Tag Archives: education

Looking Up

9 Jun

She pulled the small, square paper out of the bucket, slowly unfolding the brightly colored sheet to read the next question aloud.

“Okay,” my student said.  Continuing the pattern we’d followed all evening during our TOEFL conversation club, she started her sentence hesitantly. “What would you do if you never had to sleep at night?”

She smiled and shifted in her chair. My student “A” loves these sorts of hypothetical, what she calls “goofy” questions. You can almost see her synapses firing, her thoughts pulling together and forming a clever, imaginative response. If it were up to her, every class period would be spent discovering what life would be like if we were 3cm tall, or what she would do if she had 10 eyes, or deciding where to go if she could live anywhere in the world.

“What is the question asking you?” I said, encouraging her to re-word the question to ensure she had the full understanding.

She started to respond when my other student, “N,” jumped in. “I know,” said N. “Every night, if you could not sleep, what would you do with time?”

We all nodded, a collective “oooooh” settling throughout the classroom.  My two students smiled, ready to consider this newest ridiculousness as they had the other questions throughout the evening.

Up to this point, their favorite question had been “What would you do if all the houses in your city were made of chocolate?” These young professionals, in their early 20s, could not help but giggle as children when imagining a sweet, edible city at their fingertips.

“We could eat all day long!” A had said. “I never bring a gift when visiting family again – we just pull off the window to share!”

“Everyone would have – how do you say – really bad… acne,” N had added. They loved it.

I personally had been rather interested in their responses to “What would you do if you woke up tomorrow and there were no longer any laws?” After pulling through the difficult verbs and getting to the heart of the question, my students answered quickly and surprisingly.

“Oh I know,” A laughed. “I would drive a car,” she said.

“Me too!” N added. “And then I would go to another country, where I wouldn’t have to get a visa. It would be easy!”

Their responses, sincere and honest, came out so thoughtfully and happily it made me nearly wish for this lawlessness, to live in their dystopian future where women drive cars easily and young adults can travel where they please.

When it came to our last question, though, “What would you do if you didn’t have to sleep at night?”, they were slower to respond.

“Maybe,” said A, “I would spend a lot of time on Facebook. I would study my Spanish and learn another language, like France.”

N agreed, nodding slowly. She paused, and then said. “I would watch movies. I’d have to. I don’t like this question. Why would I not sleep?”

I wasn’t sure if I had offended them or if they just didn’t want to imagine this world.

“What do you mean?” I asked. “Why does this question bother you?”

N thought. “At night, I sleep. If I were a man, I would go to the park or visit my friend. But I spend this time sleeping.”

“Yes,” A added, tugging at her long, curly black hair. “I would be sad to be awake all night, staying at home. I like to sleep so I can wake up to the sun.”

“Well,” I said, “what if you could go anywhere? If you never needed sleep and could visit anywhere in the evening, what would you do?”

“Maybe,” A said, “we could go the cinema, if we had a theater. Or even to a pub!” she laughed. N agreed, then thought some more.

“I would sit outside. I sit outside and stare at the stars. I did when I was child!”

“I did that too!” A added. “I remember when I was child, I would stare up. I would stare up and try to count each and every star. I would count and count and get so mad. I remember getting so mad and crying because I try so hard, but there were too many. I count and count but I never count them all.”

“Why were you mad?” said N. “Isn’t that big? There are so many stars. I’m happy because I can never count them all.”

We all smiled in response and a heavy pause fell over the room.

“It is good we are friends,” A said to N, several moments later. “Now we can just look at them together.”


Just a Little Rain

26 Feb


After what feels like weeks of dark heavy skies, this evening all broke open into a soul washing downpour of spring.

On the trek to the bath house, it was cool and dark and damp and perfect. And the scent! Nothing announces spring better than that deep, full smell of rain in the air.

It couldn’t have picked a more perfect day, either. With all the great things that have been moving and shaking, and with our clubs picking up momentum, a smooth re-beginning is exactly what we need to push us through til summer.  And what could announce that better than rain showers and buds on the trees?  So glad they have made their return to our city.

And, so as not to miss a day: yesterday I received the closest to a compliment I have ever received – and probably the closest she’ll ever get – from my counterpart. After a long hour of conversation lessons with my group of teachers, she looked me in the face and said, “You worked hard today.”  With a nod, she took off.  I’ll take it! Glad for that, my friends.

