"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
- Mark Twain

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Great Day Teaching

Well I posted on my worst day, so I figured I should post about a really great day so I can remind myself why I'm doing this. 

The day felt chaotic. I arrived at school completely prepared for a great Wednesday. Another one of the teachers has been completely ill with a bad stomach virus and a cold. She arrived to teach today but was feeling very weak, so I offered to walk her home. The traffic on Zogo i Zi (crazy roundabout) was insane, and cars were honking at us for absolutely no reason. I think I let the chaos of the traffic get the best of me. 

The morning was fine. The usual calendar and greeting routine, a word of the day, and then we went over our schedule. Alphabet time was fantastic. We played smiley/frowny and had an extra smiley in the end (I was being quite strict with them.) Then we switched to body parts. and chaos. I was getting extremely frustrated for kids not understand what they needed to do. And then I was frustrated with them for not following directions. I needed a minute to think, so I told all the kids to stop and put their pencils down. Why wasn't this lesson working? by the time they all put their pencils down I had figured it out. The worksheet online had nice dark arrows draw to the body parts. the arrows on the worksheet in front of the kids were lightly colored, not to mention that I doubt many of them knew what the arrow was. So I had them draw body parts on the back of their paper. And they knew them. I sat them down at the carpet at the end of the lesson and apologized. "Boys and Girls, I'm sorry. Miss Tiara got frustrated, and I wasn't very nice to some students because I was frustrated. Everyone makes mistakes, even teachers. I should have looked closer at the worksheet before I handed it out and noticed how hard it was. You are smart students. You want to know how I know? Because when I had you draw me the pictures you knew ALL of your body parts. So it's not that you don't know, but the worksheet was very confusing. And that is my fault. Will you forgive me?"

After this we had break. Then I had 4th graders, and they did an awesome job comparing villages with a Venn Diagram. When I dropped my 1st graders off at ICT I noticed I had a major migraine, but it was such a good day I didn't even noticed until I stopped teaching. So I went and got coffee, because I have an addiction. Then we had lunch, which was the least chaotic lunch of them all. Math was incredible! The students were patiently waiting when they needed help, and they are finally starting to be able to do the addition worksheets on their own. They worked so hard that I told them we could skip the last 2 pages of our textbook for playdough time. However, about 5 students opted to continue their math work over having playdough time. WHAT?! I have the best students ever! Then I had a super wonderful prep period and got a lot done and prepared for tomorrow and Friday's lessons. I celebrated with a nice long walk to my favorite bakery and a chocolate eclair. Now I'm heading out to hang out with some great friends :) 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mount Dajti

Yesterday night (Saturday) I was super ill. I had no appetite, a sore throat, stuffy nose, a slight headache, and the chills. So I hopped into my bed with a sweater on, and blankets at 8:00pm. I woke up at 6:00am today, and decided it was time to climb a mountain. My nose was still quite stuffy, but for the most part my sore throat was gone.
The cable car station

The city
We took a bus from the center of the city to Dajti, and then walked about a mile to the cable car station. We paid our 700 leke for the trip to the top and back, and hopped on the first cable car up to the top. The first thing I noticed after getting off the cable car was how much air was up there. Fresh air, that I could breathe. It was like an instant heal for my lungs. I felt better already. We paid our 50 leke to get into the park, and explored the bombshelters while searching earnestly for the castle ruins that are up there, somewhere. We never found them.
Super cool tree on the way up
We finally found a trail (road) but it led us to a military zone that we couldn't go into (the man yelled angrily as Scott attempted to get a picture.) So we decided to go up to the top. Once you get off the cable car it is only about 1.5 miles to hike to the top, but the elevation change is insane. I was crawling on my hands and knees, grabbing onto tree as much as possible for support. After about 3 minutes of hiking we would be so out of breath we had to take a 5 minute break. We made it to the point where we were about .3 miles away, and gave up. I just didn't see how we would be able to climb anything steeper than we already had.

