Filling Up Hearts

My first week of teaching ESL here in Kiskereki, Romania, is over, and I have two left to continue filling up my heart with all the wonderful unknown impressions that enrich me with familiar tastes of peace, love, joy, and utter thankfulness.

Over the course of this past week, my three different classes and I grew together over topics such as birthdays, spring and summertime, clothing articles for these seasons and the respective body parts, and became strong teams that learn and play. When we are together, the two hours that I have with each group fly by; they seem way to short.

On Tuesday, my highlight was that Beni, a tall, shy, quiet, accurate, focused, thoughtful first-grader of mine, came up to me during recess and shared his salami-sandwich with me. Together, we sat on the stairs of the school-house in the sunshine and quietly ate the delicious bread with butter and fresh meat—we became friends.

On Wednesday after class, Maria, my only gypsy first-grader, lingered in the doorway. Even after the older children had sat down, she would not leave. I went out into the hallway with her and asked her what I could do for her. The little brown-haired girl simply smiled at me, hugged me tightly for a few seconds, promptly let go and ran out of the school building. Overwhelmed with emotion, my eyes filled with tears, and I, silently and alone, stood in the hallway for a few more seconds. What a precious and meaningful moment!

On Thursday, the day of the schoolyard fashion-show with my teens, each model walked up and down the runway and presented his/her different clothing articles that were decorated with little sticky notes with vocabulary reminders. Everyone was wearing summery clothes as it the sun was fiercely shining outside, except for Erwin, a fourteen year-old, male model of mine. When describing his pants, the model grinned at his audience, twirled around once more and stated: “My first blue jeans. My mother buy them for me yesterday week!” Well, sun, how about that: you ain’t strong enough for Erwin’s happiness about his first pair of brand new blue jeans.

Yesterday, I had a new student in the back of my class: a little older than the others, but just as welcome as everyone else. Melinda, a teacher from the school, sat in my second session and practiced telling time with the other students. After class, she told me that she had taken an English class a few years ago when she was at university, but that she never learned enough to get around. Well, Melinda—you can come join us anytime!

On my way back from the school building yesterday afternoon, two dads of students of mine drove past me on their moped. The tanned faces grinned, the broken teeth showed, and the mouths yelled: “Hello teacher Sophie!” Hello villagers! Thank you for an awesome first week! Thank you for accepting me into your community!

Later that night, I saw these two men again—in the local pub, where everyone hangs out and where all the gossip, drinking, dancing, and making out takes place. With two fellow LEers from near-by villages, my host-siblings, and many other youngsters, we played poker using German NIMM-2-mamoam-like bon-bons as money chips. After we had eaten all of our money, one of the men switched off the lights and turned on the 90s juke-box. We danced, celebrated, and partied, and our dark-skinned teacher Jarret landed on Youtube before dawn. One of the men at the bar walked up to him in the middle of the night, bought him a beer, and hugged him. Well, here we go: cross-cultural and cross-racial friendship-building right there!

During a phone conversation with my dear grandmother Annemarie yesterday afternoon, I sought and received some first-hand teaching advice. The elderly woman who has taught young elementary school children for the majority of her life stressed that young students enter the classroom with open hearts; they are eager and waiting for their open hearts to be filled with knowledge and love.

When I first entered my classroom last Monday and all these dark brown eyes were staring at me, I felt nervous, but only for a couple of seconds. After my heart had taken in the atmosphere, I calmed down, knowing that the hardest step was accomplished—I had entered the room. Puh! The first step truly is the hardest—things only get better from there!

Additionally, my grandmother stated that methods for teaching can be learned in a university classroom, but that the essence—intuition—either exists in a person or it does not.

Thank you, Goldoma, for teaching me that

1)    A teacher is born, not made.

2)    Teaching is a calling, not a job.

3)    Being a life-long student is a truth, not a choice.

If I am going to continue our family legacy of teaching others either inside or outside of a classroom, I am not sure, but I know that these Hungarian/Romanian children, my students, are compelling me to grow as a person, as a woman. They make me care. Deeply.

Truly, as I am standing in front of the black board, as I am chasing one of my third-graders, as I am having a more serious chat with one of the first-grade boys after an aggressive episode, as I am baking and wildly gesturing with my host-mother, as I watch the cows return to their homes at night, as I am picking apricots from the tree in my host-family’s yard, as I am sharing one of my second-grader’s lunch packet (‘Pausenbrot’, the German word for ‘luch sandwhich’ for which there does not exist an appropriate English translation) as I am pondering life with my host-siblings, as I am dancing and celebrating in the local pub, as I am putting stickers on my first-graders’ binders, as I am walking on the dusty village roads, as I am washing the chalk off my dry hands, I am not only spending my summer in an unconventional way; rather, while these young children teach me, I am re-discovering my different character traits, I am re-evaluating relationships in my life, I am re-inventing my dreams, and I am preparing for the future, and I am filling my heart with impressions and experiences which I learn from and which I will treasure forever.