First Year Completed

On 12th June 2014, I did what only six year old Angela thought I would do; I completed my first year of teaching. Though, I don’t think six year old Angela thought that she would be teaching half way across the world. I did it though. And not only did I complete one year of teaching at one place, but, a week and a half later, I completed my first year teaching at another place as well. Yes, you read correctly. I taught five days a week at my main school and I would also teach on Saturdays. I’ll get back to that later though.

It was definitely an experience filled with things I expected and things that I did not expect. As much as I absolutely loved my children (and still do), they beyond wore me out. Let’s get something out of the way here. In America, or in England, when one thinks of a private school automatically strict rules and discipline come to mind, right? Well, not here. A private school here, especially the one that I was teaching at which was a conservative (religious) private school is kind of the opposite. In these schools, the kids (or rather their parents) rule the school. The private schools in this country, for the most part, are nothing but businesses. They advertise and promote constantly creating a false sense of, “Wow! This school is amazing! My child will learn so much!” When, in reality, it’s not so much like that. There is a high turnover rate for teachers; especially for the English teachers. Everyone gets paid very little for the amount of work that they do, especially the Turkish teachers who not only work late every night, but who also must come in on the weekends as well. Aside from the fact that the turnover rate is high, these “schools” are also fairly new which means that they aren’t quite set in their ways. There are no set curriculums or curriculums that work. These are chain schools that could do really well if they focused on the actual education of these students and not when and where they’re going to open up a new school. If they focused their time, energy, and money on a school (and with the amount of money these schools have) the kids would flourish. The children that I taught have so much potential and I hope that it does not go to waste. Aside from all of this, the children are spoiled, never corrected or disciplined, and are free to essentially do whatever they please. In the beginning of the year, I was very close to quitting to be honest. The teachers who are there, though mostly lovely and nice women, don’t know how to handle children how they should. I don’t think they know the proper psychology behind everything and will constantly yell at the children (or certain children that annoy them) and call them names. Apparently though, that is the way that things are done here. When it came time for English class, though, they expected every lesson to be a strict lesson where we drilled English into their heads, but fun at the same time, and not boring, and make the children listen like little angels at the same time. Well, it took me almost half a year to corral the children and have it so they would actually sit down and listen in class. Being that they’re kindergarteners though, I knew that they also need fun time and play time or they get antsy and won’t listen. Why did it take this long? Well, in this school, like I said earlier, the children win. The English teachers are never or are rarely shown any respect by the other teachers or even the teacher assistants for that matter, so the children mimic that behavior. The children are also spoiled brats and we’re essentially not allowed to discipline them. This means that even if a child hits another child or throws toys or a temper tantrum that nothing really happens. There’s never a phone call home about it because then the parents would complain and yell at the teachers or the school because nothing is ever their little angels’ fault. So, yes, it took over half a year of different methods and straining and grief to finally get these children to listen.

Three-quarters of the year passed and we then had the huge problem where most of the English department was let go and all of our lessons were switched around. I no longer had my shared five year old class and I no longer had my 6D class.  Instead, I had 6A and 6C, which had reputations for making the teachers gray-haired. I tried my best though. Remember how long it took to get my other two classes to behave semi-normally and make them teachable? Well, I had half the time to try and do this. At first, they were ok, because, hey new teacher. But then, things became ugly. 6A was split between me and another teacher. They tended to listen to her more because she’s a bit more strict in her manners of teaching (not to mention she’s Turkish so she better at handling them) and I was just the teacher that they could walk all over some classes and other classes, if they felt like it, they’d listen and things would go smoothly. One of the main problems with that class though was that the room was too big. It was hard to get the children to focus in there. 6C was an interesting class. This is the class with the worst reputation. In the beginning, they listened. They knew practically no English whatsoever, but they listened. I was starting to wonder why they were the class that had such a bad reputation. But then, it hit me, and it hit me hard. This class will not listen to a lick of what is said if their homeroom teacher is unable to teach and the longer she is out (and she was out for like two weeks due to meetings and organizing things) the worse the class becomes. They just had a complete disregard for any authority figure (even the assistant teachers had had enough of this class and sat there in a state of utter defeat). So, I would try to teach every time, and I would fail every time. The only thing that seemed to work with this class was busywork. So, I had to have an endless supply of worksheets for these children. When I did, they’d do their work and listen…mostly. It felt like I was at the beginning of the year again with these two classes. And it didn’t get better because, as it was the end of the year, the classes were constantly interrupted for field trips, shows, or practices of some sort. So, there was no real schedule anymore. The children and the teachers all caught the end of the year fever. And then, just as quickly as it began…it finished. It was a sandwich of a year; crazy, hair pulling bread and smooth happiness for the inside.

