Silence of the Students


I have mentioned the bus every day this week. This is not due to any distaste for public transportation but that every bus experience is different.

Today’s bus adventure focuses on cultural differences regarding stance. In America if we stand on a bus or tram we tend to stand sideways, showing our cushioned or bony hips to the seated passengers. In Ukraine it is considered polite to grant the seated passenger a full frontal view. Today I sat trapped behind a wall of denim mortar. Three men lined the space in front if me and though they kept their gaze up I couldn’t help but feel on the wrong end of a soon to be cheaply made movie. I kept my eyes locked on my messenger bag in my lap.

I arrived to my school untouched and made my way to the staff room. My desk was clear and I took my seat and waited for the teacher named Helen to appear. The day prior she did not have the resources for me that I would need to teach her class and told me that we would go over them in the morning. As this is written I have been waiting for fifteen minutes with two minutes to go for the bell to ring. The thought has entered my head that I will remain seated here for the duration of my class. Then Tanya entered the room followed by Helen. One minute to prep.

I explained my classroom rules and it always makes the kids upset because they are not used to discipline. After we moved into the lesson they cheered up considerably. I have a very informal methodology to teaching that literally throws the rule book out the window.

I asked the students what they did over the summer and was met with silence. I asked if anyone did anything interesting over the summer and was met with even more silence. Finally I had them write down what they did over the holiday and then asked them to share. I was happy to get a range of verbal answers and once they realized I wasn’t grading them, that I was actually curious, I couldn’t get them to stop sharing.

‘I very much like your beard.’ A female student said to me.

‘Thank you. What did you do this summer?’

‘I spent my summer at an English yoga camp. After that I swam with dolphins in the Black Sea. It was very fun.’

‘Cool. That sounds awesome.’ I said, and then couldn’t help but laugh that the only Ukrainian to compliment my beard is a yogi.

By the end of the class the kids were running to the blackboard in a timed race, competing in pairs for a hand drawn trophy, by me, and finishing their homework before the bell dismissed them. I don’t believe in homework. After school a student should have time to relax their brains.

I let the students out two minutes early to get a head start on the snack bar line. I told them if they followed my rules and if everyone spoke in class that I would always let them out a couple minutes early.

With no risk of negative repercussions guiding their education I have switched to bribes. And I do not feel dirty at all.


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