Back to Thursdays

Thursday is a long day, both in terms of the hours I work and the patience it requires from me. Today was better than normal, until the end. I tried extra hard to stave off the absolutely exhausted feeling that hits me at precisely 7:45pm, once my last students leave. And the one thing I absolutely can’t do on a full Thursday is the dishes. My work schedule is punishing enough without doing my least favorite chore.

Oh where to begin? I swear these things will have a central theme. I won’t ever be a decent blogger. There’s too much nonsense here that I don’t have time to sort out. But I didn’t start this again to play on the internet. I already waste too much time looking up news stories about America, England and Germany.

Right so on Thursday I have to travel to the side part of town to the Germany senior center there for four hours of classes. Now my first class on of the day is a group of seniors who’ve combined classes and come very very close to absolutely hating each other guts. Sometimes I am more babysitter to their moods than an actual English teacher. They’ve also disrespected me a bit by trying to tell me how to do my job (German “honesty”) and I sometimes snap at them a bit more than I’m normally inclined to, but man girl’s gotta have a backbone.

I’ve just made it sound hideous, but despite that last paragraph I actually enjoy the classes on occasion. In fact today, the guys didn’t come today and so I had a very relaxed class of elderly women talking about their gardens and favorite flowers and fruits and asking each other about planting tips with huge interest, in mostly English for half the class. If the guys had been there, we wouldn’t have gotten away with it. One of them would have started in on how this is teaching him nothing and our little bunny trails of plant names and what grows best where would have been stopped. Today all the women left very happy and I felt like fate had smiled on me a bit. Usually I have to be on toes and in fact get up at 7 on Thursdays to make sure I’m awake enough for it.

The next class wasn’t as fun, but it was fine. More students have joined the course and we all aren’t on the same page yet. It was beginner, not conversation. But we’ve switched to a better book and I’ve taken to not just doing all the mini-dialogues but also enacting little mini-situations with me where I introduce more vocab and give them the spontaneity of a native speaker and having to think on their toes. I’ve reduced my speaking time to mostly giving instructions/homework and explaining some grammar. Today I played flight attendant and they ordered drinks.

In the course of a year my classes with the seniors have improved to benefit us all. Unfortunately contrary to what we’d like to believe in our instantaneous world, being a good teacher and getting to know the peculiarities of a group is something that just takes time. I’ve also learned that while my American sensitivities may bristle at the direct feedback my senior citizens give very willingly, it’s also the only way I can know what works and doesn’t. There have been days where I’ve walked around in a defensive huff fighting through my knee-jerk response, until the emotional cloud subsides and logic proves them to have a point.

My other boss also gives me a very honest assessment and I’ve come to value knowing exactly where I stand with a group of people. My skin has gotten a bit thicker in Europe. It’s not always something I can handle without a bit of time to think it over and my Thurs. class today gave me too much “feedback” before I really had the chance to show them how a lesson with me works BUT I guess I’m grown up enough to separate personal life from work. I want to do my job well first, and be liked 2nd.  Which I guess makes me very compartmentalized and German these days. In America work was more like a popularity contest at times and the line between work and personal life was very blurred.

So I went into the city center after for my work, feeling relieved that first half was over. I was inspired today to eat a little meatball/meatloaf sandwich from the butcher. Oh perfectly seasoned and just what I needed. I also bought a small pick-me-up coffee before hand and a sandwich for later. Then had another bakery coffee, which I never do. But as I said, I was determined to fight exhaustion.

At work it was the third time I cleaned up puke in the girls bathroom, all the same color, not from the little kids. Plus apparently the cleaning lady always finds sausages in the trash and other things. I think we have a bulemic on our hands. Well not us the math department. I think she must want to get caught, cause she’s not doing a good job of hiding it.

Ahhh another day. The first kids are a newish class for me and so excited to have me finally. We have fun. The little boys are a little bit in love, so they come up with excuses to come up to my desk and check things. Oh goodness, tell me how cute is it when little boys (10) with a pierced ears or mohawks or fat little adult behavior suddenly pretend they are the cleverest students or too cool to work, but they know all the answers. And they girls look up with their big eyes and whisper things like “Kyria you look pretty today.” And I say thanks Schatz (dear/treasure) because I treasure them all and have practically come to tears more times than I care to admit thinking about how much my Greek brats mean to me. And I wish, really wish that this honeymoon time won’t end. Because it’s such a beautiful part of human nature when people want you to believe and see the best in them and I try my hardest to let them see that striving to improve is something that won’t go unrecognized.

