Weekly Reflection: I’m a stranger here myself

The spires of the Kremlin (photo by author)

No matter how much you read the guidebook the tired cliché about travelling is true, being there is everything.

Which brings me to Russia.

The palaces of Saint Petersburg, Red square, Saint Basil’s cathedral, Yekaterinburg, Lake Baikal, the frozen tundra of Siberia and rumours of the world’s most bizarre museum in Vladivostok. Russia was always going to be a place I just had to see.

So I did in 2010.

I flew into Saint Petersburg and made it right through to Vladivostok in the Far East. And I made that journey old-school style. No planes, no smartphone, no laptop. Just a guidebook, phrasebook and my backpack. The Russians I met in the third class sections of the trains were quick to point out I was insane to undertake such adventure on my own not speaking Russian.

And they were right.

Travelling across Russia without a guide and no Russian language is extremely challenging. Just when you think you’ve got things figured out you’ll find yourself lost,  being yelled at by the Kremlin guards or wondering if you’ll miss your flight out of the country when the taxi booked the night before is an hour late.

No matter how much you think you might know, Russia regularly likes to remind visitors who is boss.

That mix of euphoria and disorientation from being a stranger in a strange land is perhaps an ideal one for a first week of teaching.

I am sure I am not alone.

Even with the best induction programme and the most meticulous planning  in the world, the kids actually being there in the classroom and putting those ideas into action is so awesome but also involves taking a leap into the unknown.

I didn’t know my kids on Tuesday, I’m starting to get to know them now.

At the beginning of the week I had some ideas about setting up a class but was not entirely sure of which ones would work well, which ones need to be reworked and which ones I might need to rethink entirely. Now I have some experience to draw on when I repeat the process next year.

When I look back now I realize how my first week of teaching was like finding my way in a new city. Spending my day wandering around thinking wow this job is so awesome only to being reminded that I also have a lot of learning to do 10 minutes later. Even if that learning is remembering where the student toilets are located.

While there were a couple of kids in the class who were undoubtedly missing the familiarity of primary school, I really missed having another teacher in the room.  This week is the first time I’ve been in a classroom alone with kids for an extended period of time as student teaching is heavily supervised and when I was teaching in Korea it was a co-teaching situation. While I will have regular classroom observations as part of my Professional Development, the interaction isn’t going to be as frequent or immediate as what I am used to when there’s someone working alongside you in the classroom.

But much like how my guidebooks often ended up being pulled out a lot less frequently once I learn how to navigate my way around new cities, gaining my formal teaching qualified means that I am entrusted with far greater responsibility than I ever had. Alongside the nearly 30 children to teach there’s classroom equipment to keep safe, administering and marking student assessment, communicating with parents and making sure everyone in our class knows what to do during an evacuation. Even with all the support around me, there’s a lot take in which explains why this week went by so quickly.

I thought it useful to document those first days in the classroom that will undoubtedly be lost into a hazy memory of all those ‘firsts’ I’ll go through this year. Next year things will be a bit different and when I greet new students instead of being a stranger to a new school and the teaching game I’ll hopefully have moved up to expat status.

But by capturing that feeling of disorientation that comes with arriving in a new place, I’ll be easily able to remember where I am right now not just to measure my professional progress in a year’s time but help put myself in the shoes of the new students arriving into school this time next year.

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