I know I made a lot of progress with the children though. I am not the kind of teacher who drills phrases into the kids’ heads. I know that the children’s parents want to hear them speak, but they’re not at the age where they need to be learning phrases. They’re at the age that they just need to soak in as much English as they can. The drenched them in vocabulary and by the end of the year, some of them were starting to put things together on their own. Even half way through the year, I was getting some of them to have conversations. Albeit very one-sided conversations, they were understanding the things that I was saying and trying to respond with a few words and lots of gestures.

It was harder with my weekend children to get to this point though as they only had English lessons once a week. Finally, towards the end of the year, they were starting to understand some things and become more confident. The only problem I had with these children was the age differences. I had children from four to seven in this class. This meant that I had kids who could read and write and others who still can’t write numbers. It was a challenge, but three quarters of the year later I started teaching them all the English alphabet and the phonetics that went with it. It made for some more interesting classes and the children really seemed to like learning about it. Big numbers and the alphabet seemed to be a hit in that class.

All in all, it was one hell of a year. I taught and I fought and I taught some more. As much as these children drove me nuts, I love them all. There’s something special and unforgettable about your first students. They and the memories that I made with them will last a lifetime. I wish that I could check up on all of them in ten, fifteen, twenty years and see where life takes them, but only time will tell. This year is finished and new adventures await!

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I’ve signed up for TEFL certification…

“We have reviewed your application and are delighted to accept you onto the ITTT/ TITC TEFL-TESOL certificate course.”

I will be starting the online courses soon. It is a 120 hour course with a tutor to help. On top of that, I added a 50 hour Business English class. As I go through the lessons, I will update on how I am doing. I will complete this. Wish me luck!

Türkiye, here I come! 

Life Since Europe…

I returned to the United States on 23rd December 2012 after having been in Europe since 27th June 2012. Since that day I have not wanted anything but to go back. The longing for Italy and Turkey is overwhelming, and my need to travel is consuming me. I have been trying to keep myself busy with work (only about two days a week) and with school, but my schedule really is not that crazy this semester. Graduation looms ever nearer, and the stress of not knowing what I’ll be doing after it or where I will be is driving me nuts. I desperately need a decently paying job (don’t we all?), so that I can start paying off my loans, and so that I can leave the country and travel a bit. I do not want to wait to travel until I’m older and retired. I want to get out now while I am young so that I can truly experience the wonders of the world.

When I first came back from Italy, I had planned on tutoring students who were taking Elementary Italian 101 and 102 classes, but even though I am the only Italian major on campus, all of the Italian tutoring positions had already been taken by previous tutorers. This dampened my spirits in more ways than one. Not only had I been counting on that job for a bit more money on the side and to make my résumé look better, but I had been counting on it to keep in touch with the Italian language since there are no longer any upper level Italian classes taught at my university. While tutoring I would have been reviewing the materials that the students were going over as well as helping them speak. I am losing touch and a lot of my Italian since I did not receive this job. I had considered sitting in on the Intermediate Italian classes, but these classes are held during the same time as my other classes so that was not an option for me. I read through the online Italian newspapers and such, but it’s not the same. I only have two friends at this university who are native fluent speakers, but neither live on campus anymore so I do not really see them anymore. I really need to go back to Italy sooner rather than later.

One thing that I have really been starting to work on is my Turkish. Being that my boyfriend is from Turkey and no one in his family (besides his sister and himself) can speak English, I believe that it best for me to learn Turkish. Lately, I have been understanding a lot more of what is being said when listening to him and his friends speak, and my goal is to be able to be conversational by the time his parents fly in from Turkey for graduation the middle of May. I finally have Rosetta Stone, and after only one use, I am already remembering more and more. I plan on labeling everything in my room (hopefully my roommate won’t mind too much) and doing Rosetta Stone at least once a day for an hour. One of the most difficult things about this language for me is the sounds. I did a linguistic project on it and I found out that there are numerous sounds in the Turkish language that we do not have in English. I had guessed this, but I felt much more at ease when I found out that I was not losing my mind or sense of hearing. Another thing that is hard for me is that I have had and probably will not have formal instruction in this language. This is a language that I must tackle on my own. I’ve taken numerous languages throughout my schooling career (Spanish, Japanese, Swahili, Chinese, and Italian) all of which I excelled in, but learning a language without formal instruction is foreign to me, and I must learn how to do it. I feel that with Rosetta Stone I will be able to excel more than I would have done just learning by myself from a book, so I am happy about that. So a recount? Decent fluency in Turkish by the middle of May. Ready, set, go!

