I write from Makow on a beautiful midsummer evening, perched on a chair in front of my host sister’s desk while she watches Polish crime shows. This is no little house on the prairie (rather, it is a good sized modish one filled with a charming combination of Catholic relics and Egyptian hieroglyphics) and yet, I feel more like my childhood hero, Laura Ingalls Wilder, than ever before. Let me explain.
Last week ended with a series of lessons about how to teach English as a second language, a group pierogi making session, and a farewell dinner with free-flowing wine and bountiful meat. The pierogi making session was perhaps the most memorable of these events…mostly because it involved a red-cheeked Polish cook watching me knead dough (thanks for the lessons, Grandma Nette) and saying, in Polish that was translated for me, “You knead dough good! You make good pierogi and get good Polish husband!” Is there a better compliment one can receive?
On Sunday, our group of volunteers journeyed out into the clouds and rain, scattering across Poland to begin teaching lessons. I didn’t have far to go; I’m staying in Makow for the first three weeks, and my host family lives right next to the boarding school we’d been staying in.
And now we come to my “Little House on the Prarie” fantasy: being a schoolteacher in a small town where everyone knows everyone, where people greet on streets lined with flower gardens and aproned women. My host family has easily made Makow into a home. My parents, J. and R., don’t speak English, but make up for it with trays and trays of toffee cake, bottles of beer that tastes like juice, warm smiles, and studied English phrases that always make me laugh. J., my host dad, communicates with me through a series of “Okay?”s, “Yum yum?”s, and “Hey, Kate!”s. That’s all we really need.
On a typical day, I walk down a dirt path to school in the morning and teach two lessons at 90 minutes each. Each day I have the high school age kids, and in the afternoons I either have middle or elementary school classes. The students are lovely: friendly, respectful, frightened to speak at first but eager to learn. We’ve colored, we’ve debated, we’ve listened to songs and filled in lyrics. We’ve played games with balls and signs, we’ve tried out charades. I’ve bribed with candy and trips outside, I’ve disciplined, I’ve laughed. My goal is to have the kids speaking as much as possible without them even realizing that they’re doing it…and, if possible, to avoid the drudgery of grammar lessons and worksheets that they’re subjected to during the regular academic year. Learning should be dynamic!
The afternoons and evenings are ever varied. My host, sister, S., is 18, and the most wonderful companion I could ask for. Together we’ve donned bathing caps to swim laps in a pristine pool, taken bike rides to visit friendly sheep, taken long walks that end in ice cream, prayed at Mass, lounged in the backyard on beach chairs, and run errands. We cook meals together, we put together puzzles, we play with Zora, the beautiful German Shepherd in the backyard, we watch J.’s doves fly in circles around the sky. Last Monday, we celebrated her grandfather’s name day with a FIVE HOUR family meal. We ate course upon course as the men downed shot after shot of vodka (the women sipping.) I was cajoled into singing for the family. There was a long discussion of a simple fact: Obama went to Harvard Law, thus, I too will be President of the United States. “You invite us to the White House!” J.’s tipsy uncle cried, to a rousing chorus of “Na zdrowie!” (Cheers!)
This weekend I’ll join my students for pick-up basketball, go to the club, visit the circus, sunbathe with S…tonight I’ll plan a lesson about the Fourth of July. The small town life is a good life…I think dear Laura might agree.
-Kate Massinger, WorldTeach Poland Summer 2014
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