Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Vaclav Havel

The day after Vaclav Havel died, I walked through Vaclavske Naměsti. The statue of Sv. Vaclav (Saint Wenceslas) at the top of the square was surrounded by a memorial. There were hundreds of candles. Every time a candle blew out, someone relit it. Every candle that burned out seemed to be replaced by another. People gathered in silence to say goodbye to the man who helped bring this country into the Western world and the 21st century. I saw elderly men crying quietly as they lit candles.

I have been reminded a few times that if it were not for him, we would not be here. I'm not sure where I would be right now, however, this place is where I have done so much of my growing up. I am so thankful for this opportunity.

A week later, the square is full of candles, though most in the center have long burnt out. More are added to the edges every minute. Parents stand with their children and try to explain to them the importance of a great man. And everywhere, there are hearts.
"Truth and love must prevail over hatred and lies"-Vaclav Havel (1936-2011)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Markets in Germany

A few years ago, I went to Dresden for their Christmas market. This year, we went to Munich and Nuremberg. It was a really quick trip, just three days and two nights. On a preschool teacher's salary, this was my big trip for the next few months. Being in Southern Germany was pretty exciting. It was much more western than what I have become accustomed to. The markets were beautiful. In Munich, the Christmas market was small but the Christmas atmosphere there could not be beat. In front of beautiful, ornate buildings (and I say this as a resident of Prague), we drank mulled wine and listened to a live choir who sang from a balcony. In Nuremberg, the market was huge! They specialized in these bizarre figurines made out of nuts and dried fruit with faces glued on them. I cannot say I understood their appeal. However, I did find an entire stand of Ostheimer toys! I gazed longingly at all of the figures. "My school will be full of these," I declared. Someday, someday. Nuremberg also had a section of the market dedicated to their sister Christmas markets from various cities around the world including Glasgow, Atlanta, and Prague. Each city had a stall with Christmas wares and treats. I even got a hot toddy from Glassgow! I may have come home a little lighter in the wallet, nevertheless, it was wonderful to have a Christmas mini-break.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmastime at School

It seems that I haven't posted in nearly half a year! Whoops.

This school year, I am teaching the 3-year-olds again. Unfortunately, we have what I so often refer to as "an enrollment problem"--which is to say that I have two students. One of them comes three times a week, the other one four. This means that my time is spread between my own class, the other preschool classes, and our after-school program to which I've been assigned. Two afternoons a week, I am supposed to entertain and educate a group of 2-4 second graders. There's a reason I teach preschool and not second grade. This is not my passion. However, I am looking to just get through the next year so that I can move back to America with three full years of preschool experience and a good reference under my belt. While I enjoy writing the curriculum for the seven-year-olds and seeing their results, the teaching can be a struggle.

My first project this year was to teach them why they are learning English. They are at the age when they realize it's harder to speak English than Czech, so why bother? They haven't yet been in a situation where English was helpful so they just rebel. I asked them to list countries where English is spoken. They couldn't come up with more than five. I asked them if they thought there were more than 10 countries where English is a major language. They were certain there couldn't be. So, I showed them a list of countries where English is a national language (de jure or de facto). We picked ten countries with the highest percentage of English speakers per capita and made a book about them. We used atlases and other books to research the people, climate, animals, and traditions. We compared Irish dance and Highland dance on Youtube. As I write all of this, I feel so proud of my students and of myself. However, while teaching it, I could not wait for it to be over.

Our next project was to write letters to an American second grade class. I wanted them to explain what Christmas was like in the Czech Republic. I had them do watercolor paintings to illustrate their letters. They all wanted to paint Christmas trees. It was kind of a bust. However, I got two of them to work together to make this timeline of Christmas. They dictated to me what they did on each day and made these little pictures. Again, I wonder if the ends justifies the means because this is pretty great.

Aside from teaching, my life has had a few changes. In September, I moved into a flop house where I had only half a window as I was in one side of a room divided by sheetrock. The kitchen had no hot water. There were people moving in and out every week, not to mention the number of couchsurfers my landlord invited over without telling us. The final straw was his refusal to put a lock on my door. He pocketed half of my security deposit and I went on my merry way. In October, I moved into my current flat with my girlfriend. We live in a fifth-floor walk-up which means a lot of stairs. Otherwise, I love the place. It's the top floor with vaulted ceilings--which are still absurdly high and have skylights! Nothing like the vaulted ceilings where I lived when I was twenty. It's got a loft-esque quality to it with exposed beams and a mostly open floor plan. The last tenants put up a wall (of high quality) to separate off part of the living room/dining room area into a second bedroom which we use mostly for clothes and guests.

And now, it's time for me to get back to Christmas preparations. I hope to take pictures of our fat little tree and all the crafty decorations we've put up!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

And So It's Summer.

I just said goodbye to my first real preschool class. As a gift at the end of the year, I gave them all dolls of themselves. It took a lot of work but I feel like it was worth it. One girl with the most adorable freckles did not understand why her doll was dirty and kept telling me she needed to wash it.

