Thursday, October 31, 2013

My kids

Russian kids know how to party
Last night, for Level 1, we had a small Halloween party. They knew what Halloween was, and were fully prepared with a costumes. After doing some spelling and writing, we jumped into it...drawing pumpkins on orange balloons, showing their costumes to the class, taking pictures, talking about Halloween, and eating candy.
From left to right: Ellya, Lera, Violit, Artium, Maxim, Seva, & Vlad

My host brother, Maxim, knows how to kick butt.
(Literally. He learned "Tae Kwon Do" in Thailand.
My host family lived there for 14 months)
Here is my "home group" from Primary (1 of the 3 groups I get)!
From left to right: Gleb, Alisia, Sonya, Mark,
Dionna, & Alisa
Of course we can't forget Private 1! Recently we got a bunch
of new little kids at this school, but pictured below
are 3 of the 5 older students we have.
From right to left: Maxim, Motivey, Vlad,
and some American
Playing with lightsabers with teacher Lauren
Aren't they all just too cute? Don't be deceived by their adorableness--they can be a handful sometimes! ;) I enjoy teaching them though. My favorite classes would go in this order: Level 1, Private 1, & then Primary.
Progress with the kids is slow but good. This program has a way of gently and secretly introducing English into the kids vocabulary; so overnight they, obviously, won't turn into fluent speakers. But, with time, they do come close to it...
...On Tuesday night we had a parents meeting at the Kindergarten. All of us girls had to get up and tell about each individual child we teach. Because some of the parents don't speak English themselves, kids from Level 6 were brought to translate. And they did, perfectly! It was awesome to see 12-13 year olds translating English to Russian to an entire audience. And it helped me to understand that, yes, with time and patience my kids from Primary, and all the way to Level 1, can get to that point.
Along with the parents meeting, we also had "open classes" in our Level/Elementary program. For an hour two Monday's ago, in my Level 1 class parents came to see how their kid was doing, how class goes, and decide whether to continue their child in the program (not intimidating at all....) Tonight I have an open class for Primary.
We also have to plan a "Spectacular", which will be a day before I leave St Pete's (December 17th), at the Kindergarten. This is for Primary and Level's 1-4. We will have skits, songs, ect., for the kids to preform in front of their parents. 
Anyway! That's about it when it comes to the kids. Lots of things going on, and lots of work to do!
And because us volunteers are so busy and work so hard, we get vacation time! Tomorrow night we'll be leaving on a bus to Lithuania, and our trip will continue through Latvia, Estonia, & Finland. Nov 1st - 10th. I'm excited! We are having to plan out and write down a lot of details, directions, and the like. Hopefully things will go over well! Can't wait to get some more stamps on my passport.
Talk to you all later!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

What I've done recently!

Now that I've officially bored all of you with my last post, here is a more exciting one...all about what I've done recently! (And, I take it, you realize that along with going to these new places: I've also "recently" worked  my butt off planning and teaching. But enough of that. Enjoy the pictures.)

Catherine's Palace
I was feeling particularly great that day, two weekends ago. The Fall leaves were all on fire. The gardens there were more "un-kept" than other places I've seen. More nature-like, which I really enjoyed. The palace itself was beautiful as well. We unfortunately found out that the whole of it wasn't open to the public. But the part that we did go through was awesome, especially the magnificent ballroom we first went in.

We stumbled upon this palace while looking
for Catherine's palace

Russians know how to put autumn leaves to good use.
Everyone was making these leaf hats!

Having fun with the leaves
A gate at Catherine's Palace

Anyone who is cool had a leaf hat

Posing in front of Catherine's palace
On the main staircase

The beautiful ballroom - my favorite room there

The Hermitage

I finally got to the Hermitage two Sundays ago. It took over an hour waiting in line before we finally got in, out of the cold. I was surprised to find that the Hermitage (a museum) had a lot more than just Russian culture in it. I actually saw more artifacts/displays that were from ancient Egypt, Rome, ect., than actual Russian displays. Of course we only skimmed the surface...that place is huge! I didn't take a ton of pictures, but here is what I did take.