Europe really has been the only thing on my mind since I have been back. I know now that the United States is not the place for me. Wherever my place is, I do not know, but eventually I hope to find it. I am nothing but miserable here, and I would love to turn that around. Personally, I am not sure if I could permanently live in Turkey, but I could definitely try it out for a few years. Italy, the South, Firenze, or Torino, I could definitely live in. There is so much left of the world to see though. I need more time. I need more money! Oh, America, you grossly overcharge your students for the schooling costs. The “education” that we receive is nowhere near worth what we are charged. Europe, you’re doing it right when it comes to costs. I’ll leave the cost situation for another time though.

Europe, I miss you dearly.

Language Barrier

When I came to Urbino as an Erasmas student I knew that I would have some problems understanding people and that they would also have problems understanding me. My Italian was ok, but I haven’t been studying it for too long so, I was and still am nowhere near fluent in the language. I studied for 5 weeks in the South of Italy, a little town called Pisciotta that will forever hold a piece of me, and my Italian skills were increasing. I then traveled to Turkey with my boyfriend and stayed with his family. No one but my boyfriend spoke English, and I have yet to learn Turkish, so the language barrier there was quite a high wall to scale, but somehow we made it work with gestures and little words, and the help of my poor boyfriend who was always translating. I must admit though, that biggest language barrier I have come to know is not between English-Italian or English-Turkish, but actually between American English and British English.  

There were a few girls from England studying with me in Urbino, but the one I was with the most (an everyday basis) was from Chesterfield, England. Aside from her accent, there were often words and phrases that she would use that I had never heard of and it was the same for her with things that I would say. One thing that really threw off was that she would aspirate her h’s where American’s typically do not.

I compiled a bit to compare the differences (I grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania, but my parents were from Long Island, Brooklyn, and Central New York, and now I currently live in Long Island):

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This is just the tip of the iceberg! We’d often be hanging out, cooking in the kitchen, and the two of us would have to repeatedly ask one another what one of us had just said. Sometimes it was our accents and other times we’d find ourselves having to go into explanations of what had just said so the other could understand. I wish we had had more time to sit down and compare the differences. Hopefully, I can go over to England at some point in the not too distant future. I know I’ll end up more interested in our speech differences than in the rest of the country…

When will something be done?

When I first came over to Europe, we talked about stereotypes in each other’s cultures. Apparently, the main American stereotype is that every American has a gun and we just like to shoot things for fun. This didn’t just come from one person’s mouth, it came from people who were from Italy, Germany, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, England, Hungary, Belgium, Ireland, Austria, and Spain. At first, I was surprised at part of this stereotype (growing up in an area where we actually had the first day of hunting season off slightly prepared me for this), but after following the US news from Europe the past few months, and, most recently, the past week, I can now certainly understand why.

After hearing how hard it is to get a gun in other countries, how low their shooting crime rates are, and how ridiculously high ours are, I personally believe that gun laws should be tighter in the United States. Even before this, I had the same feelings. It is much too easy for someone who is mentally unstable to just go into a store and purchase a gun. There should be more regulations behind this. People should have to be mentally evaluated before they are able to purchase a gun. Now I know that many people are opposed these regulations, but is it really that much of an inconvenience to be mentally evaluated before purchasing a firearm? And then a possible reevaluation every so often should also be considered.Would you rather put a weapon that, in the hands of a mentally unstable person, could potentially kill and/or critically harm other people and children? Have we not had enough of these instances in the past few years, months, weeks, and days? Why must it always take a tragedy such as yesterday’s to make people think twice about these things? Even now, reading friends’ statuses they say that it’s not the gun’s fault and that regulations do not need to be tightened. It is quite obvious now more than ever that sanctions needs to be tightened; they are much too lax in this country. How can one not see that? How?

Did you know that the United States has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world? For every 100 people there are 88 who own guns. Take a look at this.