And putting this into words is bringing me pretty near onto tears.

The bf is smart. When I talk about the kids, mostly with wonder at the curious thing they’ve said or done, I pretend not to care. And he just smiles knowingly and lets me not admit it. And it’s better for my pride I think.

And that’s done and next comes my littlest kids and today little S. came early and hadn’t learned her vocab so we practiced together, although she informed me she wasn’t smart cause she was in the middle level of schooling (damn you German school system). And it was pleasing for her to realize I was on her side and for me to see that with a bit of guidance she could do a lot of work.

The little kids are still a struggle for me. The problem is communication struggles. Sometimes me German isn’t up to par and my Greek doesn’t come to mind. Sometimes the kids aren’t in the mood to think in German. Today was perfect though. Every single one of them got almost equal time from me. And I used Greek to keep them focused. Cheeky little P. 11! started saying my name without any Miss. I looked at him, corrected him and said we aren’t best friends. Not just for him, but for the other kids not to get any ideas. His eyes got big as he thought over my words. His brother needs lots of attention. I think he gets jealous, but is too calm to act out. Today he tried to copy his brother and enact a writing strike, but a few compliments set him right.

The last class is my proficiency class. They are more like adults sometimes and we speak almost only English. It’s the best of the best. Today we talked about spoken English vs. grammatically correct with a text I prepared. Oh they love it. They love America and all things cool. They think English is uber-cool.

Of course these lovely day was ruined by the tax office fining me for not paying taxes that I can’t prove I don’t have to pay until I send them something in writing about my new visa which I’ve been waiting for since the beginning of April! Oh was furious. Then I tried to make popcorn, but I burned my tester, because I wasn’t paying attention. Hot oil, not good. Space cadet. And I also forgot about this English Stammtisch I wanted to go to. But that’s ok since I’m too chicken to go alone atm.

So there it is! A very long entry about my longest workday.

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Saturdays are fun days!

I love Saturday! I hate working 6 days a week, but at least on Saturdays the lessons are so much fun.

Slowly my kids realize, the longer they have me, that I really love being silly. I hate playing disciplinarian, even though it’s vital to classroom control. Slowly, but surely I crack jokes with all my classes, in whichever language I need, sometimes all 3, until the kids start to understand: Miss R. has a really low disrespect and bad-word tolerance level, BUT any and all forms of silliness is allowed, ESPECIALLY in English. I lose them for a few years when they are insecure teenagers and too cool for school and deathly afraid of standing out. 12-14 years old, not my faves. I get it. I have lots of patience for all these moods swings. I’ve been there. In fact I can’t help but love them more with all their ridiculous insecurities and posturing. Oh but how it makes the lessons seem twice as long.

Not on Saturday though. The first lesson is the ideal lesson for an early morning. We all wake-up together. (Although these days I’m wide awake at 9:30 even on my days off. Which for a night owl like me is hard to believe) It’s my fave age level, right before they’re teenagers, old enough to understand more sophisticated humor, but young enough to still enjoy the sensation of giggling hysterically. Last week they came up with the phrase “school-haters” and screamed at me, “We’re school haters!”, while I feigned being completely shocked and refused to accept it. Although they’re all such good little students,  but like any child they get a kick out of saying things that might be “cheeky” or “bad”.

That brings up a short conversation I had with my boss this morning. One of the girls had transferred into the class, from another much more noisy “cool” group. Since she’s been in the class she’s actually put her cleverness to good use. From the time I knew she would transfer, I was quite pleased, because she was the leader of all sorts of distractions in class and I was hoping a new setting would get her to pay attention more (and calm down her old class). I told my boss as much today. She was pleased because she mentioned that earlier she just wanted to transfer out.

