Some weeks ago I had a conversation with Janel where we wailed on and on about our woes and troubles at work/school. She said something interesting, “I don’t know why I am a teacher. I don’t even like children.”
Well girl, we are totally sailing the same boat. Sometimes I do not know how I ended up in the Peace Corps as a primary education volunteer - teaching children. I never really liked them either. I did not hate them, but I was not one of those people who jumped joyfully with glee whenever a child appeared or squatted down to their level to make kid conversation (images of Beth Rook flood my mind). When I was really little I liked babies and probably spent the most time of my sisters with the foster babies my parents frequently took in. I also toted around my Cabbage Patch Doll Priscilla Genvieve Williams with me everywhere I went from age six to eleven. Her nickname was Prissy – talk about annoying. I was becoming quite well-suited for motherhood in my early years, but at some point during my babysitting adolescence I became afraid of babies, put Priscilla in the stuffed animal net and have probably not held a small one since that time.
Sorry to break it to you people but I am not naturally nurturing. I always found working with older teenagers who had their head on straight and could take care of themselves much more up my alley than playing hide-and-go-seek with younger ones. I volunteered some time at an after-school program in South Central LA for a few months before Bulgaria but could never think of conversation to make with a bunch of 4th graders. Instead I gave my time teaching slapjack or making button necklaces in the arts and crafts room – these activities required skills only, albeit few. Nevertheless, here I am in Bulgaria. Admittedly, learning to love my students has been one of my greatest challenges in Bulgaria. One that I try to work on everyday. It is not easy. They drive me crazy and make my life a living hell at many times. And oddly, it is my 11 year olds that burst into an uproar when they hear me say the word “butt” or “sexy” and require me to spend time patrolling boy vs. girl hair-pulling and boy vs. boy “I am better than you at video games” fighting that I prefer over my 14/15 year old 8th graders, who in theory, should be able to reason, behave, and hold an intelligent conversation. No, these children make it clear the world is doomed to be sunk by melting glaciers. Those glaciers heard about Miss Amy’s 8th grade boys and are taking action.
However, despite their frequent obnoxiousness and misbehavior, these children make me laugh everyday. And grateful for this, I am learning to truly appreciate and care about them. In 8th grade we are studying nature and habitats so I made a PowerPoint presentation with pictures from the States so they could see what the nature is like where I come from. Before we started I told them to be thinking whether the animals and geographic features they saw exist in Bulgaria. A picture of the Santa Monica Mountains in Malibu came up with Elyse and I standing in the foreground. All a sudden one of my non-English speaking kids Alexander bursts out, “ooooohhhhh daaaaa. Imame tozi zhivot v Bulgaria (ohhhh yes, we have this animal in Bulgaria).” A few months before, one of my boys Emo came into class with a box of chocolates to treat everyone, which is customary to do on your birthday, name day or other special personal occasion. Everyone was saying “Chestito prezhivyavane (Happy survival!)” to which I was really confused. I asked Emo why we were celebrating and he said, “I died yesterday but then I came back to life.” Confused and after further inquiry Vesko elaborated, “The exhaust pipe on the car was broken and we were in the car and all of a sudden Emo died from the chemicals so we went to the hospital and now he is alive.” In 6th grade some of my students uninterested in learning about good manners decided to have bad ones and pass notes around the classroom. Scoring an interception before it traveled too far I read, “Vizh, Vesko ce nosi zhenski chorapi (Look, Vesko is wearing women’s socks).” In the same class during a unit on clothing when asked to describe what Iva was wearing, the first thing that popped into Nicolai’s mind was, “Miss Amy, kak e sootien na Angliiski (Miss Amy, what is bra in English?).” Iva then initiated a high-speed chase around the classroom. I even find entertainment from students who are not mine. Last weekend was Bubo’s birthday, the 17-year old who lives below me. He invited me to his party, which was something I could not believe his parents allowed him to have, but I figured they were unaware of the activities taking place. After walking in on Bubo totally making out with his girlfriend, I retreated into the kitchen and found myself in the company of about ten high-schoolers resorting to beer/vodka mixtures who were very interested to show off their reserves of English curse words. Abu, my main company for most of the night, was a very interesting and respectful kid. However, his friend who we will call Bob increasingly disregarded the borders of personal space. Sorry sweetheart, but get your arm off my shoulder and your hand off my leg, especially when my 8th grade student’s older sister across the couch is not being very sly with her camera-phone documentation of all of this. With slurred English and increasing drunkenness, he was definitely invading my bubble, to which Abu called him out on.
Abu: “don’t you know how to be a gentleman?”
Bob: (very seriously) “You know, I bought a few books on this… and I read them.
But… (deep sigh and head shaking), I can’t do it.”
These are the moments I totally lose teacher composure and burst into laughter at and with these children.
