Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bohinji, Slovenia

We just had a four day break from teaching. Today marks the end of Ramadan for Muslims so our school was off on Monday and Tuesday. This gave Joe and I the perfect excuse to take a trip. Although it was a bit expensive we decided this weekend could be like the designated honeymoon so we splurged a little bit. We went to Slovenia since we have heard of the beautiful terrain and alpine climbing. We didn't know how much climbing we would do, but we also expected to hike.

Our trip started on Friday afternoon as we left school early to head to the airport. It was a short flight, about an hour and a half trip. We picked up a rental car, looked at a map and headed to Bohinji. The roads were easy enough to understand until we got to the town and then we were in the dark trying to find our way to our apartment hotel for the long weekend. However, we did make it after turning around about four times and asking for directions. We checked in, and I think we lucked out because it was a recently renovated apartment style house and the owner already started a fire for us. At that point we went back into the deserted town looking for a place to eat. We happened upon a hotel restaurant where we witnessed a family celebrating a wedding anniversary with a large man from the family playing the accordion and singing. Another man decided he needed to dance with every woman at the table. We even found ourselves clapping with each song, though we were tired and ready for the night to end.

Our second day was spent in Bled, Slovenia. We walked up to the castle on the hill, we went shopping, and we ate a very expensive meal. Our third day was spent hiking around Lake Bohinji, trying to climb on very cold rock, and then an attempted hike to a waterfall (we bailed when we reached the top and realized they were going to make us pay and we didn't think it was right to pay to see natural beauty). It was followed by a spontaneous trip to a Mexican restaurant. The beans and rice were so good! On the fourth day we planned to hike, but for various reasons we decided it would be more fun to drive around the small mountain roads until we got a flat tire and then we went for better roads. It was beautiful though and we wished we had a home up in the mountains. We made our own dinner at the apartment and relaxed for the evening as we watched the only English channel on tv (BBC news about Congress' failed attempt to pass the $700 billion dollar save for wall street). The last morning we rowed a boat to the only island on Lake Bled and then headed to the airport.

As usual we took several pictures. I will start by posting the following, but expect more to come. Plus, I need to post pictures of Macedonia, but all those pictures are on my husbands camera and also on his computer. We had two fun and adventurous weekends there...it will be a crazy story!

Triglav National Park

A quaint garage that we passed on our way to Savica waterfalls.

Most churches looked like this and there was one for every town.

It seemed like everyone had a garden that was still producing fruit. In fact, at one spot I talked with the gardener and she gave me two strawberries from the garden. I was a little jealous of the good soil, climate, and location for farms.

Posing at Lake Bled castle.

A view from the Lake Bled castle.

Our apartment, Apartment Tubja

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Wedding Pictures from the Photographer

I'm glad to finally have the pictures. Since we are not there to collect them, my parents had to pick up the copies and CDs with our images. So these are the few that my mother has emailed to me. Isn't my husband a cutie?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

There is so much to write and yet I don't really know where I want to begin. Teaching here is pretty crazy. I should probably censor what I write, because there are no guarantees that I won't have a student from the school read my blog. I teach four classes and I actually like my schedule. I have three 45 minute prep times each day, which is nice. I feel like I need it and everyday I feel so bad because I know the English teacher is teaching five preps and she is just as overwhelmed as I am. I guess I am expected to put another class into my schedule, but it is one thing to teach five classes a day and it is another when they are five different classes. I had it so easy before, with six classes in one prep. Now I am trying to prepare for four different courses and the only one that I really know about is the eighth grade group whom are learning US history. Thankfully I have taught that before, but I do not have any of those resources here with me to even help me...so it is all from scratch except the stuff that I remember in my head. And they are a bunch of trouble maker boys. Most days they are good, but sometimes they seem to have evil intentions.

I also teach a small 7th grade class of mostly boys. There are eight boys and one girl. One of the boys does not even speak a lick of English. How I am supposed to reach him when all the others are basically speaking and understanding at about a fifth grade level is beyond me. He needs ESL 101. How am I supposed to teach him about the fall of the Roman empire when he does not even know what the word door means, or teacher, or homework? So this is a bit of a challenge. And the rest of the boys do not know how to keep their hands to themselves. They take each other things and constantly goof off. I am at a point where I am going to be sending them out of class, because I am tired on it. Oh, and I don't even know what part of history I am teaching them...World History from 475 to 1600. That's a lot to cover...great!