All week, one of my strongest English speakers has been telling me, "Miss Colleen, I gone miss you. I not see you whole the summer because I go to hotel. So I gone start miss you when I go." Nothing builds your self-esteem like being a preschool teacher. The little ones are so full of love that they'll give it to anyone, whether or not you earn it.

Summer makes little things so joyful. "A time of nostalgia," according to My Drunk Kitchen girl, and I have to agree.

It makes the little things seem beautiful. I have become the fashion equivalent of a freegan lately. This sweater came from a friend who decided three red cardigans was excessive. I happily took it off her hands, though I then wore it to a smokey bar and it's now airing out. All the cut flowers were end of the year teacher gifts (so much loot!). And I'm currently plant-sitting for Girlfriend while she's in the States. All things together make for one beautiful windowsill.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

And I Will Never Grow So Old Again

There's a warm breeze in the city. And my world is coming back to life.

I discovered the other day that I can now call American telephones from my Gmail account which is pretty incredible. I called my mom's house and heard our answering machine for the first time in a year and a half. When I got through to her today, all I wanted to talk about was how I finally felt like myself again.

Last weekend, I found myself in a six hour conversation with a relative stranger. We talked about everything. We talked about love, religion, politics, how we were raised, everything that you spend years revealing to your friends as you get to know them. At one point in the conversation, I said, "You know, sometimes you just need to talk to a stranger to remember who you are." I walked home that night and each step was easier than the one before it. For months, each step was a hurdle. I was too tired to sleep, I was too tired to get out of bed. I felt lost in this city, lost in my own head. But suddenly, I was searching for similes and metaphors. I was getting a new pair of glasses, removing a veil, watching the sun come out from behind the clouds, feeling a weight lifted off my shoulders. There weren't enough. There will never be enough. We reserve so many clichés for falling in love, for explaining that inexplicable feeling. And now, I want to steal all of those phrases and use them for how I feel about living.

I find myself running for trams a lot lately. I wear dresses again. I feel the way that my feet pound against the pavement, the way that it fights back and propels me. I feel the way that my dress flutters against my stocking-clad legs. I throw my arms wide and feel like I am flying in this warm breeze. I let the tram catch me, I let it pull me through the city. I look up. I see murals I've never noticed. I catch glimpses of crocuses. I smile at strangers and they smile back. I dance when the urge overcomes me. I sing out loud. I sing "Sweet Thing" by Van Morrison because it's the only song that can capture the feeling of spring after a long, grey winter.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Teach a Man to Fish

Though my spring break doesn't occur for nearly another month, my kids are already taking theirs. This is because different schools in different districts of Prague have different holidays to prevent the entire country fleeing to the mountains at once. None of my kids are vacationing in the Mediterranean for spring break. They all go to the mountains. One of those little things about living in a post communist country is seeing how the limits imposed by the government became somehow natural. But that's a post for another day.

My kids are off on holiday because their older siblings in other schools have holidays. This means that instead of my class of eight little princesses, we've been topping out at five. While it's frustrating because my kids will be at such different levels after this next month, it has given me a chance to get to know them better as individuals.

And there are those moments when I just happen to be listening to the right kid at the right moment that make my whole life make sense...

We've been putting up a bulletin board with fruit on it to show how some fruit grows on bushes and other fruit grows on trees. I was hanging a cloud up with rain coming down over one of the bushes and one of my girls asked why it was raining.
"Well, you need to drink water and tea, right?"
"The bush needs to drink, too. It drinks the rain water."

A few hours later, my girls were sitting below the bulletin board.
"You know why is cloudy here?" I heard. "The bush need drink rain water so it get big."

A few minutes later:
"I am rain and you are bush. I come and make you big, okay?"

Most teachers I know think of circle time as their most important lesson time. I'm learning that the time I give to individual children is just as important if not more important than our class lessons. If I teach the whole class something they don't particularly care about, it's lost about five minutes later. But if I spur the curiosity of a child and that child spurs the curiosity of another child, two sentences can lead to an elaborate role-play in which my children figure out how the world around them works.

My kids are always playing nurturing games. "I'm Mommy and you're Baby!" Or "I am the kitten and you're my daddy!" They've managed to discover a new nurturing game as rain nurtures plants. Spring is coming and I'm so excited to see it through their eyes.

Friday, February 4, 2011

"Where My Mommy Is?"

Today, my co-teacher and I were at school alone. At 5:00 there was only one boy left.
We got him into his coat and shoes so he wouldn't waste time when his mom came to pick him up. And then we sat in the entrance way and waited.

