by Alanna Powers (current English teaching Assistant)
Standing over a bowl in my school’s small kitchen, I ask one of my students to hand me the butter. He picks up the block of butter on the counter and reads it out loud, “maslo s rostlinným tukem.”
He shoots me a confused look. “Well, this isn’t going to make our Thanksgiving mashed potatoes taste very good.”
“What?” I reply. “Why not?”
“Because it’s not butter. It’s butter mixed with vegetable fat.”
As a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in the Czech Republic, mix ups like this happen at least once a week. However, it’s these messy and sometimes embarrassing moments that make the Fulbright experience so special.
I live in Dvůr Králové nad Labem, a small town in the North-Central part of the country. For context, the town is about a 40 minute’s drive to Poland, and it takes about an hour and a half to get to Prague. About 16,000 people call Dvůr home, making it a tight-knit and friendly community. I teach at Střední Škola Informatiky a Služeb (School of Informatics and Services). It is a secondary technical school in which students ages 14 to 20 study in a variety of concentrations. Students can apply to any secondary school of their choice, and at my school they have the option to study tourism, hotel services, law enforcement, chemistry, I.T., cosmetology or hairdressing. With such a diverse range of students in this small community, each day holds its own unique challenges and joys, which makes for an incredible Fulbright adventure.
On Monday morning, I teach a mix of first-year and fourth-year classes. This makes for an interesting day because some of the first-year students have just started to learn English in these past couple of months, while some of the fourth-years are basically fluent speakers. The fourth-years are preparing to take their Maturita exams, which they need to pass in order to graduate from secondary school. In these classes, we focus on the topics they will need to know for the test, but we also work on their speaking skills so that they are also prepared for the oral portion of the exam. In the afternoon, I teach a class of adult learners. These students are taking their first ever English class. We work on basics like the verb “to be” and the present tense. Each week I watch them become more comfortable with their English speaking skills.
Tuesday has become my “me” day, because it’s the only day of the week when I don’t do something extra outside of my classes. After I teach in the morning, I usually do some grocery shopping. Then, I spend the afternoon and the evening practicing my Czech, reading a book, calling family and friends at home or watching Netflix. Although I love everything that I get to do at my school and in my community, I’ve really come to value this alone time as well. Life as an ETA can be really exhausting because I feel the need to be “on” all the time. Having this evening for myself is not only great, but necessary.
On Wednesday I co-teach classes with my mentor. We create a lesson plan that ensures both of us do certain tasks do throughout the lesson. We learn a lot about teaching by practicing this method, and the students enjoy it because it keeps the lesson fresh for the full 45 minutes. Once, we did a “KWL” lesson about the United States. We had the students write down what they already knew about the USA, and what they wanted to learn about the USA. Then, we had them read an article about the country. Once they were done reading they wrote down and presented their newfound knowledge to the class. Activities like this keep my Wednesdays fun and interesting.
I spend my afternoons at my American Culture club. All of my students are invited to join me as we practice English by speaking, watching a movie or cooking together. This is a great way to get to know my students outside of a classroom setting.
Every Wednesday evening, I go to my yoga class. This class has provided me with a tightly-knit, open group of Czech friends, and it allows me to have a relaxing end to my hump day.
When I am done being a teacher on Thursday, I become the student. I grab my text book and head to a teacher’s office to have my weekly Czech tutoring session. Now, I know my right (doprava) from my left (doleva) and how to order at a restaurant. Everyone warned me that Czech is a very hard language, and they were right. However, each week I learn a little bit more and it becomes easier.
Later in the evening, I have my weekly English lesson with more advanced adults. Each week I print out a list of questions and we practice conversational speaking. It is wonderful to watch these adult learners develop their English speaking skills.
Fridays are very different than any other day at school. That is because I teach a first-year double-lesson with a teacher who is still attending university, so we are roughly the same age. He executes a debate method of teaching. Each week, we have the students take a side on a certain issue, creating arguments and counter-arguments all in English. Our goal is to have the students engage in a full debate like the ones they see on TV by April. It is fascinating to watch how quickly their English skills have improved from participating in the debates.
In the evenings, I usually go to a nearby town called Trutnov with some friends I met at a nearby university. We will spend the evening at a pub, or out for dinner or bowling. I have found that some Czech beer and good company is the perfect way to end a wild week.
Just like weekends in the United States, I use Sundays in the Czech Republic as a way to relax and recharge for the week to come. I am a member of a women’s running club in my town. On weekend mornings we meet somewhere in the town and run together for an hour or so. In the afternoons I spend time with my mentor and her family. My mentor and I make lunch together (which is the big meal of the day for the Czechs), and the whole family will eat together. Afterwards, we go on some type of adventure. It might be a walk through her village, or other times we do something bigger like drive to Mlada Boleslav, a town about an hour from Dvůr, to go to the Škoda museum. On Sunday nights, I plan for the week ahead. I usually pick one theme to teach each class every week, and I vary the lessons depending on the students’ skill levels. Finally, I write up a lesson plan and send them to my co-teachers so that we are both prepared for the week.
Whether it be buying the wrong butter or some other blunder, there is always some sort of chaos involved in my weeks as an ETA. However, my weekly routine helps me stay stable and accepted at my school and in my community, which makes even the moments of disorder seem beautiful.
|me teaching at my school|
|my Mentor’s son and I baking cookies at their house|
|ladies from my running club|