My sixth grade class is Ancient civilizations and it is my largest class of 13 students. Seriously, the sizes might be small, but Albanian Kosovars are talkative by nature and half the time they speak in Albanian. I have the issue with the eighth grade students speaking in Albanian, but they are worse and they don't listen to you when they talk in Albanian. Half they time I am sure they are shouting insults at each other (oh, because that is also a class of seven boys and one girl). Okay, back to sixth grade, many of them speak really well, but their writing and comprehension skills are very low. And there are three girls in the room who are trying, but are super weak with their English. Our school should really do something to help these kids, but we do not have an ESL program and although there are English tests they they must take to be in the school, they don't follow those because the owner of the school wants to get more money and more enrollment means more money.

Then there is my fifth grade class. It is amazing how much students develop between the fifth and sixth grade year, because they move through the material so slowly! Most of them have great English skills, but one of the girls is from Germany and does not speak English. She is trying though and because we move so slowly it is easier for her to pick up the information. I am also frustrated with this class because I don't know quite how to teach them. Since it is so slow and simple, I don't always know how to begin. You see, I don't really teach a topic. I am covering an introduction to geography, history, and economics. So right now I am kind of teaching them about maps and continents and how to read maps. And they daydream all the time. It is hard to get them focused and they do not know how to be quiet. They may not talk, but then they will sing, or hum, or breath heavy!

Not to mention you have the normal frustrations of students who forget to do their homework and always want to go to the bathroom, or forgot something in their locker. Plus, I feel like a different picture was painted in my interview. I thought the owner of the school was doing a good thing when he put this school together, but he is such a selfish man. He really only put the school together, because it would look good for his image. His image is everything to him. So although in some ways he seems like a good business man he was just lucky to be born into money. He sucks at leading people and does not delegate well. I was told that he ran out of money last year...yikes! The principals had to convince him to give them budgets so they could put things together for the school. There is so much we are lacking, especially textbooks, a library, and technology. I could go on about some of the things that I don't like about him...so much for censoring myself.

What makes the school good are the teachers. Most teachers are putting their all into what they teach and I can promise you that is why the students stay here. And from what I hear we are ten times better than in public schools, but still, there are no policies in place. How do I take attendance...no one told me. What is the policy during lunch, in the hallways, can they leave my room for the bathroom, what about wearing a hat, is their a bell schedule (there is but no bells)? There is no structure, and though I am trying to understand why the principal who has been here for a year has not put more in place I also know that his hands are tied in many ways because the owner has too much control. Oh, and where does all the money go? I would love to know how much he keeps and how much he puts back into the school...

Okay, so enough. The good things. I like that I am being challenged and I like the schedule that I have. I love that I am able to travel and most trips mean going to another country. I also love that we have a lot of holidays and that I have no pressure about how I teach. I am able to take my time and I don't worry if it goes over to the next day. Who cares if we get there all the curriculum, if I take my time they will learn it. At the end of the month we have a four day weekend and Joe and I are going to go on our honeymoon. We are planning on going to Slovenia. If all goes well we will be in the most picturesque location with castles and rock climbing. I can't wait. Last weekend we were backpacking in Macedonia and it was crazy but also very fun (that will be my next post) and we will be going back this next weekend to climb and shop (I need shoes and sweaters). It is getting cold here too...something happened over the weekend and I feel like we skipped fall and went straight to winter, with no heat in my classroom. So that should cover it for a while and hopefully I update with pictures or Lake Matka...a beautiful part of Macedonia.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Decani Monastery

Last weekend we made a trip to the Serbian monastery outside of Peja. It takes about an hour and a half to get there and it is a highly protected UN spot. Since it is a historically important Serbian location, there have been Albanian hostilities to the location, even though it is the most peaceful monastery. I thought all the monks were very nice to us and quite informative. I also liked that they had kittens there, and it was okay to pet them (I would not do that on the street in Prishtina).

Although it did not hold any special religious reverence for me, I thought it to be a very peaceful place. I wish I could have take pictures from inside the church, because the fresco's were amazing. There were all original paint, no touch ups, and they had been cleaned a few times. I'm just glad that no damage was done to the church, because it was so nice to see. We are planning to make a return visit because the have an evensong service on Thursday nights. I hear that they have an open casket on Thursday nights too. Apparently the body is really old and well preserved without any embalming. It all sounds gross to me. I really just want to go to hear the chanting from the monks. There certainly lead an interesting life. To sacrifice love, intimacy, wealth, and family. I believe they take a vow of poverty and they do not speak with their families. I also noticed they were self sustaining, with fruit trees, vines, and planted fields. So it was a nice morning, followed by a delicious lunch and in the evening I went to church. I meet with other church members at 5:30 at night and we have a simple service followed by dinner! Yum. It was nice to go last week and I am hoping to go again this weekend too.

