Friday, February 10, 2012

Ciao = Hello

To continue with the theme of awarding superlatives to days I spend abroad, let's call this day, "the most terrifying but thrilling day of my life." No, I didn't go skydiving. I merely taught three English phrases to a classroom full of Italian 3rd graders. Doesn't seem too difficult, right? That's what I thought until I was left alone with 20 pairs of eyes locked on me and I realized, "shit, I don't know how to teach."

I, along with the majority of the CET students, signed up to teach English once a week to various grade levels around Siena. Disappointed that all the cute kindergarten classes were full, I settled for a 3rd grade class at a school 15 minutes outside the walls of Siena called Aquacalda - translated literally to hot water.

At our teaching orientation of sorts, the organizer of the program, Mike, drew a sad face on the board. "This is how you will feel after your first day of teaching," he said. Great. Thanks for the encouragement. Next came a slightly less unhappy face, and finally, a happy face. "You can't quit before your third time," was his main rule. Apparently, the first time will scare you to death, the second will be slightly better once you realize the kids remember your name and look forward to you coming, and finally, you realize it's the most rewarding experience of your life.

My first time wasn't so intimidating that it'd scare me away, but I did feel a bit like that first smiley face. But I also felt like the third. As nervous and confused as I was about the whole situation was how much I absolutely loved it. I've always loved being around kids, and I even help out in an elementary school in Charlottesville, but feeling their excitement to talk to a real live English speaking person and their eagerness to learn just made me so so happy. Up to this point they had only learned English out of a textbook from non-English speaking teachers, and had no way to practice it.

Mike continued, after explaining his drawing, to warn us that Italian children are basically the equivalent of wild animals, and that the teacher is merely there to keep them from killing each other. That being said, I only prepared a rough outline of a lesson, expecting to have to spend half the time acting as a mediator. So, when Mike walked out the door after giving the kids instructions to come up with 10 questions to ask me, and absolute chaos didn't break out, I was shocked. And had a bit of an awkward start. Remembering to speak slowly, clearly, without contractions, and not in Italian, was actually a huge challenge.

Mike also told us that there's not much different between a 1st grader and a 5th graders level of English, that they all just know colors and numbers. This I found to be very not true, as they all started shouting at once, "What's your name? What's your favorite color/animal/sport/fruit? How old are you? Where you from?" Feeling a little encouraged knowing that they had some of the basics down, I went on introducing myself, having them repeat certain phrases and playing a game with them. I even ventured for a song, but that was a little ambitious. Maybe next week. Another moment of panic hit when I realized that what I had anticipated taking the whole hour, only took ten minutes. As I made up the remainder of the lesson on the fly it felt awkward and uncomfortable, but maybe they didn't notice...

So, I left the school frazzled, but giddy. I've got to teach myself how to teach, for sure, but I am optimistic! Hopefully by the end of the school year I will have a picture of me with them to show you guys :)

On a completely unrelated note, wine and cheese tasting this weekend was cancelled, as was our trip to Viareggio for a slightly toned down version of Carnivale due to the unrelenting snow storm that is blanketing Europe at the moment (check out the pictures!). But, not to worry, wine and cheese is being rescheduled for the spring and I'm off to Venice next weekend for REAL Carnivale! Hooray!

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