Just a Normal Week

Sometimes I feel like there are so many random, kind-of-crazy things – little and big – that take up my energy here, that I couldn’t possibly sum up everything in a nice way for the blog. I often feel like it’s hard to explain what I do, and I also feel overwhelmed myself by what seems like a lot of pretty different things to juggle. So, I thought I’d give you a taste of some of the slightly out-there things, that are, for me, not really that surprising or out-of-the ordinary anymore. Here a recap of the past week, which was pretty par for the course.

– I didn’t eat breakfast because I knew that I had the 2nd period free and I could go to the cafeteria for coffee and a pastry. Went there during 2nd period, but was waved away by the woman who works in the room for teachers. (There’s no microwave or mini-kitchen or anything like that in the teachers’ room, so I love that my school has a separate room for teachers in the cafeteria.) The teacher whom I work with in the 3rd period had been out sick for two weeks, but still wanted me to take half of her first class back with her 7th-graders so she could go to the school nurse (still sick), so I went to the cafeteria again during the half of 3rd period I wasn’t working. Again, they told me they weren’t serving food. Finally after the 4th period, I went back and figured out that the cafeteria was now serving food only during the breaks between classes (in the past, teachers could eat during free periods). With 100+ teachers trying to eat in 10 or 15 minutes and only one person (previously had been two) trying to take orders, serve, calculate the bill for each person and make change, the result was inevitable chaos. Dear Ukraine, next time please feel free to warn me of major changes in the cafeteria before I decide to skip breakfast. My rumbling stomach interferes with my students’ ability to learn.

– My Director returned from his health leave, worked the day, and was fired around 3:00. (Remember, they tried to fire him right before New Year’s, but he was warned and ran off to the hospital, because in Ukraine, it’s impossible to fire someone who’s on health leave… and because in Ukraine, logically, if you’re about to be fired you should go on health leave.)

– A new director was announced by the city officials at the faculty meeting

– Received a package of donated books for my school.

– Bought a printer for my school with some of our last remaining grant money and carried it a third of a mile back to school. And we’re not talking a dinky little thing….we’re talking a 4-in-1 home office printer/scanner/copier/fax.

– Talked to my sitemate around 10:00 pm and was asked to teach an open lesson with her the next day at a different school (not hers) as part of English week. Topic? Don’t know. Age? Don’t know. Grade? Don’t know.

– Prepared for all my classes anyway since I wasn’t sure I’d be allowed to go.

– Visited the other school with my sitemate… first order of business, of course… tea and food! Taught an open lesson with very little preparation to a group of kids in grades 8 through 11. Not pretty, but survived. Received a beadwork flower for my trouble to help me remember the school.

– The city cancelled the order to fire the director, and he returned to work.

– Taught art history in German to 20 7th-graders…the color wheel, complimentary colors and how to describe pictures.

– Interrupted myself speaking in German to yell at a couple boys in Ukrainian (a first for me, I think).

– On my way to teach my next German class – Post-impressionism with my 10th-graders – I found the teacher I work with and asked for the key. She responded with a puzzled look, so I asked if she was planning to teach that day. (We alternate week by week, but she taught last week, so logically it was my week.) Yes, she said, she needed to take the class that day to prepare for some contest. Dear Ukraine, again, next time more than 5 minutes’ warning would be nice before I spend hours preparing for a class I won’t have.

– I’d also prepared to teach about the Harlem Renaissance in my American Art History class, but ended up just giving the materials to the teacher I work with because I was at the other school.

– Wrote a cover letter and sent out my first job application (for an English teaching job) of this new round of job searching

– Bought train tickets for closing my grant in two weeks.


– Double period literature class on O. Henry

– Researched possibility of hosting a training on human trafficking at the school. Ukraine is a source, transit, and destination country, and it’s a pretty big problem. In fact in countries like Turkey and Greece, prostitutes are commonly known as “Natashas” because so many of them are Ukrainian. I doubt we’ll set up the training.


– Lesson in German with 11th-graders on the Nazis’ use of art as propaganda and discussion about state control of the Arts. The kids debated actively. They got the moral issues. A small victory.

– Lesson in German with 8th-graders on Gothic architecture. Seriously. They can’t say much, but they understood enough to be jaw-droppingly impressed by the architectural advancements and how quickly cathedrals were built without any semblance of modern technology.