I should mention that I split all my classes between my boss and a third teacher here. It’s better for the kids (they get native English speaking skills at least once a week) and for us as well. Since if a class is a bit troublesome, they might behave better with one teacher if not the other, or one of our strengths might make up for a lack in the other and hopefully all the kids will somehow move along. For the kids it also means they might get less tired of me. Gotta stretch out whatever charm I have for as long as I can. Eventually they will all resent you at some time or another!

Basically though this little girl thought the other teacher didn’t like her and my boss told her, I won’t even hear it. Which was right of my boss to do. You can’t do anything else. The other teacher is a professional. Not a professional teacher, none of us are (although my boss would give every teacher in the world a run for their money). It’s after school help Greek style. But even professionals have feelings. The kids are a lot smarter and sensitive than adults give them credit for.

The first week the girl transferred my co-worker mentioned how the nice classroom dynamic was totally wrecked and went on to say “she’s a bit of a spoiled diva expecting to be catered to”. I remember wondering how she expected anything else, she’s the youngest in family with only boys and she knows how to charm her way out of anything. Those are survival skills. That’s not bad character, that’s environment. And I saw how my class reacted when she came sauntering into my classroom half an hour late with only the barest attempt at an apology. Shocked at her daring one of the boys fell headlong into a crush and suddenly started acting out, cracking jokes left and right. Nothing more adorable than little boy puppy love.

And she spoke only Greek to me, because she was the first one of all my students to realize that I knew exactly what they were all saying. “Why aren’t you using German?” they exclaimed. “Ms. R.” she asked me in Greek, “do you mind? Does it matter?” No dear, but English is better,” with my best expectant teacher look. And the thing is I had a super easy English class where everything in the book was enough and the kids were eager to just tell my about their lives. But it was quiet. And now my little shy I. has discovered the joys of sitting in the back of the class with the new girl and being cool (even though they both asked me for permission. Like I said, I love it when they’re still kids.)

It’s hard, especially when you’re a new teacher and you have to make sure you have that respect. It’s hard when little kids call things out as they see them. It’s hard when your co-worker is an Ami that the kids love, just because they still think all Amis are cool, even those who read a lot and assign them stupid homework. I don’t think the kids are shy about expressing their preference and that is hard on me too. I do think there was a bit of resentment accurately felt, even if the reason wasn’t interpreted correctly.

But it’s easy to get kids wrong too. Case in point another little girl in the class used to copy homework and her vocab words a lot and I thought she was not a good student. But slowly I realized she had just never been told she was a good student. I told her one time her writing was really good and that her writings were always good and I still remember the “me” she squeaked out and how her face went red for the whole lesson. And since then she’s never tried (hard) to sneak anything by me and I’ve tried to keep in mind to praise her when fitting. (I remember EVERY TIME one of my comments have hit home with the kids and their faces lit up at being seen for who they were.)

But see my co-worker works best with the smaller kids because her better command of Greek and German can control them better. And I do have a soft spot for the cheeky students. Making fun of them until they realize their behavior isn’t up to my standards. I definitely think I do neglect my really well-prepared students from time to time, at least in terms of classroom time. So I’m glad we split it. I’ve definitely seen it as a good thing that my students now have a good example of someone who’s really integrated into German society (imho she’s more German than Greek) and good role models are always hard to find. Reason #1 why I get my butt to church as often as I can even though sometimes it kills me that I have to see Greek faces every day a week.

My job is quite interesting. I learn just about as much as I teach. I’m lucky I can say that.

Anyway I do want to say that my second class today is full of girls that not 6 months ago couldn’t stand each other and I have slowly teased them into getting along. They have conflicting personalities and used to make fun of each other seriously, but since I started joining in, but setting the tone in a “fun only” way, they’ve followed my example. We get mixed up in all 3 languages and cultures. Case in point: “Daniel Craig will be immer noch xalia!” (Daniel Craig will still be awful!) as I tried to convince them that the new Bond is attractive! They are so silly and so creative and wonder of wonders thanks to a game of pass-the-story that I played to try to loosen them up, we’ve discovered that they love to write.  Well more correct, they love to finish each other story ideas with shocking endings that bring us all to tears of laughter. When a group of 14 year old girls beg you to let them write a story in class, hey hey, that doesn’t happen often. And they all file out asking me if they are the best story writers. Ha no contest I tell them and the little grins on their faces make me so proud I could burst. I had something to do with their English development. That fills me with wonder.