A blocked-off staircase I desperately wanted to climb

A special clock built in the 1700's for Winter Palace (Winter
Palace is connected/part of the Hermitage)

Peter Paul Cathedral
We've been to the Peter Paul Fortress before, but we didn't have the chance to go inside the cathedral. We finally did that this past weekend! It was pretty; although not as pretty as others I have seen (my favorite cathedral is Saint Isaac's.) Along with the cathedral, we also toured in a creepy historic prison. I didn't take any pictures of it (yes, partly due to laziness...), but take my word for it: it was no palace! ;)

It rained, hailed, and snowed that day. Here we are enjoying snow flurries, on the
grounds in the fortress, posing with a creepy-photo-bombing statue. ;)

Peter Paul Cathedral


Anyway! On a different note, here is a poem I wrote this past week!
"Trees are on fire, boots & scarves aplenty. Enjoying crisp mornings, but footsteps: far too many. Oh to be "roos-kiy", this is a life I love; my time here was deemed valuable from someone up above. Touring palaces by day and playing "Scum" by night, cautiously waiting for when the cold weather comes to bite. Ah, it is here, I saw Russian snow today. And while munching on my candy corn, I'm happily remarking that that is okay."

Here I am today, all dressed up...and almost a little too warm
with leggings under my jeans, warm socks, a good jacket,
scarf, and knitted hat (thanks again to the person 
who made it! You know who you are;)

Hope everyone's Thursday is going well.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Plan lessons, Teach, & Repeat

As I excitedly update you all on what I did during the past weekend, or ramble on about my thoughts on Russian culture, it may seem that my life here is just a non-stop party. Excursions to palaces, weekend trips to Moscow...whoo-hoo! What I've lacked to mention previously, and now, as I'm sipping my herbal tea, will expound on is what really takes up the majority of my time. (Here is a warning to everyone looking for cool pictures, exciting street fight stories, or other such content---it will not be found in this post. Click off this site or risk your head falling to your keyboard in sleepy boredom. You cannot say I didn't warn you.)

Alright. Fasten your seat-belts everyone. Here we go.

1. Plan Lessons.
2. Teach.
3. Repeat.

These are the three basic steps governing my life here in Mother Russia. You all know what I came here for: this is a volunteer trip, spending a semester teaching English to little Russian kiddos. What you don't know, though, is what that all entails.

I knew a bit of what it would entail before my trip. Upon arriving, mixed with all the craziness of different culture, schedules, ect., it was so overwhelming! For the first two weeks, I felt like I hardly knew what I was doing. Yes, I had a two-day training with ILP to cover how to plan lessons & how to teach; but it's like riding a bike--you can read about it all you want, you can go to however many two-day trainings you want...but until you physically do it yourself, that is when you will learn, and master it.

Even continuing up to the first month of being here, I didn't feel like I "had it down." You will progress, I thought. It just takes time. Of course with anything you do, you will have good days and bad days. Some days it seems like some of the kids just had too much sugar.

I've had a really good past few days. I mean, I've just felt happy. This surprised me because this week I had to do a makeup lesson (for the Friday I missed, being in Moscow), which means I woke up early three days in a row. I'm starting to think, though, that while some days can be "downers", I'm really starting to enjoy teaching (not that I wasn't before; but getting the kids used to new teachers, and us getting used to the schedules, teaching, and the kids themselves, can take a lot of energy out of you and be stressful. I'm not lying when I say that I've had some very hard days)!

I feel like I am progressing. I know what is expected of me. I know that organization and being prepared is key. And I also know that coming into the classroom open-minded is a wise thing; my lesson plan may go in the completely opposite direction of where I wanted it to, so I have to have a positive attitude and remember one simple truth: No one is perfect. (Although, as this is my blog and all, I feel like I have the right to brag and report that I got out a 4 out of 5 on my classroom evaluation this week;)

My weekly teaching schedule

Monday: Private 1, Level 1
Tuesday: Primary
Wednesday: Private 1, Level 1
Thursday: Primary
Friday: Private 1

Private 1 - Located at a Private School (hence the name.) Another girl and I teach there three times a week. We switch off teaching either 1 SPE (Synchronized Play Episode), or 2 SPE's, every other day (on Mon, Wed, Fri.)

For Private 1 I wake up three days a week at 6:40 in the morning, am out the door by 7:40, walk to Lauren and I's meeting place by 7:50 (it's still dark outside at this point), then proceed to walk 10 more minutes to our metro station. By that time it's around 8am, and it will take us until about 9:15 to get to Private 1. From there we are in the classroom from 9:30 - 11:20, and afterwards we go with the kids to the park, come back to eat lunch, then start the process home.

Private 1 is my favorite school. Despite the early wake up and travel time, the kids are so well-behaved which means my lessons go over so very smoothly. We have five kids (all in the age range of 6-7): Motvey, Vlad, Liza, Arina, & Maxim.