– Lesson on job interviews in English for my 10th-graders

– Got some sweet valentines from kids

– Taught two groups of 8th-graders at the same time. I teach 3 groups of about 10-12 each, and each has a different regular English teacher. One was out sick, and it was my normally scheduled time to work with one of the other teacher’s groups. So there were two Ukrainian English teachers and me. What happened? One Ukrainian teacher taught one group, I taught two groups, and the third Ukrainian teacher graded papers in the teachers’ room. Dear Ukraine, sometimes your “logic” seems very illogical to me.

– Had a conversation with two of my favorite 9th-graders in a combination of Ukrainian, German, Russian and English, with a single Spanish word thrown in for good measure – in which I taught them the meaning of “I can’t carry a tune in a bucket” in response to their insistence that I really could sing if I tried.


– Taught class on the three branches of government, checks and balances, comparison of American and Ukrainian systems of Government (sometimes I just nod and say “Good!” when the kid sounds confident and I have no idea if they’re right or wrong) and the American education system.

– Shocked (horrified?) their prejudiced, closed little minds (Ok, yeah, that makes me a hypocrite for generalizing them all as prejudiced, but the majority are certainly far less sensitive to differences than Americans) by highlighting the diversity of our current congress: 6 openly gay members, 1 bisexual, 2 female combat vets, 45 jews, 2 buddhist, 2 muslims, 1 hindu, 43 African-Americans, 32 Latinos, 30 Asian-Americans, four Arab-Americans; white men no longer the majority among house dems, etc.

– Lesson with one of my favorite groups of kids – super enthusiastic and cute 7th graders who also happen to love me – on present simple and present continuous. When I made them “teach” the grammar rules to each other, one girl’s response was “Oh, I love it when we do games with you!”… I didn’t tell her that it wasn’t actually a game, but it was nice she thought so. Had fun showing them postcards from different places, figuring out what time it was there at that moment (8:30 pm in Sydney, 7:30 am in Rio de Janeiro) and asking “what are people there doing right now?”

– Helped a kid prepare for a debate competition in German on the topic of video surveillance in schools

– Talked to a vice principal I’d never spoken to before (besides ‘hello’) about getting a mini-grant for art materials.

– Finally got a bit of recognition for the work I’ve done creating websites for my art courses.


– Woke up to no water and no Internet

– Caught a bus at 5:45 to go judge the regional English Olympiad competition

– One girl, responding to a speaking prompt about what to tell a friend who wants to drop out of school, described how, in her town, some pupils have dropped out of school and – despite the fact that it’s illegal – get away with it because their parents pay off the police.

– Had the following conversation at the Olympiad: Another American and I: “It’s unfair that we introduced a 2-minute time limit on the speaking part after half of the kids completed their speaking without a time limit.” Ukrainian judging with us: “But we should have a time limit. It’s good.” Americans: “Ok, but it’s unfair to start halfway through the group of kids.”  Ukrainian: “But you know, it’s unfair that one girl has a British mother so her English is better.” ….uhhhh…. Ships. Passing. In. The. Night. Dear Ukraine, please refer to above memo about logic.

– Driver of the bus (with all the kids from Oleksandriya schools) smokes while driving.

– Organized (sort of) a seminar for teachers at my school with a volunteer who trains English teachers.

– Went to bed at 9, exhausted.


– Slept till 10 (13 hrs). yay!

– Haven’t done anything else productive


Sunday – What’s on the to-do list
– Bake something yummy for the teacher who gave me homemade juice and jam on Thursday.

– Post this on the blog

– Update the Euroclub blog (in Ukrainian)

– Prepare a presentation on my project and Human Rights education to give at a meeting of the new PC Law and Justice Working Group next weekend in Kyiv

– laundry (by hand, naturally)

– try to get ahead on next week’s prep-heavy lessons (highly unlikely that this will actually happen)

– work on the completion report for my grant


3 responses to “Just a Normal Week

  1. Catherine,
    You are a gift to those you touch there. I am in awe of your resourcefulness and care/concern for your students and fellow teachers.
    I look forward to each of your posts. Thanks for a snapshot of one of your weeks.

  2. Catharine – you are amazing – I have to take a nap after just reading all you do in a week’s time! Much love, Nancy

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