And so on Saturday I feel like I’m a good English teacher. Despite the other nonsense  and the ups-and-downs of the week. I end on a high note. A language is many things: a certificate, a skill, a passion, an expression of art, a set of grammar rules, funny accents, a must, but I hope it’s not just another boring class. As I tell my kids, “hey are you calling my language boring! Well thanks I guess you mean me too. Can I come into your living room sometime and sit down rolling my eyes telling you how much Greek sucks?”

Kids are pretty good at seeing through hypocrisy, even their own.

A spot of good news

Well oddly enough, the same day I posted my previous visa fiasco, I resolved the matter, somewhat unintentionally.

I called once more to see if I could speak with the woman handling it this year. But this time, wonder of wonders, I spoke to a nice local man. It doesn’t always happen, but I can say for the most part, with my American accent, I get more results from men than women. At any rate, God bless this man! The woman I needed was out of town, but instead of saying hey, bad luck for me, try again, it’s not his problem, he went onto the computer *like it was no big deal* and just opened up my case and told me what I had been trying to find out all week. Basically the appointment they’ve scheduled for me is actually because they have everything sorted out, not because they want to issue another temporary work visa. So I don’t need to panic and think my taxes are screwed just because they aren’t being clear. It’s so stupid I’ve seen it many times before. People who have the information try to gain control and power by withholding it when they see fit. And Germany is really out of it’s mind crazy about only relaying things per paper. Nothing important in Germany happens until it’s been printed out.

But thank goodness this guy seemed to realize that I just wanted to be an informed citizen and be well prepared. He clarified many things for me. And I thanked him so much he got embarrassed. I told him he was the first person who could bother communicating my new status. And I didn’t even have to put on my “zickig” attitude and start demanding things. *Sigh*

I was relieved and happy and now it’s not weighing down on me. I’ve got things sorted out for everything I know. Can’t do anything more.

Anyway speaking of the occasional bitchy attitude I need to adopt here, I might have done better with one today. Went to grab Greek yogurt at the one store near work. In the words of my coworker, it’s a bit ghetto, but I don’t usually have a problem and in the land without walmart, you have to do a bit of legwork, but 10 cent savings do add up to Euros.

There’s a certain type of European drunk that y0u just don’t encounter as much in the US. In Germany the beer bottles have a deposit, so the bums will often collect as many as they can, then visit a supermarket when they have enough change to buy more or they go for some really harsh cheap-o bottles of vodka or rye liquor. I don’t know where the drunks hang out in America, but in Germany you see them outside the supermarkets with bottle collections or sitting at bus stops. Not normally an issue, easily ignored, as much as I hate to say it.

Oh but today! After collecting a few items I went to the check out. Stood behind a nondescript guy buying a bottle of vodka. There’s so obvious and so sad. Wasn’t bothered til his friend came up and decided I was just the prettiest girl he had seen. It was stupid. I stood back, I looked away I didn’t answer. Had he been standing there before, I would have chosen another line. From my experience, there’s no point in talking to a drunk man trying to engage you. It only encourages them. Never mind that if he hears my Ami accent, he will latch on and there’ll be no losing him.

I mumbled, I looked away. Behind me there was a Turkish man and his scarf covered wife. I could practically hear his thoughts, about how German women deserve it if they dress that way. But I wasn’t asking for it. I had just come from work. I was wearing some eye-liner and a pink top all very tame. So I looked up at the Turkish man and I sighed. I looked until I felt his sympathy. Maybe he had never thought that. I hate being mistaken for a German woman. It’s not my cross to bear.

The drunk Pole touched me. That was the point where I should have barked “nicht anfassen!” (don’t touch me). I should have said “I’m not a doll. I just want to go shopping, not make friends.” Or “Thanks for the compliment, my boyfriend thinks so too.”  What can I say it’s not in my nature. I’m shy and naturally quiet with strangers. Anyway silence works well in making the other person sound like an idiot.