We headed back down, slipping and sliding, until we found a very deserted house to explore (the newspaper we found was from 2005). After, we decided we were finally hungry so we stopped at the restaurant for a beer and some pizza before taking the cable car back down. On the way down we heard an Albanian man talking about the forest fires that were taking place about 2 weeks ago. Apparently they were not accidental fires. Someone started them on purpose because of the price of wood somewhere else. This country is really run by organized crime. He said "nothing in Albania happens on accident. It all happens for a reason."
Where the fire burned away the forest

When we got off the cable car I could hardly breathe. I want to stay here for 2 years but the thing that makes me want to get out of here the most is the pollution. It is awful! All in all I had a great day exploring and getting out of my apartment and the pollution/noise of the city.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

My First Really Rough Day

Not sure why today was so rough. I started out with the usual calendar, greeting, letter of the alphabet, and went into a lesson on patience. They did really good with patience during break and lunch time. On the way back into the building I noticed multiple students pushing in the line, so we spent our first 5 minutes of math practicing and I told them we would not have time to play our favorite class game (pop!) because we wasted time not walking right the first time. Math class went good, but when I didn’t immediately allow for playtime after 2 problems the kids freaked on me. I had too many going to the bathroom (to escape) and many not willing to sit at the carpet. They complain anytime I try to teach them anything real. I know kids need breaks, but every 15 minutes? For real?

So we had a nice (I was very angry, but holding it in) talk about what 1st grade is. Basically I told them that 1st grade wasn’t about playing it was about learning, and that they would have to work really hard to be good in second grade. We reviewed our rules, and I ended the day by saying that I knew the following day would be much better, and that we would get all our work done so that we could have play-dough time at the end. My god, do these kids love play-dough!

I also finally started feeling a bit homesick at the end of the day. So I went in my classroom, blasted the bluegrass, and prepared for Friday/attempted to organize. I also immediately made plans with the other teachers to get myself out of the house tonight. I’ve been in too much of a routine: School, Home, cleaning, working, dinner, movie, bed. Its too normal, and I need something else.

On a plus note I have the cutest students. Here is a serious and funny picture of my students.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

10 ways you can tell I'm a foreigner in Albania

1. My blonde hair: Almost no one has blonde hair. At least not girls. And if they do you can tell it is fake. Therefore both men and women stare at me in lust.
2. My feet: I dress super nice for work, but I wear flats and flip flops. All the girls here wear heals. All the time. Especially when they are dressed nice.
3. My pace: I walk way to fast, and past people. I think they think I'm rude, but I have a lot to do and a lot of place to see. Get outta my way! (this may have to do with #2)
4. My drinking habits: I drink. not very many females here drink. At least not at the bar/cafes. I've heard they do, but probably at the clubs.
5. Touristy things I do: asking people to write things down and point.
6. My nose: Alright, I've yet to see another person with a nose ring. And my students all seem to think it is dirt or something. They try to flick it off when I'm at their height. "Miss Tiara, there is something on your nose..." (heard this about 5 times today alone.)
7. My horrible accent: I speak about 10 Albanian words, and I'm sure they all sound horrible. Also, I noticed a MN accent the other day. "Oh yaaaah..."
8. bags: I always try to take minimal bag or reuse bags. I think if Albanians could put each item in a separate bag they would.
9. My belly: Albanian women are among the most beautiful I've ever seen. Super skinny, super tall (#2)  and long gorgeous dark hair. and I have a belly.
10. My to-go mug: Once again, I haven't seen anyone else with one. I carry it with coffee to work everyday and it is wonderful.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Durres and Golem

So last weekend (technically my second weekend here) we(Me, Scott, Cortney, and Scott's couch surfer Julius) travelled to the beach for a relaxing weekend before we started teaching. So we headed to Durres. We planned on taking the 70 cent 7:30 am train ride, but when we got to the station it turned out the train left at 6:00am and 8:30am. Not wanting to waste our time waiting we hopped on the $1.25 bus instead. We arrived in Durres and quickly found the bus to Golem (30 mins south of Durres and thus away from the emissions of the port city.) We were a little confused about where to get off, but Cortney used her 2 forms of currency to get us some help.
The Tirana train station!
We stopped quickly at a market to get some snack and drinks for lunch. Then we headed to the beach. Upon first sight it looked fantastic, but further in we began to notice glass in the sand and gross sea water. YUCK! We decided to make the most of it and went swimming anyway. Me and Scott went for a nice walk along the beach to see some more gross water. Then I took a nap in the sun, and had some beach snacks. Cortney also purchased some figs from a nice donkey with a man. By this point my Tirana Tummy was kicking in a Cortney wasn't feeling too well either, so we decided to call it an early day.
Me and Scott in the Water

The gross sludge a little further down the beach.YUCK!

