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)


  1. To my totally awesome daughter....I loved reading about all this!! It's good to get a picture of what you do and how your days are spent when you are not out being a tourist! As always, we love you! Two months from today you'll be HOME!!! :)

    1. Love you! Yes, two months! It will go by fast.

  2. That all sounds incredible, I honestly can't wait for next fall! To be honest, you blog is very clever. And all your posts, this one in particular, are helping me to better prepared for China. So thanks!

    1. I'm glad you enjoy my blog, and that it is helping you! Both things are exactly what I want. :) Thanks for your comment!

  3. Dear Maegan, How do you gather supplies for the next day? Are they things you already have? or must you borrow or buy the items? Hope you have a good raincoat because with a water repellant coat you can still get damp and chilled. I like the way you write and compose your blogs. Nothing you write is boring. It gave us a more complete picture of how you spend your time. Writing seems to be easy for you. I will read this blog several times to digest what is in it. Love Gma Rogers

    1. "Gathering supplies" means getting the things I need for the craft or lesson I will be doing next in class. For example, if we are making a butterfly craft, I need to cut out paper wings, get glue, markers to color the butterfly, ect. We have a whole supply cabinet with everything from paper, to googly eyes, to play-dough.

      Thank you for your compliment! I enjoy writing, and I'm glad it is entertaining for you. :)