Fifth Graders

I’m sitting in a cold classroom waiting my turn to present my unit plan and two lesson plans to my teaching advisor. She’s a wonderful Russian woman with a huge heart who has taught, mentored, and cheered us through training. My lower back and rear-end are pinched into a tiny mint green chair that seems to be invented with torture and cruelty in mind, which frankly helps take my mind of my unit plan, which is a summary of five lesson plans for the five classes that I’m teaching next week.

The textbook that I am using would present an intense challenge for an English class in the United States, let alone non-English speakers. I am supposed to use this book to create a measurable, planned, sequential series of classes that build on each other to create a final intense production experience for the students. In other words, I’ve had to get very creative and strain my wacked-out brain simply to get something logical on paper. In the end though, I feel like I owe it to my students to have fun and interesting classes that teach them what they need to know, so most of the pressure is internal.

Oh, and I’m now teaching ten year-olds. Last week I switched out of my class of tenth graders, who I had become extremely close to, to jump into the fifth grade. To be honest, I was terrified before my first class and stayed up late that Sunday night working on posters, cards, and pictures. By the time I fell into bed, both of my hands and a good portion of my temples were stained with markers. On a side note though, it’s super impressive how my spider-man markers have been holding up. But anyways, it took me about ten seconds to realize how cool it is to teach fifth graders, and how much fun I have jumping around the class like a total clown. I mean how many times in your life is it a good thing if you think like a ten year-old, and building bridges and airplanes out of desks and chairs is a part of your job?

The textbooks are laughably more advanced than the students, but their teachers have been doing an awesome job teaching them, and they speak great for their age. Not to mention, all of the students are adorable and totally game for all of the ridiculous activities that I put them through, like diving under their desks every time I say the word ‘disappear’. Both the students and my team-teacher humored me on Wednesday in a strange reading comprehension game I thought of late Tuesday night. The students (and teacher) all put on badges and half the class saluted me as their starship commander as we tried to beat the other half of the class, led by the other teacher, on a race through the planets. I’m aware now what a complete nerd I am, I mean I spent five or ten minutes of precious teaching time explaining to my students how we needed to get as many star-blasting engines as possible, and trying to explain how sweet warp-speed is. Aaanyways, I swear I’m really teaching some English and valuable life-skills.

Teaching has been the highlight for me so far, but I could use more time to prepare, relax, and enjoy time with my friends before we get blasted off to the far corners of this enormous country. Site announcement, when we find out where our two-year site placement will be, is in less than a week. It ‘s given me and many other volunteers that I’m friends with a lot of anxiety. This country is so huge that it almost feels like I still don’t know what my Peace Corps country is, and although I am undeniably excited to hear where my site will be, I’m also worried about possible disappointment.

Of course there’s no way of knowing what will make me happy or not, so logically I shouldn’t feel too strongly either way when I receive my site, but emotions run much higher when you’re abroad and about to commit two years of your life to something. When Peace Corps staff ask me “What’s the big deal? You’ll make what you will out of it no matter what,” I understand the reasoning and appreciate the thought, but cannot help laughing at the ridiculousness of those words of wisdom. But I did sign up for this, and I know that I’m always making a choice to be here.

However, regulating my thoughts and feelings takes way more emotional discipline than I have, and probably ever will have, so I’m trying to keep my thoughts light, focus on my job, and have a good time. And anyways, on a lighter note, I’ve been noticing lately that I feel a much more consistent
satisfaction with life than I remember feeling when I was back home. Besides being with family, being with friends, and being in love, there was always something missing about spending time getting a paid-for education. I wouldn’t trade that crazy college experience for the world. But being here in the world, doing something real, and being somewhere else, activates my senses, makes me feel raw and alive, and is like a cool breath of fresh air.

Peace and Love,

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6 Responses to Fifth Graders

  1. Carol Markham-Cousins says:

    I loved this entry about teaching and the “art” you describe in what many only understand as the science of education. Building the relationships and taking the time and effort to create meaningful experiences is what it is all about. I see a future for you in education!!! You may not want to hear that, but it really is fun for me to know you are experiencing my profession and enjoying the students so much.
    My advise on matters of the heart…go with the friend relationship!
    love you much,

  2. Jamie Kreiman says:

    Hey, Coll! Jennifer forwarded your mom’s e-mail link to your blog. I am really excited to read, as you live. I am so proud and happy for you to have joined the Peace Corp. Getting involved with other people and learning from them is sweet, in the newer sense of the word. How cool that you can play with your kids. Sharing the Cousins-way, and all the stuff you have experinced-learned through your life with your kids…so great.
    Did you smell like goat-familiar to those goats, or they just wanted to sniff your butt? Kreiman minds want to know.
    Jen, Jon, and Tom flew to Amsterdam tonight to hang out with Kari and to sniff around the coffee houses. It is one of my favorite cities, a certain kind of peaceful, period artiness is around. The irony of seeing this idyllic life and thinking of Anne Frank looking out of her hiding place to a life she could not live leaves me with a pinched pain in my head. How can you put he dichotomy together? Maybe that’s why I like it. It can’t be explained-quite.
    I am totally loving the wooden serving pieces you sent on to me, even thought I was not goat enough to say “thank you”. Part of the world in my kitchen-you are good to share. You “hit the spot” in my heart.
    Teach on, eat great food, keep up with your vodka education, you are already making good friends…..
    With love, Jamie

  3. Lucia Callizo says:

    “But being here in the world, doing something real, and being somewhere else, activates my senses, makes me feel raw and alive, and is like a cool breath of fresh air”.

    Mi Coco,
    That sentence is beautiful y, definitivamente, lo mas lindo que podria escucharte decir. Few people ever get “to feel raw and alive”–many simply exist–and so if that is what Kazakhstan is doing for you, then I think you are one of the luckiest in the world. You know that (in my mind) being free, and living every day intensely yet at peace, is the biggest gift you can get. “Raw and alive” yet “like a cool breath of fresh air” is true happiness, so make every moment count.

  4. Lora Koppel and the entire Stege family says:

    I have LOVED following along in your journey. You need to know that you are not alone and have all these little angels (sorry Jen and Jamie) sitting on your back and helping you. My parents are also on board, my girls, and my sibs. Not sure if you have Molly’s blog which I will give you. Hang in there Collin as you have a huge fan club.
    Your favorite Aunt Lora

  5. Mary McCrossan says:

    Hey Collin,
    I don’t know why, but I didn’t see this entry until today. Welcome to the world of 5th graders! I’ve enjoyed their wild and wacky world for 18 years now and still love it! You sound like you were born to be a teacher, which makes sense, I guess (shout out to Carol!). However, you are going to have so many more experiences in the next 2 years, you will probably discover many more innate talents to share with the world!
    I hope it encourages you to know that there are lots of people (including me!) who love you and plan to follow your progress and keep you close in their hearts over the next 2 years.
    Take care of yourself,

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