Donkey and owner on the beach
We took the bus back to Durres. I had to endure the whole 30 minute ride with an 20-something Albanian man staring at me and my blonde hair. We decided to grab a quick bite of real food while waiting to take the train back.
Me on the train
The train was quite the fun experience. There were what looked like bullet wholes in all the windows. The story is that kids throw rocks at the windows as a fun pass time, and this is where the "bullet holes" actually come from. We stopped at the most delicious bakery on the way home from the train stations. Lets just say their eclairs and cinnamon brownies blew my mind. I will be making a trip back there in the near future.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Classroom and My School

So I've been waiting to post information about the school because I still don't feel as though I know enough about it, but alas, the time has come. My school is different from any school I have ever seen before. From the outside it looks like a hotel room, and I'd say that my classroom is about the size of a hotel room. It's tiny, so it is a good thing that they limit the class sizes to 18 and currently I only have 12, leaving me space for my rug (if I ever get one.)

I find myself slowly realizing that I have no idea how to teach 1st graders with limited english ability. And I'm freaking out about it, but i must keep my cool and act like I know what I'm doing, because that is what all the other teachers are doing. But....back to the school....

The staff is composed of people from many different backgrounds. Many of the directors and teacher are Turkish, and some are also Albanian. The students are composed likewise: mostly Turkish, and then a few from Albania and Italy and the rest from other places. Unfortunately 2 of the teachers from America backed out at the last minute, so Mr. Jeff (the primary principal) has to teach 3rd grade as well as performing his duties as a principal. But I love Jeff! He is so helpful, and understanding.

I was told they have limited resources, and holy mama....limited resources. I was given a small stack of books to use for my grade level, an active board (which didn't work until 2 days after school started,) 14 desks and chairs, one cabinet, and 5 small bulletin boards. I quickly made my way to the Kancellari and purchased some markers, tape, glue, scissors, and tag board. so much tag board. I also made a trip to Carrfur and found CRAYONS! so I bought some for each student. Originally we had one very slow copier, but now we are renting one that works wonderfully!

The first day was a bit chaotic mostly because the new teachers not understand what was happening, and there were so many new teachers. I spent most of my day just playing games and going over rules and procedures with the kids. The second half of the day was fantastic! and my second day was even better! I love my kids and as long as I constantly change the activity they are good to go! I have to keep yelling at them to speak in English. I told them Miss Tiara is very happy when you speak english in her classroom. Today (second day) we started practicing basic conversational skills and I got them to all say hello, what is your name, and my name is.... They did a fantastic job, so tomorrow we are going to practice asking "How are You?"

We technically don't have a morning meeting time, but I'm just going to make the first 20 minutes of my first English class a meeting/calendar time, because the students need to learn these social skills as much as they need to learn how to read. Also, we don't have a general school set of rules or behavior system, so I've partially adopted responsive classroom, but I don't even know how a student would react if I told them to take a break. I showed them the take a break area today, but I feel like they don't really understand it with their limited english. Sigh, thank god I have such a good behaving class.

I find that I'm exhausted by the time I leave at 4:15ish. But I expected to be. I've been forcing myself to get there at like 7:30 even though we technically don't have to be there until 8. How can teachers work those minimal hours??? Though I haven't yet had a prep period, because we are still waiting for a 5th grade teacher to show up, so the music teacher is currently teaching them. Yes, the school is quite chaotic. Also, I haven't had coffee in over a week because of my stomach issues. Miss Tiara loves and needs her coffee!