Collecting I traverse the garden the world, but soon I pass the gates,
Now along the pond-side, now wading in a little, fearing not the wet,
Now by the post-and-rail fences where the old stones thrown there,
pick’d from the fields, have accumulated.    – Walt Whitman


5th Grade

11 Feb

With my counterpart this morning, we made some teacher observations and held discussion at a village school.

On these visits, I am often surprised at how vastly different the schools feel from the U.S. schools I am used to; the buildings, the classroom organization, the teaching schedule, the teachers themselves, the students’ behaviors –  so many of these paradigms I believe to be so concretely associated with education and students and kids arrange themselves in a very different manner here.

While working with a fifth grade class today, I was surprised at their level of intensity. The English lesson was very traditional: a lot of memorization and heavy repetition and recitation. The students, while antsy, modeled their best behavior for us guests.

I was beginning to view them as an almost new variety of student – some vastly different beings able to push away anxious energies in order to call out “Teacher, Teacher!” with waving hands to translate the grammar topic for the day.

And then someone farted.

A small boy in back let out the loudest toot that ever tooted. The whole class burst into boisterous, uncontrollable fits and giggles.  The teacher, having none of it, tried to regain their focus, but it was too late. For the remaining ten minutes of class, all students shot glances at their peer, waving fingers in front of noses and rolling eyes at the poor little fellow who just couldn’t help it. It turns out, despite organization and structure, kids are kids no matter where you are.

And farts, of course, are always funny.

A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands,
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.  – Walt Whitman

Thursday Rundown (3)

23 Jan

I started off this fine Thursday the best way possible: a phone chat with my sister.  I can’t tell you how great it made me feel to hear her voice and laugh!  Though I was totally alive, awake, alert and enthusiastic at 5am to chat with her, since our gas doesn’t come on to heat up the house until 7, I decided it was probably best just to lay back under the covers for a teeeeny bit until I had to leave the house at 10.  Aaaaand, jump to 9:45, when I finally woke up again, it was a hectic start to the busy day. But, for once in my life, I had done a bit of planning and packing the night before so I was still able to head out the door by 10.

My sitemate and I headed to our class of 3rd formers – seriously the sweetest class in the universe. We have been doing a lot of practice with introductions and questions and they are on FIRE!  I feel really rather fortunate with these students; though we have some rough times, overall they are always so excited and happy to have us it is an absolute pleasure to be with them. Despite not knowing any Russian, we have developed a true rapport with the class and have come so far in our weekly visits I only wish we could see them more frequently.

After our class, as Kathy’s conversation club was cancelled, we had a nice hour of project planning and grant discussions before heading off to the village.

Last week, things were a little rough with my group of students during our community conversation club day. It was a lot of 6th – 9th grade friends crammed into a small space with no sound proofing between our adventure and the one in the next room over.  Additionally, it didn’t help that some of the fellas really didn’t want to be there, nor did I have the most solid lesson plan set out.  I have to constantly remind myself that – even and especially stateside – not all lessons are winners.  I was dreading today just because it had fizzled so sadly last week.

After a small pep-talk from partner of the century, a quick smile, review of an actual lesson idea and a few deep breaths, going in with the right attitude changed everything. That, and my spouse brought a soccer ball to play on the field with the students who didn’t want to have an English lesson. IT WAS A LIFESAVER.  Our class had a really strong group of kids who were anxious to learn and happy to be there. We reviewed some introductions and had a funny time discussing “good morning,” “good afternoon,” “good evening,” and “good night.” I think we finally got it!

When our time was up, we met again in the directors room and had tea with friends and talked over a few progress points in our build a school dream.  Another productive afternoon in the village!

Next, it was home to finish hand washing some laundry, go for a nice long walk in the sunshine, and home to make dinner.  We are, yet again, headed into the capitol tomorrow for a committee meeting so we have another fun bus ride to prepare ourselves for.  I was also head over heels glad to have a fabulous quick chat with my former sitemate who’s now back in America. We really miss our COSed friends and I love getting to catch up and hear about life.

All in all… another fabulous Thursday.


Ah, whispering, something again, unseen,
Where late this heated day thou enterest at my window, door,
Thou, laving, tempering all, cool-freshing, gently vitalizing   – Walt Whitman

Catching Up

22 Jan

We got a lot of gladness to catch up on, team.

This past weekend I had the privilege – nay, the pleasure! – to visit a friend of mine in the south and conduct a teacher training project a fellow volunteer and I have had the honor to lead.  While I wish I could have had the chance to get some internet and share the daily posts with you all, I’m also grateful to have all the time dedicated to our project and some bonding time – so hold tight for a quick recap of this past week!

