Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A conversation...

Yesterday, I had a conversation via FaceTime with my Grandmother, for over an hour, completely in Estonian. This was a first and boy did it feel amazing! 

Throughout my journey learning this seemly impossible language, I have always struggled with the speaking part. Ask me to translate a simple Estonian text into English, Ok. Write an email in Estonian making a reservation for dinner? Fine. But when it comes to having a spontaneous conversation, I clam up like a timid mouse, afraid of the unknown. 

Yesterday, I felt like I am finally tackling this beast.  I was having a back and forth conversation about a range of topics. I understood and could be understood. Yes, my grammar was terrible, but who cares? 

The best part of the whole experience was seeing my Grandmother's immense pride and surprise during the conversation. It was like I could feel it through the computer screen.  She was proud of me. She was so patient with me; waiting while I found a word I wanted to use, speaking slowly and clearly if she could see I was getting lost. 

If I am being honest, I am learning this language mostly for my own self- satisfaction.  I don't need it for my job, or visa and I could get around day to day with English just fine. I want to prove to myself that I can do it! However upon reflection, I realise I am also doing this for her. To see that sparkle in her eyes when we converse in her native tongue.

My Vanaema and I when I was last back home in August. 



It took me a while to get back to writing after the March Challenge. I think it overwhelmed me a bit. However,  I do think writing is a good opportunity to consolidate my thoughts, dreams and goals. Plus, I encourage my students to write, so why shouldn't I? 

Friday, March 31, 2017

Successes in the classroom

I started the week tired and sick but what an amazing week it has been in the grade 3 classroom. When you see the kids every day, it is often hard to notice the 'slow and steady' progress. But once in a while you have a 'wow' moment that makes you so proud of these little humans. Here are the stories just two successful students, to end this month long challenge on a high note. 

R is finally learning how to control his emotions and making noticeable progress, no actually, more like leaps! He joined our school this year with very limited English and some pretty serious behavioural/emotional problems. It has been an uphill battle with many bumps along the way as we try to keep his moods levelled so he can successfully integrate into our school. When I recently overheard him having an in-depth conversation with our IT teacher suggesting new projects for the robotics club, I found my self thinking...  When did this happen? Where did he learn this vocabulary? When did he become this competent at expressing his ideas in English? It was incredible. 
Twice this week, there have been incidents which would have previously ended in a messy tantrum. However, on both occasions, R came to me, calmly verbalised what was bothering him and calmed down to continue with his day. 

Another success story is G. She is a feisty, dramatic girl who exclaimed to me at the start of the year that while she loves listening to people read, she simple 'hates' to read herself. Little by little, with some extra reading homework and support along the way, she started to read independently and her attitude began to change. Again, I can't pinpoint exactly when 'it' happened but now she is reading simple novels, has moved up 2 reading levels and is enthusiastic about reading! She beams with pride every time I remind her how much progress she has made. 

Thank you everyone for your support this month, my first time doing the SOLC. I found it incredibly difficult to keep on top of the writing and commenting, I even went MIA for a bit.  However, I found this experience very worthwhile and would like to try doing it again (with my students too!) next year.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Torn

This morning on the bus, I was looking out the bus window, admiring the beautiful Old Town of Tallinn. I observed the sun blanketing the medieval roofs, the majestic stillness of  the bastion towers in the early morning light.  I found myself wondering, is it possible to be in love with a county? I love the culture. I love the language. I love the relaxed pace of life. I love the nature, the cities, the countryside, the people. 

I feel so at home here, even though I am thousands of kilometres away from my place of birth and family. Of course, I miss my family back in Australia terribly. However, I feel this deep sense of connection to Estonia. Is this because it is the motherland of my Grandparents? Is it because life here is simpler and slower than what I was used to? Is it because I can't imagine myself going back to teaching in the government system? Is it because I now have the freedom to explore new counties easily on a regular basis?

I'm caught in a constant tug-of-war between missing Australia and loving my life here. I know my family would love to have me home, but what if my heart remains here in Estonia?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Busy

Wake up.
Practise Estonian flashcards.
Reading/writing blogs on the bus.
Eat, coffee.
Lessons.
Planning lessons.
Eat.
Lunch duty.
More Lessons.
Handbell practise.
Estonian homework.
Cook dinner. 
Folk dancing practise with husband.
Eat.
Shower.
Bed.
Read.
Sleep.
Wake up.
Workout. 
Reading/writing blogs on the bus.
Eat, coffee.
Lessons.
Planning lessons.
Eat
More lessons.
Meeting, more coffee. 
Planning/ preparing/ marking.
Estonian lesson. 
Dinner out with friends visiting. 
Practise Estonian flashcards.
Shower.
Bed.
Read.
Sleep. 

And so on and so on, until the weekend comes and I can breathe. 


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A letter to my skin.

Dear Skin, 
Another pimple? Come on! It's not even that time of the month! I only just got over the last one you handed me. Remember? That monstrosity of a chin Mount Everest that arrived just before a conference full of important people? Now it seems you have blessed me with some kind of horn, smack bang between my eyes. While unicorns are pretty, It's not my preferred look!  
I mean, I know you were relatively kind to me in my younger years but why spit the dummy now? I thought pimples were supposed to be teenage thing, not a late 20's thing! 
I don't know what you're so pissed off about but I hear you, loud and clear! As can everyone within a 3 metre radius. 
Anyway...please... can we be friends again? Let's talk.
Sincerely, 
Me.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The sun is back

An old lady sitting opposite me on the bus closes her eyes and points her face towards the sunlight shining through the bus window. 
Basking like a lizard in the glorious light that we have been deprived of for several long months. 
On her face is a small smile. 
Winter is finally thawing she may be thinking. 
Perhaps all of us on this full bus are thinking the same. 
Things have started to come alive, an awakening from the cold, dark winter. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Board games

You can gauge a lot about a person from how they play board games. Similarly, if you know a person well, you can also predict how they will play. Last night, we played apples to apples, a game where it is very important to know your audience.  I have a kids version in my classroom at school, a fun game to build cooperation and vocabulary. 



