on becoming a russian teacher

Working in the elementary school this semester has given me some up-close-and-personal experience not only with Russian children, but also with their teachers. I’ve observed how the kids act with each other, with me, and with the Real Authorities.

This is to say, I am not yet a Real Authority.

Like this one time about two weeks ago when Igor, perhaps the cutest and definitely the devilishest first grader I’ve ever met, decided that hanging onto Maksim’s leg and refusing to let go was a good idea. And I told him in no uncertain terms that he needed to get his backside in his chair, stat, or else. Of course, the Real Authority had already left the building, so I was on my own and had no real “else” to threaten him with. And he knew it. And Maksim was pretty unhappy with the situation, and the rest of the class was yelling, and something needed to be done. That’s when I physically detached the boys and basically carried Igor into the hallway to settle down. Now, I hate using physical force with kids to get them to behave. But that was literally my only recourse, because I am not a Real Authority.

Or this week, when Igor (who Sasha-the-girl told me is “the most disobedient student in the whole class” … no kidding), made a beeline for the piano, and Tamara and girl-whose-name-I-literally-can’t-ever-remember decided that the best way to reinforce the “no playing piano during class” rule was to sit on the piano lid to keep him from opening it. (Side note: why, why, why is there a piano in my classroom? Кто же до этого додумался, вообще…) And I was like, “CHILDREN. Sit. Not on the floor. Not on the piano. IN YOUR SEAT.” And then Igor was like, “But I want to play the piano!” “No, that’s not allowed.” “Why isn’t it allowed?” “Because we’re in class; we’re learning.” “But after class I can’t play piano, because I’ll be in another room, so I have to play it now.” “That’s not my problem; you need to sit.” And this is where I pulled out my best что за поведение and offered him the choice of sitting quietly or going to sit in and do worksheets with the other half of the first grade. He moved to a chair still dangerously near the piano and put on the most frustratingly adorable 6-year-old pouty face, and I returned my attention to the rest of the class.

When five minutes and several rounds of Simon Says had failed to capture Igor’s interest, he decided it would be fun to beat up Sasha-the-boy. (Qualification: this involved a lot of sissy slapping and not a lot of actual harm, but it was still totally unacceptable.) I sat him down again and threatened to send him back to his caretaker, trying to avoid a repeat of the previous episode’s SWAT takedown, but he would not be calmed down. Then the bell rang, and I could only say, “Off with you.” Crazy child.

The thing is… this is not sustainable. Because my job is to teach kids English, not to keep them from hitting/harassing/bothering the rest. It’s amazing how one child can totally ruin the learning environment for the rest: I need to figure out how to keep him from destroying the others’ chance of hearing/absorbing anything, without having to devote 20% of my time to talking him down (which is also harmful for the others’ chance of learning).

Conclusion: I need to become a Real Authority. And I’m not 100% sure what it’s going to take to get me there, but I have a feeling it involves a lot more serious-face, a lot more что за поведение, and maybe a pair of high heels. The American smile and gentle persuasions don’t work here when kids get out of hand, even with the “good ones.” They respond to a kind of strictness I rarely encountered in my own teachers, a tone of voice and face I’ve rarely used myself.

I don’t know if I’m ready for any of that (especially the high heels, gonna be honest here), but if I want these kids to learn anything beyond “how not to keep order in a classroom,” I think I have to get on the ball.


2 thoughts on “on becoming a russian teacher

  1. Thank you for your informative and entertaining post. Not that it is any consolation, but your situation
    Isn’t without международный parallels. You could have been describing my experiences. If you can tolerate the futility and inability to focus on those who want to spend time on task then you will be qualified to teach 9 th grade English in inner city schools in the USA . I couldn’t do it so you are one up on me.


  2. High heels (keep them in the building and wear them for class. I do that.) Also never let your guard down and always be firm. Gentle persuasion should be used rarely like delicious chocolate. And always act like you know what you are doing even when you don’t. 🙂


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