Just to give all of you some clarification, "Synchronized Play Episodes"--SPE's--are lessons focusing on either Arts & Crafts, Gym, Shop (similar to arts & crafts), Drama, or Games---all of which the main purpose is to draw out language and discussion. Whether we are talking about how glue is "sticky", or what "running" is, it doesn't matter. We model the language, the kids repeat back. For every SPE lesson, we also have to have a specific language context (BMC) we focus on. For example: Directions ("Give that to me!", "Roll that on the floor!"), Action & Progress ("I am jumping!", "She is drawing!"), or Impending Progress ("I am going to..." "We are going to..."), ect. We have 20+ BMC's to choose from. During class the kids will get tokens if they repeat, or say on their own, the chosen BMC for that lesson.

Level 1 - Located at the Kindergarten building (13 min walk from my apartment.) Consists of kids who are out of the SPE and Basic Reading phase. Kids are ages 6-7.

My Level 1 class was a bit tricky at first. Things were a little disorganized (shifting kids around to different levels, thus rearranging classes...the blame goes to the Russian directors at the school.) The kids, like I have previously mentioned, also needed to get used to me. The new teacher. As of right now, I believe I have been "gotten used to"--I walk into the classroom and am greeted with "Miss Maegan!" and hugs. Sometimes I'll even get a piece of gum, or like a couple days ago, a sticker.

Level 1 is twice a week from 5-7pm. The level, or Elementary, classes with ILP are completely different than the SPE lessons we plan. They consist of time spent on Spelling, Writing, language skills, Language Arts, and Listening Comprehension. We have books to help us plan the content that we want to teach. I follow the guidelines in these, but modify the suggested material to fit my kids needs.

I have eight kids in my Level 1 class: Violet, Artium, Maxim, Motivey, Seva, Lara, Vlad, and Ellya. During every class I have to get after them for speaking Russian or not paying attention, but they are great kids. And we're making progress with their behavior. If they are good, they will receive "dollars" and possibly earn a "square" in our class goal sheet. If they are bad, they will be sent to the "Russian" or "naughty" chair, or even go to see the Russian school director, Ludmilla (let me tell you now that she is such a nice woman, but the kids show fear in their eyes if threatened to be sent to her, haha.)

In my Level 1 class, we recently have been focusing on weather, geography, counting, and families. We've played hangman. And today the kids finished writing a letter to their mothers (with constant help from me...they aren't at a high enough level to write quite on their own yet.)

Primary - Oh Primary. My most challenging part of the week. Located at the Kindergarten building. Requires 1 SPE per day. I go with two other teachers. Kids range from 3-6 years old.

Primary, from 4:15-6:30 twice a week, is something we're still improving (and something that has probably caused the majority of my stress.) They are a ton of kids (about 23 who come regularly), split into three groups, and then who rotate to different teachers in 20-minute intervals. These kids are so cute. They all get excited when they first see us. But let me tell you--they can be very naughty sometimes! They are distracted easily, and we've had to conspire how to wrangle these kids in.

It didn't help that one day we found out one of the students got Chicken Pox, and a bunch of kids who were suspected of exposure to it were put into a "quarantine" room at the school; so we had to completely rearrange our schedule in a fast amount of time that day! Luckily we have now gotten back to our normal schedule.

Both at Private 1 and Primary, my SPE lessons in the past two weeks have consisted of Drama ("Snow White", "Bear Family"), Games ("Simon Says", "Hot Potato", "Cross the Room"), and Shop (Kite craft, paper airplanes, paper crowns.)

Planning lessons

Our head-teacher, Mckall, set up a schedule for us to have our new weekly lesson plans done and shown to her every Thursday. By that day I need to have planned 4 or 5 new SPE lessons...(depending on the every-other-day schedule with Lauren) (Also, I will recycle 2 of those lessons for Primary)...and 2 lessons for Level 1.

At first it took quite a bit of time to plan lessons. Now I can get them done pretty darn quick, especially if I work on it as soon and as fast as I can. For example, this week, I planned 4 of my 6 lessons for the upcoming week by Tuesday. I will finish the last 2 lessons in time on Thursday.

Free time

As you can see above, I have a busy schedule. It doesn't leave room for a lot of free time. Weekends are when I get to go see the city. Whilst on the metro, or snuggling up in my bed at night, is when I get to read for fun. After planning the upcoming weeks lessons, and prepping/gathering supplies for my next class, I get to do things such as update my blog or hop onto Facebook.