But here is the biggest stunt of all, which opened a can of worms I am still trying to shake off. A few weeks ago my 6th graders came into their last class of the day chaotic and completely invigorated by something. Suddenly Ivana screamed out, “Miss Amy, I know your boyfriend!!” I was somewhat concerned because I had befriended a son of a colleague who had taken to randomly showing up at school to see me (and I suppose his mom) and had done so earlier that day, which was witnessed by a fair number of students before I quickly ushered him off to the teachers room. I assumed this was the “boyfriend” was referring to. I replied, “that’s interesting Ivana, because I don’t know my boyfriend!” The class laughed and she mockingly retorted, “his name is KEEEVVVIINN!” Uh oh, I knew this day would come when rumors would spread. After trying to set the record straight and explaining to them Kevin was my colleague and not my boyfriend, Ivana got on the phone and after a top-secret conversation with an unknown, told me exactly who Kevin was, what he does and what he looks like, straight down to his height. Kids started shouting questions, Vesko began singing “Kevin and Miss Amy sitting in a tree,” Nicolai commenced oohing and awing etc etc. I tried to inquire about from where this information came and learned that when Kevin gave a Hawaii presentation at another school he told children neither of us know that he was “friends” with the other American. He finds nothing wrong with this, but you do not tell a bunch of 6th graders you even know a girl! As far as students are concerned, teachers have no personal life. After ten minutes of trying to assure these children I do not have a boyfriend, we somewhat began to have a lesson. Vesko was still quietly serenading everyone with the “sitting in a tree” song and while talking about holiday destinations where Hawaii was mentioned, Emo shoots straight up in his chair and bursts his hand in the air like a light went off in his head, “I know him! He is Hawaiian!” This sparked round two. However the focus switched slightly as the children decided to taunt everyone about their love interests. I pretty much gave up on the lesson at this point. At the end of class I was writing in their belezhniks, a booklet where their grades are written, and thereby tightly surrounded by a crowd of eager and inquisitive students. Minutes later I look up to find that my wall once filled with 25 alphabet cards (F fell behind the blackboard some time ago) was missing the K, the E, the V, the I, the N, the A, the M and the Y. Knowing this could not be good, I glanced at the board to find the following:
The class turned into utter chaos with the students in an uproar, taunting me and taking pictures of the work of art on the board. Despite telling them I never wanted to see this again, I came into class the next morning to find the same thing. I decide then was the time for being stern and after lecturing, the problem ceased.
Unfortunately, from that day forward it seemed everywhere Kevin or I went someone was talking to him about “the girlfriend at Avksenti Veleshki school” or to me about “the boyfriend from Hawaii.” It was coming from all different directions and all over town so we are having a difficult time figuring out how this happened. Of course I fault him for the mistake made during Hawaii presentation, but his colleagues said we showed up on TV together at the basketball opening ceremony. We did not know this, which is bothersome considering I could have been picking my nose for all I know. I should get over it, but it still bugs me that my students have anything to do with my personal life. After I got back from Greece two weeks ago I was bombarded with questions like “Did Kevin go with you?” and “What did Kevin do for spring break?” I am hesitant to meet Kevin in public for fear some child will see us and snitch away to all his or her little friends. But I suppose public sightings cannot be avoided.
Overall, my life is both good and bad, energized and tired, and loved and hated because of these students. But it is never boring.
Coming soon will be a blog detailing the adventure down to Greece and the one year anniversary, which was celebrated the 15th. Insane, I know.
NOTE: Miss Amy's birthday is on the 9th of May. Packages accepted :)
Happy Birthday to anyone’s birthday I might have missed but especially for my lovely twins Miss Kathryn and Elizabeth Peck! I hope you and your babies are doing fantastic! Also to Renee, who celebrated a big, big birthday! You are awesome and I hope this is your most wonderful year! And also to Miss Dani Wold, I hope you are loving life out in Phoenix! To Brittany Maly: Happy Birthday and good luck with law school finals you crazy girl! And lastly, Glendale 7th bests Henry and Marina – miss both of your smiles and spirits! Thanks Adrienne for losing your job and having more time for talking to me ☺ You will be fine as you embark on your next adventure. Janaina, I love you and am glad we talked. Kayla and Chels, can’t wait to see you. Colin, we still need to connect so I can hear all about your “coashing” adventures! Keep trying – I am sorry! Keven, I hope you kick the MCAT’s useless butt. Eric, take a day off. Scott and Laisa: Thanks SOO MUCH for the Girl Scout Cookies. Peter Barth, make that trip a Europe trip! Sarah K.: get whatever you have for me in the mail because I don't want it to take a year like your grandma's birthday card. Hagop: Happy Graduation! and Meghan "I make animal noises" Priest: my kids found our youtube videos of the road trip making animal noises on the side of the road in South Dakota. I had them removed, don't worry. See you in SPAAAIIN!