Tag Archives: Teaching

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



Club: Day One

12 Feb

This evening, we had our first TOEFL club meeting – a project that’s been in the works for a few months. Despite the slow start, it was utterly fabulous.

We had a great turn-out and I’m anxious for it to continue. Good conversation, new friends, and a united passion for learning – what could be better?


The future is no more uncertain than the present.   – 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

A Saturday

22 Sep

As a Peace Corps Volunteer in the TEFL program, my official title is that of “Teacher Trainer.”

Lemme be frank: I’m not entirely certain I’m qualified enough nor savvy enough to carry this role out, but I’m also irrationally excited about the opportunities this opens up.  Rather than serving in a school, I have been assigned to work with the Ministry of Education in my city, partnering alongside an English Language Methodologist (or Methodist, as they refer to it here, which forever will make me chuckle) to work with teachers.

In theory, at any rate.

Many of my posts have been me blabbing about some of the struggles kicking this relationship off has brought. My enthusiasm is still super pumped, team, but I do have to admit to feeling a bit defeated at some points in time – and we haven’t even really started yet!

Therefore, yesterday could not have come at a better time. While it wasn’t how our day was initially supposed to unfold, it turned out to be exactly what I needed.

Here in Azerbaijan, the group of volunteers two years before us are winding down to the end of their service (which I will wine and lament about at length in another post, don’t worry).  It’s an exciting/emotional/busy time for everyone, especially with the ending and passing along of projects and ideas and information – there’s a lot going on, you guys!

Two fellow teacher trainers are ending their service soon. They have been working with this amazing project, often referred to as the Training of Trainers Workshop. Started a few years ago, the two volunteers travel to various regions throughout the country. There, they lead a seminar with two goals: first, to pass along some stellar information about interactive methods and some really hands-on, low-prep activities for teachers to use in their classrooms; second, the attending teachers are then given some strategies and techniques to allow them to teach this information to fellow teachers back at their own school – things like public speaking, planning the workshop – essentially, giving them some knowledge and skills and encouraging them to lead their own small workshop and share the information with others.

I love this project, both for its perfect simplicity and sustainability.  It just has such a clear focus: “Here are some cool teaching skills! Now share these ideas with your coworkers!”

Yesterday, my fellow AZ11 teacher trainer and I were to head over to a nearby city and engage in one of these workshops, observing how the current leaders carry out the workshop and figuring out how we might work this project once they close their service.

Unfortunately, due to various issues, we had to cancel the workshop. Instead, since the two current leaders were already in the area, we met in one of my favorite cities and had our own small meeting.

With the simple act of stepping out my front door, it promised to be a great day. For once, the weather was cool and calm – no more sweating buckets at 8am! After walking to the corner, the bus to the station arrived within a minute (seriously, this is major!) and made great time.

There, I ran into some local friends, one of which was also heading to the city for the day. It was lovely having a seat-mate I knew – no more awkward questions and close encounters of the old-lady kind. The windows were down, a cool breeze lead us, and we didn’t make a single stop (seriously, again, this is major, as usually we stop every ten minutes or so to pick up another traveler).

I arrived about a half hour before my fellow volunteer. Normally this would make for an awkward time wandering around the city, trying to look like I belong and avoid drawing attention and infinite questions to myself. Lucky for me (and anyone who has the fortune to visit!) the city has LITERALLY the most perfect, charming bus station with an actual waiting room with actual benches and actual windows and actual floors and real live janitors and perfect, unperturbed silence.

I spent the most blissful thirty minutes reading without a single man asking me what I was doing or a woman sitting on top of me to join ourselves together. When my friend arrived, we easily found our way into city and met our fellow volunteers.

sunlight + quiet = perfection

sunlight + quiet = perfection


From there, the afternoon just kept getting better. We had a wonderfully productive afternoon talking over the project, followed by a beautiful lunch down by the river, and when it was all said and done, a smooth ride back to the station where my bus was waiting and set to leave in ten minutes (with an open seat by the window – hollah!) and within the hour I found myself right back where I started, infinitely more optimistic and relaxed and sweatier (so the coolness didn’t last, but come, now.)


chatting with my fellow PCVs

lunch by the river

lunch by the river


ah, beautiful scenery!

ah, beautiful scenery!

I loved the chance to speak with others about their work and more than anything, I loved the way they welcomed me into their project and gave me the confidence to join them and serve. Sometimes I feel like I’m just spinning my wheels trying to get things to make sense and suddenly, here’s this amazing project with solid direction and support and a project-mate who is a former PCV in Ukraine and the sweetest, most thoughtful woman you ever did meet.  While that’s not to say it’s all downhill from here – really, the work is just getting started – but it helped to remind me of the great things people have done and the wonderful people they have met and all that is waiting out there.