CONGRATULATIONS --- for all of those who made it to the end of this post. I hope that I made up for my lack of blog posts on school, kids, and the like. Might as well fit it all into one post, right? Besides. This whole post is the sole reason why I'm here. Kind of important.

Well, to end I'll say that... "Ya rab-ota-yoo man-o-ga" (I work a lot) ... but I'm having such a lovely time. Despite some mornings (like this morning) at 7:50 where I'll be walking to the metro in the cold rain. Despite the frustrations I get in class. Despite my aching feet and tired eyes. My time here is awesome! I already feel like I've grown as a person.

Having this experience has helped me to become even more awesome than I previously was (you know, not to be prideful or anything.) Haha, but really. Thank you to everyone who gave me the chance to do this. I've learned quite a few things in the past *almost* two months (can you believe I've been here for that long?) about myself, the world, and life in general. I plan on continuing those studies.

Paka Paka (bye bye)

Saturday, October 12, 2013

3rd class to Москва

While completely lacking of comfort and style, 3rd class--at least in my books--is indeed a necessary element to experience whilst traveling abroad. And so that's exactly what I've done this past weekend, on a short trip to Москва.

Pronounced "mosk-va" in Russian, Moscow is only a short train ride away. We bought our train tickets at the station here (struggling to find the right desk to go to, but found it in time.) Our way to Moscow would be overnight on a sleeper-train, and our way back to St Pete's would be through the day on a regular train. We also reserved two nights at the "Napoleon Hostel" which was a very affordable place to stay, and only a five minutes walk to Red Square! Excluding food, souvenirs, and entrance fees to places, our trip cost less than $100.

Here I am laying on my bed in the train. You can see everything was a brown color in the car. It was also very cramped, with the walk-ways being very small. We were given padding, sheets, a pillow, pillow case, and a blanket. Surprisingly it was pretty darn comfy, although I didn't sleep very well.

Looking down from my bed. There were four beds in one compartment, plus one across from us on the other side of the walk-way.

I couldn't resist taking a picture of our very nice, slightly creepy, and purely Russian bunk mate.
Our train arrived in Moscow at 5am. We had a bit of a struggle finding our hostel, and being tired & carrying your luggage around at that time doesn't help! But it's all part of the adventure, and eventually we made it.
Napoleon Hostel
All seven of us girls stayed in a 10-bedded dorm. We had new room-mates every night it seemed. Two English men, an Asian guy, and an Asian girl. We didn't talk a lot with them, but when we did they were nice.
Our room's "name"...Novosibirsk, a Russian city.
My bed in our hostel
Morning #1
Here we are walking to Red Square for the first time. I was very excited!

St. Basil's
 The Kremlin
Walk-way next to the Kremlin

View of Moscow whilst walking inside the Kremlin

Huge square and cathedrals (which we toured) inside the Kremlin

Walking around and having fun on a cold day!
 On the streets
This was a world map, with St Basil's sticking out where "Moscow" is located

Lit up street right next to "G.U.M." -- the largest and most expensive mall in Russia (which we walked around in for a bit)

Red Square lit up at night

Not all soldiers are serious all the time
"Izmailovsky" market 
Outside restaurant
My meal: pork, bread, onions, pickles, & sauce. So good!

 St Basil's
St Basil's

A steep staircase. Gotta love 'em!

View of Moscow while inside St. Basil's

I loved the walls, ceilings, and low lighting in St Basil's



Signed the guest book in St Basils!

 Russian country-side
Views from our train ride home

Our 8 hour train ride home--just like the sleeper train--was definitely 3rd class. I had barely any room to move my feet (and having the guy across from me fall asleep, slump in his chair, and take up most of the room didn't help.) I passed my time by reading a book, but I finished it and let me tell you: after that, the trip home seemed to drag on forever! I actually would prefer the sleeper-train to the sitting-train.
We barely scratched the surface in our two full days there, but what we did see was great. Here is a list...
1. Red Square
2. St Basil's
3. The Kremlin
4. Moscow's metro (much more complicated than St Pete's)
5. Izmailovsky market
6. Lenin's body
7. GUM mall
8. Streets of Moscow
Moscow was awesome, and it had a different feeling than St. Pete's. It was a great weekend getaway. But it felt so good to come home to our lovely Saint Petersburg.
That's all for now, folks. Hope you enjoyed all of the pictures! This weekend we are going to start planning for our long vacation (where we will travel outside of Russia) in November.
Talk to you all soon,