The doorway entrance with a monk sitting across the way.

There are a lot of Turkish bathrooms throughout Kosova. This is what I had to use...at least it was clean with toilet paper!

A simple flower garden.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

How would you like to eat this? We found this restaurant today when we were walking around Gjkova.

Thursday, September 4, 2008


One thing I have to say is kind of cool is my school. There are a lot of things that are pretty backwards...I have limited technology for one and not enough textbooks, but I love that the classroom walls are painted so bright. And I love the big window at the back of my room. Since I did not have a window before it is a nice treat for this year. And I absolutely love the key that I have to use to lock my door each night! I will put together a longer post this weekend, when I am at home, but this is a good start to show the school.

Check out this post

My husband wrote a very good post about Prishtina from his eyes...with lots of pictures too. Please check it out and comment, he would love to hear from someone.



Tuesday, September 2, 2008

First Day of School

Normally the first day of school is a busy and hectic day. Usually my classroom is completely set up and decorated with lots of cool posters. Normally I would have made all my copies for the week and have plans put together for the first two weeks at a minimum. Usually the kids are well behaved because it is the first day of school and they are anxious and nervous about attending.

This was a first day that I have never experienced before. I know that it is a pretty new school, about five years old, but there was a lot of disorganization that would have never happened in the United States. Where do I begin. Surprisingly I am not that stressed out about things, because I have come to the conclusion that all is chaos. They will still hiring teachers all of last week. I found out that I do not have all the textbooks that I need to teach each subject. I did not really understand the schedule, nor was I given the times for each block, plus I did not know the grading scale for classes. I basically had to ask around for information. Oh, not to mention that they fired the copy lady during the summer and then decided to buy a new copier, which was not available until the day before school started. Thankfully I was one of the first to make copies.

So here is how the day started. For some reason the high school and elementary principals decided not to talk with each other until this morning about their procedures. So my principal found out that the high school was ending their day around 9:30am after a meet-the-teachers assembly and the high school was planning to dismiss our elementary students then too. So that changed plans for the elementary school when twenty minutes before school starts our principal came around to let us know that we would be sending children home at noon and that we should inform parents to pick their kids up then instead of 3pm. Crazy! Oh, and then I found out that there are no bells to dismiss children off to their other classes, but I am not carrying a watch nor do I have a clock in my classroom. So I had to run to Joe's room where he had our cell phone and a classroom clock.

My fifth grade homeroom class started to arrive into my room and I decided to go through an activity to talk about school rules. I thought things were going well until I split children into groups to make skits about the rules. It was then that I realized that kids did not understand one anothers English, plus some of them did not understand me, or they did not understand the rules! It took about forty five minutes on just doing that before I had to let the children go off to another class. So much for my high ambitions.

Then the sixth grade class came into my room for their first class. Immediately I knew who were friends with one another because they were very chatty. However, it is not too bad, because there is only ten children in total for the whole group. I gave the students a handout to get to know them, and I also wanted to see how they write their answers. Normally this would only take about ten to fifteen minutes in the United States for completion, but it took about forty minutes and the English skills were really bad.

At this point we took the kids outside for recess and then upstairs to the cafeteria (a bar at night...I will have to write about that one day). They were served a breakfast of traditional food, called burek. It is like a meat pie or a cheese pie. I thought it was good, but very heavy unhealthy food. I get to eat for free...which is kind of cool. At that point I had two planning periods back to back, which took me to the end of the day since we were dismissing early. So why not go to the coffee shop next door! Four of us headed over there for a drink...so crazy!

The whole thing was a little bit different. I have a feeling that teaching will go really slowly, but that is because the students have a lot of English learning to do. I feel like I will be an English teacher using history topics. So this should be very interesting. Not to mention that my husband is having his doubts about being here. It makes it difficult to be positive when someone is hating this experience so much. There are definitely things that I don't like about being here and I miss my old school and my old coworkers, but this could be a fun two years if I make it that way. Maybe if there was more outdoor activity for him it would be better. I don't know what to do so mostly I get frustrated or keep quiet. All I know is that normal is not really going to part of my teaching career anymore.

Update in February

One might think that having several snow days would give me the time to write in my blog, but I have been spending a lot of time working on ...