Do anything, but let it produce joy. – Walt Whitman

We Do Not Joke About This

18 Dec

Here’s what I wish I could say more concisely, but in reality would need a bus sized white board to best connect Thought A to Epiphany 33 while crossing through Concern 930, subsection B.

This is a sad little attempt to put this all together:

I’ve been preoccupied with a lot of thoughts this week, but most surround either –

– Peace Corps progress and updates (Think: planning, packing, purchasing, providing, filling out, mailing, emailing, questioning, reviewing…)

– Work-related events (Think: verifying sub jobs, planning travel time, setting lesson plans, emailing questions, filling out various timecards…)

– Attempts to comprehend the all-consuming horrors of Friday (Think:   …  )

Today seriously tried my soul/thoughts/head on so many levels.  Two things happened; I’ll try not to heatedly ramble.


Today, I had two students waltz into class 10 seconds before the bell rang.  Just as everyone was getting settled and preparing to at least give me half-assed attention, one of the two students threw her laptop bag loudly on the desk. “Oh god, we have a sub,” she yelled, rolling her eyes at me and hating me with a passion of a thousand suns.  “Just so you know, I’m not working today.  Also, I’m getting a drink.”  She grabbed the other student by the arm and started pulling her out of the room, which I quickly – and I know rather coarsely – shut down.

She might have been having a bad day.

They all might be having bad days.  I know this, but in this new district I work in – they can’t all be having rotten days every single day of the year.

These girls – and countless, countless other students I meet in this district are filled with such entitlement. It seems to me they feel ordained, as if it is their right to back talk administration, flaunt school rules (in place to keep them safe) ignore teacher’s instructions, and overall act so embarrassingly childish I’m afraid to even begin redirecting their behavior.

I don’t mean to judge them.  I don’t know about their lives or their troubles or their battles.  But I do believe that even if you are in the deepest depths of struggle, this does not give you the right to hate or disrespect others.  Ever.  Even if it is a class of peers you don’t appreciate and with a sub you don’t know.

Today, this attitude of ultimate superiority just happened frequently. Really, a lot.  Like, in every. single. hour.


Then, during the last hour of the school day, I passed out letters from the board of education with information about the tragedy and its implications on the school district.  Here, we have had some rumors about potential threats on Friday – this information was extremely important to pass along to families.

I asked my my ninth graders (most of whom were folding up or tossing out the letter) to make sure their family received the information and encouraged them to talk to family or school staff about any questions or concerns about the policy changes this week.

At this point two students began joking about “how crazy it would be to get their heads blown to bits like those dumb little kids in Connecticut.”

Maybe, at some point in life, you have also felt this searing anger and pain and frustration that instantly overcame any rational sense of myself, but I can hardly begin to put it into words.

I wanted to simultaneously mourn for these students and punish them so severely they would never smile again.  I snapped.  I can’t even recall exactly the words that came out of my mouth I was so disgusted and saddened.  I think I spewed something along the lines of, “That was by far the most insensitive and horrifying words you could have uttered.  We are talking about the brutal murder of beautiful, innocent little babies. We do not ever make jokes about this.”

Nobody said another word for the last three minutes until the bell rang for the end of the day.

I firmly believe in creating confident, assertive young adults.  Our students work smoothly in a more globally connected, personalized world than any other generation of students.

Yet it seems to me that many of these students – not all, but many – completely disregard the responsibility and respect that comes with it.  It took every ounce of self-control I possess to not look at that girl and criticize her every motion. How are you not on you knees eternally grateful to be alive this morning? Why are you not bursting into uncontrolled sobs at the thought of those tiny children dead while you are here hating your teacher for giving you an hour to free write? Why so much hatred?

I’m not quite sure how or if there is a conclusion to make about all this.  This is my sad ramblings. Like I mentioned, it would take far more planning than the five minutes I have stuck into this post to even begin to realize all these implications and realities.

But I have come to this:  more than anything, as a teacher, I hope to teach my students to appreciate every moment they have in this big, scary, beautiful world.  We are given this amazing ability to think and write and respect others, and the world has no place for those who do not strive to make it a safer, stronger, peaceful – better – place.

Now the real question: how do we do this?

Passing stranger! you do not know how longingly I look upon you,
You must be he I was seeking, or she I was seeking, (it comes to me as of a dream,)
I have somewhere surely lived a life of joy with you,
All is recall’d as we flit by each other, fluid, affectionate, chaste, matured,
You grew up with me, were a boy with me or a girl with me,
I ate with you and slept with you, your body has become not yours only nor left my body mine only,
You give me the pleasure of your eyes, face, flesh, as we pass, you take of my beard, breast, hands, in return,
I am not to speak to you, I am to think of you when I sit alone or wake at night alone,
I am to wait, I do not doubt I am to meet you again,
I am to see to it that I do not lose you.
– Walt Whitman
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