Let me describe my job real quick: My official title is Teacher Trainer, which basically means I’m a regular TEFL volunteer assigned to a bigger-than-usual work site. My school is actually a collection of schools — two elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school. That’s 4,000 kids and 16 English teachers. Once a week, I’m responsible for leading a “Teachers’ Class” where I (in theory) hold language and teaching methodology lessons for said English teachers; the rest of the time, I (in theory) lesson plan and team teach with them. It’s a pretty sweet setup, in that I’m not expected to solo teach any classes and I get to work mostly with adults (not that I don’t Love The Children). Dividing my time between sixteen different people, though, is a logistical clusterfuck even without the language and cultural barriers. I think I might get the hang of it by 2012 sometime?
So here are some things I wrote earlier this month, back when my work schedule was kinda nonexistent and I sure did have a lot of time on my hands during the day:
First day of school. Sitting in my new office for the first time. I thought that, for sure, it was at least 3:30 p.m. When I looked at my phone just now it said 11:58.
Here’s what this morning was like:
Woke up. Discovered one new mosquito bite on my leg. An improvement! Last week’s average was six new welts/evening.
Ate peanut butter on bread. Drank tea. Read things on the internet.
Left for school. Noticed a preponderance of schoolkids all over the city, running around in their flouncy uniforms.
Arrived at school. Lots of kids were milling around in the courtyard. Per usual, I had no idea where I was supposed to be.
The opening ceremony started. We teachers lined up on the front steps, and the kids stood in the courtyard. There were balloons, and a sound system, and a microphone. One girl performed a dance; one boy sang a song; various teachers received medals for various accomplishments. Somewhere in there, I gave my speech (1/3 Mongolian, 2/3 English and translated by my supervisor). Then the director presented me with a khadag and a copper bowl filled with aruul. I accepted these things, hopefully correctly, and then went down the line of teachers, offering aruul to everybody one by one. When I was finished, I went back to my place and my supervisor leaned over and whispered, “Are you happy you’re done? Your face! A little red! Ha ha!”
I arrived at nine. I sat down at my desk. I started copying things from one notebook to another, like a busy important person with many important things to do.
A cleaning lady came in then — she gave me a carpet and a plastic tablecloth for my desk, and she scrubbed my floor, and I asked her for her name, for the second time, like an ass. Then another cleaning lady came in to inspect things. Then the head maintenance guy. Everybody asked me if things were гоё (nice); I assured them that things were very гоё! Oh boy, so гоё! Crazy гоё! I liked my room very much! гоё гоё гоё! This seemed to go over well.
Basically, as far as I can tell, the cleaning and maintenance staff are the only people at this school who a) don’t speak any English, b) aren’t embarrassed that they don’t know any English, and c) don’t particularly give a shit about learning any English. Also d) they think it’s cute that I, like a very small child, can sometimes understand them when they speak slowly. Also e) they like to come into my office and help themselves to the contents of my candy dish. This combination is like the Perfect Storm of Opportunities for Language Learning, and I know if I’m going to make any meaningful headway with my Mongolian these next two years (which is not really a given, knowing the extent of my laziness, how much I’m going to be speaking English at work [constantly], how difficult it is for English speakers to learn Mongolian and, oh you know, the difficulty of self-directed language learning in general), it will probably be with Zoksoo and Chimgee and Dasurin and Puja and et al.
Basically, I need to make sure that they don’t lose interest in me. Probably I will do this by coming up with new things to say to them, and maybe also I will do this by getting some American candy for the candy dish.
September 7, 10:09 a.m.
So like, I wanted to be at the middle school when classes started this morning so I could just attach myself, barnacle-like, to any recognizable English teacher and then follow her into her lesson.
But I got to work later than I wanted to because of the sudden, ghastly onset of gastrointestinal issues. Now that I’m finally here I’m sitting in my office, I have no idea when the next period is, I don’t know who is teaching and where, and I’m not sure I can find my way to the middle school without help. Also I’ve forgotten how to say ‘middle school.’
Shaping up to be another banner day!
September 7, 10:52 a.m.
I Have No Idea Why I Knew That Word: A Play in One Act
A high school in Erdenet. Katie’s office-closet. Late morning.
KATIE sits at desk, wondering what to do. Enter RANDOM KID. Outside the office, KID’S BUDDIES giggle.
HAVE YOU GOT CUT?
HAVE YOU GOT…CUT?
(makes cutting gesture with his index and middle fingers)
Uh, no. Sorry.