I’m not saying to take away “the right to bear arms,” because with the amount of Americans who are enamored with their firearms there would end up being another civil war, but I am saying that rules do needed to be tightened. In most other countries, such as England, one must spend hours upon hours filling out papers that prove to the police that you are not a threat to society. In countries where gun crime rates are significantly lower than ours. Let’s take a look at the countries that I listed above:

Average homicides by firearm per year:

Belarus: 12
Austria: 18
England & Wales: 41
Germany: 158
Belgium: 70
Ireland: 21
Northern Ireland: 5
Hungary: 7
Italy: 417 (You think that’s bad? Just wait…)
Spain: 90
Ukraine: 100
United States of America: 9146

Now people will argue that America is a bigger country so of course the number is expected to higher, but this ridiculously higher. We are on the same level as developing countries where crime rates are expected to be higher. Something needs to be done, and we should take a page of Europe’s book because they are obviously doing something right that we aren’t.

My heart is so heavy right now…

Thanksgiving in Italy

As most of us know (and for the foreigners who do not), the United States celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday. Typically, it is a time when people travel all over the country to be with their friends, their family, and their loved ones that they haven’t seen in a while simply to partake in the traditions of cooking, eating, and being together. This year was a bit different for me since I am in Italy, and Thanksgiving is a holiday that is unique to the United States. Here in Urbino, there are only a handful other Americans; most of the Erasmus students are from European countries. There were a few of us however who still wanted to do something for Thanksgiving. Since I absolutely love cooking, I went a little overboard, but it was Thanksgiving; you’re supposed to go overboard! The one American girl, who is also from my home state of Pennsylvania, was going to be gone all day, so she would not be able to cook, but still wanted to join in for dinner so she brought some wine instead. The one American guy, who goes to my school in the states, decided to make a desert; he made fried apples with cinnamon and sugar, which was surprisingly good. We lack an oven so certain things were a bit difficult, but we managed. I went to the grocery store and picked up a few things that I’d be needing for the dinner, such as the turkey. They did not have a whole turkey, which was a bit of a disappointment, but I knew they weren’t going to have them. Instead, they had some giant turkey breasts. I picked up one giant turkey breast which was also overpriced, but I just did not care because of the fact that it was Thanksgiving. Earlier on in the day I had started to cook. I made some roasted red peppers with olive oil and garlic on the stovetop, and I then put them in the fridge because, I’m not sure about elsewhere, but in United States, roasted red peppers are typically served cold. When I came back from the store, I decided to get the turkey going right away, even though we were not going to be eating for another couple of hours. Since we lack an oven, I decided to put the turkey breast in a pot with onions, spices, and a broth, and to then slow cook it with the lid on, so that it would be nice and juicy. Along with the turkey and roasted red peppers, I decided to get some carrots and corn going as well. I started boiling the carrots first so they would soften up and then added the corn with a bit of salt, pepper and a little bit of butter. After putting that aside, we decided that we should make some stuffing. So, my friend who is from England started the stuffing, which was then also cooked on one of the only two burners that we have on the stove. Bread, spices, onion and garlic, zucchini, and egg were thrown into this stuffing, and being someone who doesn’t normally like stuffing, I’d have to say that this one was exceptional. When the stuffing was finished, we started boiling water in order to make mashed potatoes. After throwing in some garlic, butter, and a splash of milk, I hand mashed the potatoes, and Thanksgiving dinner was just about complete.  The English girl then made some gravy from the broth that the turkey had been cooking in for the past few hours, and we were ready! Aside from the three Americans, myself included, we had people joining us from England, Lithuania, Germany, Belgium, Australia, and France; we called them our adopted-Americans for the night. For them, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity so I kept inviting them. I was very proud of myself when everyone kept complementing me on my dishes and especially on the turkey; the other girl from Pennsylvania who is a vegetarian had some turkey for the sake of tradition and then helped herself to seconds of the turkey because she liked it so much! We ate and drank wine, went around the table and shared stories (mostly about American history and customs and the like) and what we were thankful for, and of course we got into some discussions about Native Americans. Personally, I always feel a bit guilty celebrating Thanksgiving since I do come from some Cherokee background, but I mainly do it the traditions, the food, and just being together with everyone. We then had the fried cinnamon and sugar apples that had been made, and a giant block of Italian chocolate that the Australian girl had brought. All in all, I’d say that Thanksgiving in Italy was a success. We were together, we had a grand time, and we ate a lot of food. I found it interesting that the first time I hosted Thanksgiving, I was out of the country. Who would have that would ever happen?