pay attention… He had his notebook today. And like Dumitru, he wrote Every. Single. Word.  I tried to give Mihai a high five after class, but they don’t understand high 5s in Moldova.  And when I tried to show him he ran. HAHAHA! I really wanted him to know how much I appreciated his effort.

So I know you are wondering…What is this cancer I am referring to in the blog title? Well, while all the other students were behaving brilliantly, Adrian, a notoriously disruptive student, was on his worse behavior yet! In the beginning of the year, I appreciated and even welcomed Adrian’s energy. He seemed engaged, but towards the end of last semester and even now into the New Year, Adrian has changed for the worse.

“Adrian sit down! Where is your notebook? Stop hitting Dan! Write something down! I’m serious Adrian, STOP hitting Dan! Adrian, SIT DOWN! Adrian, move over here! You can’t sit there anymore!….” I repeated these phrases and so many more throughout the lecture, while my partner gave me a look that said, “Laquia, give it up already.” She is rather good at ignoring the problem.

But I couldn’t give it up. Not when all of the other students, including Dan who usually is much worse than Adrian, were behaving so well. My biggest fear was that if Adrian kept it up, Dan would soon follow and so would Mihai. It became clear to me, Adrian was the cancer in the room. I had to stop his bad energy from spreading. I tried to take the gentle approach:

Me: Adrian you used to be a really good student. Now your behavior is bad. What happened?

Adrian: I have problems. (Adrian said this with a smile on his face)

Me: What kind of problems?

Adrian: Life problems! (Adrian began to laugh hysterically)

Me: Who is your Diriginte?

The next thing I know, all the laughter stopped. My partner teacher instructed one of the good students to go get their  Diriginte a.k. homeroom teacher. By the time she came, Adrian was writing in his notebook and pleading ignorance. But after I explained to her the problem, it was clear that he was in trouble. Adrian was getting a note sent home that had to be signed by his parents.  After his Diriginte left, Adrian didn’t say a single word and even had tears in his eyes…Not Normal.

Apart of me felt guilty for admonishing him that way. I was once the problem child that was always being reprimanded. This is probably why I had been so patient with him up until this point. However, I had a truly great lesson with valuable information that I wanted the students to learn, and Adrian was the only obstacle in my way.

I’m not sure where this sudden change in behavior came from. Perhaps the theme was so relevant to their lives that everyone was interested? Either way, I don’t care. I only hope to see the same results next week…Cancer free of course.

However, we all know these things have a way of spreading.

That is all.

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Kicked By a First Grader

I’m not the type of person to blog twice in one week…but I had to get this down while it was still fresh.

Today, on my way to teach  my 5th hour class, I approached a group of  first grade boys that I see all of the time. I used to think they were being friendly, until I noticed how Moldovan’s would chastise them when they said things to me.

So today as I approached them, I waved as always, until I noticed that one of the boys (the ring leader)  maneuvered behind me. I turned around to see what he was doing, only to see him run up and kick me!

He kicked me. I was kicked by a FIRST grader…And all of his little tiny first grade friends laughed.

Side note: I want to encourage you to take a moment and laugh. Why? Because if I were reading this blog about someone else, I would laugh HYSTERICALLY and make jokes about it!  So, in all fairness…Feel free to laugh.

Now, after being kicked I was literally stunned. It took me forever to process what just happened to me. And then I was stuck with the question of…What do I do? He’s a little kid. I couldn’t pick him up and beat his ass the way I really wanted too. Moldovans watch every move I make, and if I were to make the wrong decision it would undermine my influence within the community. Given that I am a Health Education Volunteer, I am supposed to set the example in situations like this. Luckily, before I reacted, a Moldovan woman who works at the magazine (corner store) saw what happened and came outside shaking her fist and yelling at the boys. They immediately took off running.

“Do you know their names?” I asked her.

“No, but they go to the Primary School,” She said shaking her head. “They are bad boys.”

I nodded, feeling the tears well up in my eyes. I continued to walk to school trying to tell myself to pull it together and that it wasn’t a big deal. But seriously, I couldn’t. It was a big blow to my ego, a huge insult, a slap in the face, or…. a kick in the leg. hahahahaha.

When I reached the school, it wasn’t long before my partner found me in the room with tears streaming down my face. She demanded I tell her what happened. When I did, her eyes widened in horror. “What are you going to do?!” she asked.

Before I could answer, another teacher came into the room. She saw my tear stricken face and grew concerned. “Why is she crying,” she asked my partner. Soon another teacher entered, but she was kind enough not to ask any questions. And then, Dan enters the room.

For those that don’t know, Dan is my site mate from MINNESOTA and is an English Education volunteer. So, Dan sees I’m upset and immediately asks “what’s wrong?” I quickly told him the story.

“Let’s go!” Dan said already taking charge. I grabbed my coat, and we marched towards the Primary School, clearly on a mission. We first stopped at the magazine where the lady was able to tell us the name and grade of one of the boys in the group. When we arrived at the School there was a teacher outside. Dan told her what happened, and she lead us to the appropriate classroom.

