Life goes on, regardless of weather, comings and goings and illness. With foreign teachers in such short supply here, my services are very much in demand and I’ve been getting the impression everyone is under instructions to bend over backwards to be nice to me. I’ve had compliments, gifts, been asked for my opinion on various matters. They needn’t worry, I’m feeling quite settled at the moment, the only thing that I’m really struggling with is the intensity of the work – early starts, late finishes, 6 days a week and sometimes Sunday too.
Preparing for one lesson isn’t difficult. Preparing for 4 or 5 in the space of an hour and a half, is, and each lesson does not get the level of preparation that it requires. But I can’t plan lessons while I’m teaching or travelling. Thankfully my experience with teaching in general, the tricks of the trade, and the material we are using as I start to recognise material I’ve used before and remember what worked and what didn’t, gives me the ability to be a bit more flexible, if I have to walk into a lesson without a plan I can still deliver it – it might not flow very smoothly between topics but once I get into my rhythm on any given topic or exercise I can usually maintain the illusion of a confident, experienced teacher who knows his stuff.
The next departure will be my Italian colleague who has been with me since the day we both arrived, Ale. He is moving to pastures new on December 26th. While he is predominantly an Italian teacher he had been filling up his hours with lessons in English to Upper Intermediate level and below – he often expressed surprise at this because he views his own level as Upper Intermediate, though I am always reassuring him he speaks very well. So his departure will impact me, there will be one less foreign teacher teaching English. With two more scheduled to leave in January it will leave just me, John and Peter as native speakers, with Jorge also able to do English classes.
While there are plenty of Russian teachers who can of course teach English, the school can charge more for lessons with foreign teachers, so they want to use me as much as possible. I am due an extra day off but I’m told at the moment it is impossible because they cannot cover my lessons. I won’t be getting a winter holiday because I will be needed either for the Winter Camp or holiday programmes held at one of the offices. I will get New Years Day off, and Christmas Day (the Russian one, 7th January) but that is all that I can bank on. They do assure me, however, that their recruitment efforts are ongoing and hopefully new foreign teachers will arrive at some point.
I’ve been given a couple of interesting assignments – I will be playing the small but vital role of Santa Claus in the school’s production of The Grinch for 4 performances for young children. I will be interviewed by the local TV station. I’ve also been asked to be a judge for a phonetics competition at the university – they need a native English speaker and there aren’t many of us around.
The temperature has been above zero for the last 2 or 3 days, so all the snow is melting. The ice that remains is treacherous to walk on, and many pavements now resemble tributaries of the Volga. Last night the temperature was about 5 degrees, and I felt so warm that I was walking with my coat open. I had a jumper on underneath, but even so, I remember when 5 degrees would have necessitated at least 4 layers!
I have a new work colleague – Margoshka, or Margo. She can’t teach English unfortunately, but she is good company when I am planning lessons in the library in the mornings. My Russian lessons are coming along nicely, I’m starting to learn verbs and reading more fluently now. But I’m still less fluent in Russian than my very worst students are in English!