God being a woman in Europe is really something America never prepared me for. I’m a nice girl. He stole the gum. I told the cashier as she scanned my items. I should have called him out before he was leaving, but I wanted nothing to do with him. Remind me another time what it’s like to live in the land of everyone-looking-away-when-something-bad-happens.

I had to wait to leave til they’d cleared the entrance. If people standing in line aren’t going to help me, no one in a crowd will. As I was waiting another group of foreign boys made some cat calls. I then biked home and ran to the other grocery store for a pineapple (on sale! it’s how I roll) the drunks outside that store also decided they liked my looks and yelled out “excuse me” til I looked over. But I rushed inside.

People can’t place me. I look German, but not in the cheap trashy way with too much make-up skin tight clothes, nor in the natural slender blonde, blue eyes, no work. Nor do I fit in the no make-up let’s go natural trend. I don’t look unnaturally older than my years or orange from the tanning beds. I don’t look dark and ethnic or Greek. For a culture obsessed with brands, even my clothes are confusing, with a mix of German, Greek, English, and American finds. My German accent is good enough that short sentences only hint at not coming from here, but I have to speak at length before it’s obvious.  One women guessed at Dutch. It’s fun playing shape-shifter, but not when I get unwanted attention. Often I wear my glasses just to blend in better.

Visa conundrum

Sometimes the bureaucracy here kills me. I’m meant to have gotten my visa taken care of in April. Germany’s dropped the ball. Something has gone wrong. Now my boss has to do extra legwork to get things taken care of and I’ve got to sort out my income for the next year so I don’t get heavily taxed. Everything is on hold. It’s so frustrating. I can’t even begin to discuss, because I will get all worked up and right now I want to enjoy my morning cup of coffee in peace.

I hate asking for help though. Wait, scratch that. Let me specify, I hate asking my very capable boss for help and feeling more childlike. But just her position and native speaking skills make things come together much quicker. Germans love authority and even fluent speaking Americans who know all the rules and strategies and cultural etiquette, and will stubbornly not back off until they have the information they need from bureaucrats with job security for life, who can’t be bothered to lift a finger at work and believe people who speak German like children, must only be as intelligent as children never having heard their own English from an native’s ear, is NOT! as effective as someone who simply says into the phone, “hi I’m the boss!

And if that convoluted sentence isn’t proof that I live in Germany, I don’t know what is!

Maybe it’ll all work out for the best. Mostly it has to do with the city I live in. In the small university town nearby, my friends had no problem getting things sorted. Earlier when I was worried about a particularly nasty offspring of nazi parentage (even my boss said so!) that had had my case last year, I called up some integration offices for help and they assured me that my town definitely has a poor reputation for dealing with foreigners.

Ah my first post and I’ve managed to drop the word Nazi already.

In actuality, the more I live here, the more I like the Germans and I liked them well enough in the first place. Sadly though, every expat, be they willing or a refugee must deal with bureaucrats and this is not Germany’s best side. However anyone flying into America has to deal with customs and passport control, and based on stories I’ve heard maybe I’ve got the better end of that stick. They even look at me out of the corner of their eye, distrusting my decisions not to live in Ami land. Not to mention the fact the Europeans, having learned how to speak at least one foreign language passably, or failing that, at least have heard other languages on a semi-daily basis, seem to understand that screaming angrily will not in fact aid comprehension. And I feel compelled to mention that, should you be lucky enough to be allowed to study in America, you will need to PAY the US government to spy on your family. Maybe this Bush era law has been taken off the books, but somehow I feel it’s not a huge priority.

At any rate, back to the matter at hand, I’ve been waiting since February to have this issue behind me. I never would have imagined that the end of June would come with no visa. And the thing that kills me, is that I only want to keep the job another year. After that time I will have to deal with a new set of rules for a new category of visa in possibly a new country! Call me a glutton for punishment!

BUT that being said: I can’t imagine living stateside. I may moan and complain and miss American easy-going friendships, but I love being surrounded by languages and having to interact with different cultural norms. I was bored of German for a while, but now I’m back on track to push it to the next level. And I love that I can go into work and learn from my students while I teach them to converse: both the Greek kids plotting how to get away with doing less and the German seniors whining about how they’ll never manage to remember anything. It’s the life I’ve chosen and it keeps this little Ms Ami busy.