Learning about learning

I’ve been working in my school for the better part of two months and I still have a lot to figure out.

Sidenote: Can anyone else hear the band playing right outside my room? Maybe it just sounds that loud. Drums and saxophones. It must be a slava.

Anyway, school.

I know it seems like all I do is eat and take pictures of Julie glaring at me, but I’m also in school five days a week. Before I worked as a reporter, I worked as a fifth grade teacher in Baltimore, so I was curious about how my experience would compare in Macedonia.

I could write about my observations for thousands of words more than anyone wants to read, so here are some of the highlights of the school system so far:

  • There are two different shifts of classes each day, divided along the higher and lower grades. The first through fifth graders attend one shift and the sixth through ninth graders attend another. One shift starts at 7:30 a.m. and the other starts at 1:30 p.m.
  • There is no kindergarten.
  • Every three weeks, the shifts flip. Students and teachers alternate between three weeks of first shift and three weeks of second shift. (It makes getting into a normal routine a little difficult. I also work in both shifts several days a week so I can work with all grade levels.)
  • There are no clocks in classrooms. There is only one clock in the school, in the teachers’ lounge, and I just discovered it two weeks ago.
  • Students remain in one classroom all day. Teachers rotate throughout the day, spending the five minutes between classes in the teachers’ lounge, regardless of where the next class will be. Initially I found this inefficient, especially when the next class was next door, but I’ve come to appreciate the idea of taking those few minutes to take a breath before the next lesson. It’s a welcome contrast to the rushed, hectic schedule I had teaching in America, where every spare moment had a task and the work was never done.
  • When teachers enter the classroom, students stand up and say, “hello.” They might have been out of their seats, on their cell phones or even playing a game of bottle cap soccer, but when the teacher walks in, they know class begins.
  • When students raise their hands, they hold up two fingers. I haven’t figured out why, but then again I probably couldn’t explain why I’ve always raised a hand that looks like it’s about to wave.
  • Students are more vocal here. When they know the answer to a question, they raise their two peace sign fingers and say, “jac” (I) or “наставник” (teacher). Calling out answers is also common. When I lead the class, I tell them that I’ll only call on students seated without calling out. Sometimes my counterparts do too, but sometimes they don’t. When the kids are really excited about being called on, the classroom sort of sounds like this Finding Nemo scene:giphy (1)
  • Management is a non-issue. Sure, we have kids who crack jokes or tip chairs. They have side conversations and write on their desks. We have run-of-the-mill issues that every school deals with, but I have not seen a single instance of defiance. I have not seen a student talk back, when told to change their behavior. On the few instances one of the teachers I work with has had to raise their voice, the result was immediate compliance. Usually, I can redirect behavior with a look. I have friends teaching in America who practically jump through hoops every day with creative, positive behavior systems to create an environment where learning is possible. Point, Macedonia.
  • Planning is also more low-key here. One of the teachers I work with came in with a planner today because she said she wanted to start writing things down more like me. My heart swelled. I LOVE my planner. (Details and dessert are two of my favorite things.)

That’s not to say they don’t plan. They have their lessons from years past and a lot of teachers work primarily out of the book. That’s an area where I’d like to help, creating additional materials and finding ways to make the lessons in the book a bit more exciting. My main counterpart told me this week that since I’ve been here, the students have been speaking and thinking more. I was psyched, even though I don’t think I’ve done that much yet.

I have a lot more to learn, but I love working with all of my students so far. There are definitely frustrating moments, but those are far outweighed by all the great ones.

Like this: My seventh graders were working on an assignment, describing a person they chose from a photo in the book. One of them wrote about me, and it made my whole week.


“She’s thinking about her family in Pennsylvania, but she’s also excited about the new things that she will discover.”


9 thoughts on “Learning about learning

  1. Ditto. It’s so good to hear of kids who respect authority and are eager to learn. It sounds like rural America in the early 1960s before discipline, let alone firearms, became the chief concern of teachers. It also sounds like you’re having a more positive impact on those kids than you might ever know. I wish I could say “God bless you” in Mak. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Was that paper actually written by a student? I mean, not just spoken by a student and written by you or some other native English speaker? If so, that’s astounding, because — except for the crossed-out stuff, which doesn’t count — it’s flawless. There are commas where there should be commas, apostrophes where there should be apostrophes. You would see that from few American seventh-graders.


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