R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Find out what it means to me. R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
These last two weeks I have been working in the nine year school and high school in Permet. I learned a lot, first of which is this; Tefler’s you now have my utmost respect for teaching English to these kids every day. It has been a busy few weeks, filled with plenty of ups and downs. I realize now, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
On Monday we made our rounds to meet with the directors of the schools. Sometimes, you have to be careful with the hierarchy of the school system. Once we had talked to each teacher about her class, we then had to ask permission from the directors. The fact that I am the PCV in town made it a little bit easier, because everyone wants “the American” teaching in their classroom. Meetings with school directors may sound boring and plain jane, but never fear, things are always Albanianized here. Which is why, I spent the better part of an hour in the school yard, being laughed at by teachers because I was speaking in shqip. When I said “rrofsh (thank you)” to one of them, that unleashed a solid five minutes of laughter. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. Then, as always, the conversation turned to my teeth and why are they so white?! Which is without a doubt, the most common topic I talk about with Albanians.
Later on, we headed to the nine year school to meet with the director. My counterpart introduced me and said I was with the Peace Corps. He looked at me, said good morning, you are very pretty, and walked away. We did the only logical thing; laughed, and assumed we now had permission to teach.
We were focusing on educating a variety of classes about HIV and AIDS. I spent the next few evenings gathering information and putting together Powerpoint and videos. Since there is always some degree of confusion on what they want me to do, I tried to cover all my bases. In the meantime, we huddled around the little heater at work.
My first day teaching was…an experience. We were in the high school and they ended up dragging me to FIVE different classes. They had told me we were going to one class that day. But five, why not?! The kids were actually better behaved then I thought they would be. But that day, I thought my coworker and the school nurse, were going to be the death of me. They basically just ushered me from class to class and then stood off to the side talking with the teacher. Which is fine, but not if they’re talking so loud that the kids aren’t paying attention to me. I didn’t think it was appropriate to tell them to stop talking so I tried to just talk louder. Trust me; never get into a shouting match with an Albanian. They will always win.
After the first few days, I decided to change my lesson plan a bit. I printed off some information and was ready to initiate more participation from the students. When we arrived at class, the nurse and I had a five-minute discussion about why I wasn’t using my laptop. She kept arguing that the kids will listen more if I read from my laptop, it looks better, they will understand it more. I explained that I was holding the exact same thing in my hand, this will be more organized, I planned this. She gave me a disapproving look and sighed. So, I opened up my word document and read to the class with my computer. You have to learn to pick and choose your battles.
The following class we arrived at, I began reading my introduction to what HIV is. I was interrupted by my coworkers and told we only have ten minutes in this class. Just read it in English so it will be faster. Or tell them some facts really quickly in English only. I just stared at her, these kids know some English, but I know they won’t understand me if I start speaking quickly. Especially not about health statistics. I wasn’t prepared to give a presentation in 5-10 minutes. I probably looked like a deer in headlights for those entire ten minutes.
In between classes, we sat with some of the other teachers and socialized. Albanians are some of the most honest people I have or will ever meet. They will tell you what they are thinking, why they are thinking it and if they think you should change. Sometimes the language barrier isn’t necessarily a bad thing! In the midst of one of our breaks, one of the older ladies looked at me and asked me what I thought of my counterpart and coworker. Who were both sitting on each side of me. Did I like them? Were they nice? Do I like Albanians? I opted out of that questions by laughing and the conversation turned to why my teeth are so white. Again.
I now have over twelve classes under my belt and am happy to say I survived. There were plenty of frustrated moments, as well as some great ones. It has been the busiest few weeks I have had since arriving at site. I broke through some language barriers, may have gotten through to a few kids and met plenty of new faces. Which has made me look forward to my upcoming vacation more than ever. I am ready to soak up central heating, hot showers, mulled wine and hopefully take a picture with Santa. From a wandering PCV to the rest of the world; Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!