The moment I entered the class, I saw him.

He was wearing a red sweatshirt and had a Western Union backpack. The moment he saw me he turned away in panic. Already gaining satisfaction, I pointed him out. Impetuously, his teacher and the woman that helped us find the classroom made him stand in front of the class and began questioning him.

Nicolai. That was his name.

Nicolai pleaded ignorance until one of his ‘friends’ ratted him out.  Nicolai was made to apologize and currently cannot come back to school unless he comes with both of his parents.

They made an example of him in front of the class and apologized to me profusely. His poor behavior was not merely a reflection of the boy and his family. It was also a reflection of them, and they took his behavior personally. Immediately, they began to explain the familial issues within Moldova that could justify this type of behavior. While I understood where they were coming from, I knew that had I been anyone else that little boy would have NEVER thought to kick me. And that was what upset me most; the blatant disrespect the kid had for me that he didn’t have for anyone else. Not to mention, I had been kicked in the leg and told to “GO BACK TO AMERICA” all in the same freakin week. UGH!

After gaining my composure here is what I noticed: People helped me.

My site mate’s quick action helped me regain my control. The woman at the magazine came to my defense and provided valuable information which eventually lead us to  the woman at the school, who lead us to the very classroom that Nicolai was in. Also, his teachers rectified the incident by taking severe action and making an example out of Nicolai in front of his peers.

Today, I am accepting that the community, while being my biggest headache, will also be my greatest asset.

Besides, maybe this is proof that I need to do a seminar on violence in the Primary School????

There are opportunities everywhere!

That is all.

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Do you ACTUALLY think you are going to change anything?

“Do you ACTUALLY think you are going to change anything?”

I’ve been replaying this question in my head over and over again since last Saturday. It was a random conversation with a local that happened to speak English. I found the conversation rather enjoyable until he asked me that question. A question that quickened my heartbeat and left my brain scrambling for something to say in my defense. It wasn’t only the question that bothered me. It was the fact that he sat waiting for a real response, wondering if I was so naive, so idealistic to believe that I, little old me, could do something worthwhile in his country.

After a long pause,

Me: Sir, you can’t talk to me like that. I’m giving up two years of my life to be here. I have to believe it means something.

Man now grinning at me: Our problems are too big. Go back to America!

He then spent the remainder of the bus ride telling me about how “big” the problems are in Moldova, and how incapable I am of addressing them.

Man: You told me earlier that you were teaching the kids about goals and aspirations and they found the idea of  goal setting and future planning difficult. It’s not so much that it’s difficult, it’s that there is nothing for them to aspire to. The students finish university and the end up working in construction in Italy or Russia because there are no jobs in Moldova. You tell them to dream, but dream about what? Their only hope is leaving Moldova.

Me: But the world is changing, and when opportunities present themselves my students will be better equipped to seize them than other students.

Man smirking: What you are doing is good. I just don’t think it will change anything.

I’ve dealt with opposition before. I’ve dealt with cynics and nonbelievers in various other situations, and I had no problem moving forward in confidence. The problem with this conversation is that deep down I constantly wonder if there is truth to what he said.

Will I ever make a big enough difference to justify this experience? Am I learning more than I am teaching? Furthermore, am I doing it all in vain?

For example, I had my 8th grade students do a project in place of a formal written test. They were given a week to do a simple project, which came with an example. I even gave them class time to work on it and ask questions. The projects were due today, but only five of 16 students completed the project. Five. I used this a project based evaluation because too many of the students failed the written tests, and I thought it would be better for them to analyze and apply information rather than regurgitate it, but now the outcome is even worse.

My partner suggests that we just don’t give out a grade for this semester, but I asked her… “If we don’t grade them, why are we teaching? They don’t do homework. They don’t do the tests. If we don’t give them a grade the students that DO participate are going to stop. Then all of our work will have been in vain.”

Our work will have been in vain… What are you doing here?…Do you really think you can make a difference?…Go back to America.

Some may wonder why I give these statements so much power. To be honest, I’m not always confident that what I am teaching my students will help improve their future. I’m not sure if by teaching them to set goals, to dream, and to plan is going to aid them or set them up for greater disappointments, when after graduation they are doing manual labor in a foreign land. I speak of opportunities…but what opportunities?

If a man were to start a business in Moldova, and it were to become successful; it is only a matter of time before the government comes and takes it over. Where is the opportunity in building something only to have it snatched away by an inefficient, power hungry government? There isn’t any.

Thus, for the last 4 nights, I have laid awake in an insomniatic like state, trying to conceptualize my service up to this point. I’ve concluded that I’m discontent with this experience thus far. While it is hard to acknowledge,  I stay committed to my service by believing that I am helping in someway.  So when a random stranger tells me my work doesn’t matter, when he discounts the very idea I cling too, well…it makes for sleepless nights wondering if he’s right.

That is all.

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