That is all for now folks, but below you will find some pictures of my classroom!!! :D
We filled out our rules together on day 2. This is my rules board.

all done, materials needed, alphabet and numbers

Calendar area

Students desk, my desk, and now working smart board! Also notice the tape on the ground. This is me making a circle for my students because they do not know how...yet

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Hate and Love

I love parts of this city and I hate parts of it.

  1. Not knowing the language.
  2. The fact that you can’t drink the water.
  3. I have no idea how to cook for myself. I now know why most college students live off of pasta and peanut butter. That is what I’m doing.
  4. No one runs
  5. Living on my own
  6. The pop music that plays late into the night on my Plaza.
  7. The honking and almost being hit by cars
  8. The guys whistling at me.
  9. The garbage that is everywhere.
  10. The fact that it is a city.

For every hate there is something I love.
  1. Most people are understanding and will communicate with you using the little English they know or hand gestures.
  2. Bottled water is very inexpensive and the cute old guy I buy it from downstairs is very cute. My goal is to be able to have a conversation with him at some point.
  3. Food is very inexpensive. We went out to a super nice “expensive” restaurant yesterday and I ate and had an imported “expensive” beer for about $13. Just wait until I’m able to order at the cheap restaurants.
  4. Everyone still walks a lot, and this is how I get my exercise. I will just have to find more creative ways to work out. (like dancing around in my apartment in my underwear….which I did.)
  5. Living on my own. This is both scary, lonely, and exciting. I just wish I at least lived closer to the other teachers.
  6. The plaza by day is fantastic! Kids playing soccer, and lots of people drinking coffee. Wish I could understand what they were saying. It’s great for people watching. The balconies are awesome.
  7. Oh my! People honk here for no good reason. Just because they feel like it. And crosswalks are just an excuse for them to try and hit you. I guess there isn’t anything I love about the city for this one.
  8. The confidence that comes from guys whistling at you every day. Though I know it is just because of the blonde hair.
  9. Alright. No love for this one either. It’s gross, and this is  what would lead people to believe that it isn’t a developed country.
  10. The countryside is so very close. And I intend to leave the city as much as I can.

I’m also currently sick with what we call Tirana Tummy. My stomach just feels like it is constantly moving, and I have to run to the bathroom every 30 minutes or so. It also come with aches, chills, and a slight fever. Seriously sweatshirt and sweatpants and it's in the mid 80's. Needless to say I will not be eating anything tonight, in hopes that I can hit the ground running on classroom set up and finishing my plans tomorrow. Heading to bed early. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

My apartment

So I moved into my apartment last Monday (august 27th) and since then have been working on trying to set it up and make it home. I’m not sure I’m going to stay here, but I signed a contract for 3 months. The hope is that I can move to a place that is off of a main (and loud) plaza, and that is also a bit closer to the other teachers.

Living room: Love my crazy rug, but want to get rid of my TV. There is absolutely no need for my to watch TV. My first month of cable was free, which was nice since I don’t have internet, but there are so many other things for me to be doing, that TV should come absolutely last. The couch is hard. Therefore if you come to visit I’d recommend bringing an air mattress (if I’m still here when you come.)

Kitchen/dining room: What where is my refrigerator. Oh….it’s in the hallway.  This is the only real complaint about this room. It’s big enough for the minimal cooking and eating I do here.

Bathroom: My favorite part of the bathroom is my “foot washer.” I think it is suppose to be like a second toilet, but I just use it to wash my feet every night. Tirana is a very dusty/dirty city and I just can’t get into my bed without doing it. Also, I wish I had some drawers in here. Washer to be added soon (behind door.)

Bedroom: Holy Purple! Never will I paint a room purple again. Love the organization with all the drawers and closet space, but I really hate the color. It is just not me at all. But I’ll live. 

Others: I have 2 wonderful balconies, and yet I haven’t used them as much as I should be. Mostly because the restaurant across the way plays terrible Albanian and American pop music all day and night, and if I’m inside I’m at least able to slightly drown it out. The first night it was so bad that I didn’t sleep until the music had died out. Then I got a fan and it hasn’t been a problem since.

There you have it! My very first place that is all my own!