In all honesty, I never thought I’d be a good adult. My kids seem to think I have my shit together and now I realise how terrified my teachers, fresh out of university, were and how looking up to them as the pinnacle of maturity was perhaps a huge mistake on my part. For example, I cried on the metro last week because I dropped my bread rolls on the floor and it had already been a stressful day that did not require the added trauma of breadicide.
Teaching is stressful. It constantly feels like you are Not Good Enough and that everyone Wants To See You Fail. On a weekly basis I come up against the same shit:
- The Russian teacher of English that told me I can’t use ‘her’ room (it is not her room, but she still put a padlock on her door).
- Parents surprised that their 7 year old child – who is in a class with children 2 years older than them and can’t read nor write – is not fluent in English yet.
- Parents just ‘dropping in’ to watch my lessons. You know, because that’s a perfectly normal thing to do and everyone is an expert on teaching apart from the actual teacher.
- Schools wanting me to pretend that I don’t speak Russian but then communicating with me, in Russian, in front of the class.
- Being handed pieces of paper with no explanation, but two days later having a Russian teacher burst into my classroom in the middle of a cutthroat game of vocabulary slap, to demand this document like it’s a piece of evidence for a murder trial.
As you can imagine, it is incredibly stressful working in a Russian school. However, there are so many things that make it worth it.
Children are so easily excited about everything. I have successfully tricked my children into learning vocabulary through making it a competition between girls and boys, because what’s a little gender rivalry at the age of eight. Last week at one of my schools, we played vocabulary slap, hangman and Fruit Salad, and they were none the wiser. Actually upon writing this, I have just realised that they have probably tricked me into playing games with them every lesson. If I am ever struggling to get my kids excited about anything, I ask them about YouTube and I hear all about the random things that are happening online in Russian YouTube. There is a woman with a whole channel dedicated to playing with different animals. She is paid for this. Madness.
The greatest thing about teaching, in my opinion, is watching a child progress right in front of your eyes. When I first started in October, I had a kid that couldn’t say “My name is”. He knew “hello” and “goodbye” and threw his head into his hands if he ever had to do anything. Now, he will proudly walk into my classroom, ask me how I am, tell me how he is, ask to borrow a pen and take part in any activity that we play. He may not be on the same level as the other kids in the class, but it’s so important to me that they each develop in their own way and at their own pace, and none of them have got worse from the start.
Each of my students is hilarious and lovely and kind in their own way. I even love the naughty ones. Pasha will bring a new version of a Rubik’s cube into class every Wednesday and Friday and show me how quickly he can solve it, Anfisa can rally anyone up to join in an activity, Alina will squeak out perfectly correct answers in a tiny timid voice, Leonid will stand up at the side of his desk to answer any question with pride, Maxim will construct long, grand sentences using vocabulary that he has clearly been picking up himself, Dasha and Katya will be at the front with their arms folded, ready to learn with their pens and pencils laid out in front of them, whereas Danya will rock up swinging on his chair and act like my lesson was the first time he had ever been introduced to the concept of a pen…and so on. I love all of them. They make me laugh, they make me cry, they present me with things that they’ve made and I’m proud of each and every one of them.
I never thought I’d actually be a good teacher, if I’m perfectly honest with you, and I still don’t know if I actually am. All I know is that I want to stay in education and my children are the reason for that. I know now that my favourite age to teach is around Year 3-Year 6, and I am so thankful that I’ve been given this opportunity to teach such fantastically weird and intelligent humans with brilliant imaginations.
So although I sometimes look at the school administrative staff with a glare that says “are you fucking kidding me?” and the parents will demand to know why their child isn’t reading A Tale Of Two Cities after three weeks in my class, I can deal with all of that, as long as I can walk into that classroom and have 16 smiling faces ready to tackle another day of learning English as a foreign language.