"Where my mommy is?!" He started to get really upset, and something took over inside of me.
"Well, your mommy was on her way to get you but when she went out the door and got in her car... there was a lion in it! She got out and closed the door, then she called the zookeeper...
The zookeeper came and took the lion back to the zoo. Your mommy got in the car and turned onto the street, just then... What did she see?" I asked my co-teacher.
"Uh, squirrels?"
"Yeah, that's right, squirrels! Hundreds of them! They climbed all over the car and made it so she couldn't see out the windows. She had to stop driving and call the zookeeper AGAIN! He came and got the squirrels and brought them back to the zoo. So your mommy drove to school but when she was almost here--"
"--A DRAGON!" interrupted my co-teacher, who totally got into the story.
"That's right, there was a dragon in the middle of the road! All of the cars had to stop, no one knew what to do! So your mommy called the zookeeper AGAIN! And do you know what he did?"
"He came and got the dragon?" asked the boy.
"No! He said, 'A dragon? What do you want me to do about a dragon?! We don't have dragons at the zoo!' So do you know who she called next?"
"His mommy?"
"Yes! She called the dragon's mommy who came down and got him. She told him, 'Little dragon, don't you ever run away again!' All the cars started driving again, and your mommy was only one block from school when she had to stop because there was a line of penguins crossing the road!"
"Yes, and they were moving very slowly because of all the snow," inserted my co-teacher.
"It's true, and that's the reason they left the zoo. They were all in their snowy area at the zoo but then they looked outside and saw snow everywhere, they thought they could go play. So they all left the zoo! Do you know what your mommy did next?"
"Called the zookeeper?"
"No, because he didn't help her with the dragon. Your mommy opened the car door and let all of the penguins in the car so she could take them back to the zoo herself! She asked the penguins which way to go and the first one said 'Right' so she drove to the right. Then the next one said, 'No, left!' so she drove to the left. Then another one said, 'No, straight!' so she drove straight. The fourth one said, 'No, turn around, the other way!' So your mommy stopped driving and decided she needed to call the zookeeper for directions." All the while, my co-teacher was pointing different directions while our student watched.

"But he was no help at all, so your mommy put on the GPS and used it to help her find her way to the zoo."
"And then what?!"
"When she got there, she brought the penguins back to their area and was in such a hurry to come get you that she forgot to close the gate! And all the animals got out! But not the scary animals, only the friendly animals because they weren't in cages."
"Mhmm, I think I see a giraffe over there!" said my co-teacher
"And an elephant?!" he asked.
"Yup, there's elepants walking outside in all this snow!"
"Then what happened?!"
"Well, your mommy got all the animals back to the zoo, closed the gate, and drove here to come get you... and there she is!"

For fifteen straight minutes I was able to tell this story. At the beginning, when I was simply putting together a sentence about a lion in the car, each word came to mind so slowly. It was like my story walkway was covered in tar. As I got going, it just came to me. The words flowed through me as though I was simply a vehicle. I didn't even have to think. When he asked, "then what?!" might have been one of my best moments as a teacher. For fifteen solid minutes, I was able to keep the most easily distracted kid in my school rapt as he sat and stared at nothing, just absorbing my words and my story. Those fifteen minutes were probably the best of my career as a teacher. They reminded me why I love children, why I love stories, why I love Waldorf pedagogy, and to some extent why I am.

And then, as I was leaving, I said to my co-teacher, "Wow, we kept him distracted for fifteen minutes!"
She responded, "I'm going to call you and have you tell me a bed-time story every night."

Okay, it was also a little good for the ol' ego.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Writer's Block

Sometimes, I set myself a goal--to post every so many days, to write so many hours a week. Sometimes, there's so much to write about that I don't want to summarize, so I just don't write at all. And it's silly to worry about, of this I am aware, as I am only writing a bit of my personal life on the internet for all to see. There's no novel in the works nor a deadline looming in the distance. There's just my desire to transform thoughts to words and even complete sentences to peruse later when the act of recalling memories so often has created a stilted history and I'm looking for something with the accuracy of things experienced in the moment.

But sometimes I can't be in the moment, which is one of my biggest sources of writer's block. The other seems to be finding a voice in my head that's not my own, whether from reading too much of a particular author or just trying too hard to relate a story. Lately, I find Perrault in my head, telling my life in Once-Upon-a-Times or filling my memories with castles and cobbled streets.

Or maybe that just comes from living in a city of cobblestones and spires. Sometimes, my life feels broken up into chapters so different from each other that they might as well be entirely different stories. And sometimes, I think back to all the opportunities I didn't take, to all of the forks in the road, and I wonder my What Ifs. I wonder what would have happened if I applied to spend a summer in Iceland four years ago. What if I had stayed in Korea? What if I had gone back as planned? What if I had never left the US in the first place? What if I had moved to Alaska?

I'm slowly pushing the What-If-I-Hads out of my head, in favor of What-Ifs.

Friday, January 7, 2011

La Vie Boheme

Roommate: Ughhhhhh, that was so frustrating! I can't even explain why. It's just like everything that could go wrong did.
Colleen: Kind of like my visa.
Roommate: Or... a toilet seat.
Colleen: The funny thing is, when something is so frustrating, I feel like the most primal urge is to just light it on fire. But you've already done that.
Roommate: I guess I could just bite it now.

In the end... Roommate: 1, Broken toilet seat: 0.

There's still a drawer that doesn't come out because the front just falls off when touched. And one must open the washing machine with a spoon.

But I still love this place.