Let’s head back to Friday – a day filled with buses, buses, and more buses.  While there is a bus that leaves from my city to the region in the south, no one could give me an exact answer as to when it departs and when it arrived. To avoid missing any sort of connection or traveling at night – a Peace Corps policy that could get you packing on home – I ended up heading to the capitol to get a bus from the large station.  It added on two extra hours or so, but for this lame adventure seeker, I would much rather know exactly where I’m headed and when than pop on a bus on the side of the road any day. (Maybe this will come later – but I’m still pretty pathetic at this point!)  It was a long day of travel, but at the end of the road lay two good friends, a warm house, and the most delicious curry dinner I’ve ever enjoyed.  So grateful for the generosity of my friend and her host mother for preparing such a nice evening for us to relax!

The next morning, I began the day by going for a run for the FIRST TIME IN NINE MONTHS.  Seriously, you guys, nine months.  I haven’t gone that long without running for over 10 years.  While I make many excuses and could certainly attempt it if the passion was there, I just can’t bring myself to consistently run at 6:30am in the paved, dusty streets of my city before anyone is out and about.  I can work out at home (which I have been doing a much better job of doing!) but running may have to wait for me.

But, damn. Did it feel great.  My friend and I jogged along the hills and through villages, beating the morning sun and hitting the street home just as the first rays were breaking in the distance.  True paradise.

DSCN8371That day, my fellow teacher trainer and I conducted our first “Training of the Teacher Trainers” project, set up by previous volunteers three years ago and still receiving funding from the Rotary International Club of Baku.  We had a stellar turn out – nearly 30 teachers from 17 different schools! – and it was one of my proudest moments thus far.  It felt great to be talking about teaching with those who care to listen and have a passion for professional development – there are those who truly, truly care about their students and it makes me so insanely glad.DSCN8376

On Sunday, I agreed to go on a bike ride with my friend and her counterpart who owns a bike shop.  I should give a brief disclaimer that while I know how to bike and am the proud owner of a hot pink helmet which I wore all over fair Eau Claire, I’m not that good. I mean, I am pretty fantastic when it comes to going slow and steady and very, very straight. I’ve been known to curve up and down a few “mountain” roads and I’ve taken a tumble or two, but mostly I’m just a city focused, boring ol’ biker. I had assumed this would be an hour or so in the outskirts of town.  But you know what they say about assuming…

FIFTY KILOMETERS and FOUR AND A HALF HOURS LATER, I was a champion.  I probably walked that damn bike more than I road it up the hills, and while I sweated like a pig and cursed more than my sailor of a mother, it was the most breathtaking and awe-inspiring afternoon.  Despite falling twice (and you should see my frisbee sized bruise to prove it!) I would do it again in a heart beat.  Green hills, blue sky, the wind in my face and the call to prayer ringing over the villages and valleys – I can’t even put into words how beautiful it really was.DSCN8476DSCN8458









we also visited the "isti su" nearby and hiked around the canyon. heaven!

we also visited the “isti su” nearby and hiked around the canyon. heaven!









That next Monday, I took the same return route home – north to the capitol than west back home.  While I loved every moment of my journey, the best part is always a welcome home hug from that dear old partner of mine.  I’ve become quite pathetic, team, and can hardly function without that dope and his perfect, handsome smile.  We had a great dinner together (which he cooked and cleared up – hollah!) and I was glad for the chance to sit and chat with that love of my life.

On Tuesday my sitemates and I were invited to a birthday celebration for our friend from the village. I’ve been invited to a number of celebrations, and don’t get me wrong: they’ve all been pretty fun. This, however, was the first time I really truly enjoyed myself. We had great food, fun conversations, and, of course, lots of dancing.  I am glad for this friendship and the opportunities it has given us in Azerbaijan.

And finally, that brings us up to today! What I’m most glad for today came early this morning.  As we’ve been sharing, we are in the early stages of helping to build a school in a nearby village.  We are often pausing to consider where next to head – this is new and crazy for all of us!  Today we finally received two letters (one in English, one in Azerbaijani) from the minister of education offering his support and commitment to the school project.  I have met with him several times as he is directly involved with my position as methodologist, and despite his commanding personality is a great guy with a good smile and a sincere desire to help.  He was really enthused about the letters and gave lots of thanks and excitement for us.  One step at a time, and we really can do this, team.


Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.     – Walt Whitman
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