When I am the judge, I usually pick the weirdest or most disgusting combination, as I find these to be the most funny. In the above case, it would be a tough choice between 'juicy- pigeons' and 'juicy- having an operation'. My friend, however, always goes for the most literal card, 'juicy- oranges'. I also like hearing the judge's reason for their choice, as it is often accompanied with some sort of back story.

About 80% of the time, I inadvertently pick my husband's card, as he knows my strange, twisted thought processes better than anyone else in the room. In contrast, when we play 'codewords' on the same team, we almost always lose...  interesting. 

Which one would you pick? 


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Soviet apartment.

Tonight, I have invited a few friends over to play board games. It will be the most people we have ever hosted in our tiny 35 square metre, hodgepodge  apartment. It led me to reflect on our time living here.  It has been more than two years since we moved into our rental apartment, in a district of Tallinn with a large ethnic Russian population. We were pretty desperate for our own place when signed the lease. It was a 15 minute bus ride to the city centre, was available straight away and it was cheap, very cheap. Unfortunately, the apartment was also very old and rundown and like many old apartments in Tallinn, seemed to be stuck in the soviet era. We had a carpet on the wall..Yes, that's right, on the wall.  Combined with the 3 different types of aged wallpaper, the floor carpet and the sofas, it made for an interesting look. 



But it was our own little place, our sanctuary. So much better than sharing a room at a hostel. 
After a few months, we decided the bathroom was just too disgusting to live with any longer so we (mainly my husband) did some retiling and painting. Our landlord was happy to cover the cost of the materials. After the bathroom, the kitchen soon followed...

 The next step was to get rid of that hideous carpet wall...
 In honour of this momentous occasion, we had a Russian style send off party, complete with herring, potatoes and vodka. 

 Next, we decided that we would re-wallpaper the whole apartment. 
It can't be that hard, we thought....



 ....That was before we discovered that there was some areas with up to 7 alternating layers of wallpaper and newspaper on the walls....



At the end of a long, exhausting weekend of bleeding knuckles and frustration, we decided to call it quits on the renovations, since we were not getting paid or owned the apartment. 

Our apartment is still pretty strange looking... Our wall-papering job was less than perfect and our apartment is still filled with a mix match of old furniture our landlord seems to think is ok to store here. 

But it's a little place to call our own, our home.
And even with all it's quirks and faults, we love it.

Friday, March 24, 2017

6 Words

Reading some other posts has prompted me to try out some 6 word memoirs. Found it was much harder than it sounds! 

1. A quiet classroom moment, unproductive mind. 

2. Didn't make time to miss you.

3.  How to make apartment more 'hygge'?

4. Trying to be a better me. 

5. Scratchy throat attempting to pull me down. 

6. Addictive sugar screaming my name constantly. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Conference

I came back from a recent conference excited and inspired. I have already tried some new ideas with my Grade 3 students and am feeling fresh with enthusiasm.  I also attended a post conference workshop my director was running titled 'Women in leadership'. This was both an amazing and terrifying experience. At the end of the 1.5 days, I was required to present a speech to a room full of 15 powerful women, who are all in leadership roles, about my 'Vision for education'. I was the youngest and least experienced of the group but found the workshop incredibly insightful thought provoking. It was great to get to know the women as they shared their visions and hopes for the future of education. It also prompted me to reflect on the direction of both my personal and professional life. This lead me to come up with 3 major goals I want to work towards in the near future: 

1. Develop my public speaking skills by seeking opportunities to practise, rather than avoiding them!
2.  Be more committed to regular exercise. Make the effort to get up early 2 mornings a week to workout before school. 
3. Continue to work towards B2 level Estonian. Make time every day to study and practise. 


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Run away horse

After arriving home from a busy conference in Sofia on Monday evening, I have been contemplating  whether to get back on the horse or not. I have truly and spectacularly fallen off and that damn horse has ran far far into the distance! I had all intentions to write during the 4 day conference but all of my waking minutes were filled with inspiring workshops, networking and frantically trying to absorb the city during breaks. So here I am, now plodding along on a much slower donkey. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Airports

There is something exciting about flying, even if it is for a work trip instead of a holiday, which is why I am here today. 
In every airport I have been to, I have felt the same sense of adventure and anticipation in the air. 
The chinking of wine glasses, celebrating the start of holidays. 
The smell of coffee and breakfast, for those who have rolled straight out of bed. 
The excited chatter of travelers making plans.  
Teary goodbyes, welcome home hugs and 'see you soon' waves. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Diary of my hair

A diary of my thoughts about my hair over a typical week. If you don't know what dry shampoo is, google it. It will change your life!


Day 1: Damn my hair looks good! Give me strategically placed fan and I could be in one of those shampoo commercials!  No, I didn't get a haircut, I just washed it, but thanks! 

Day 2: Looking a little limp due to yesterday's excessive hair flicking... hang on.. it's still good... No compliments.

Day 3: Used dry shampoo to revive it a little. Not revived enough. Ponytail. That's better. 

Day 4: More dry shampoo. Looking a bit crusty now. Another ponytail. Should wash it tonight after training...

Day 5: Didn't wash it, too lazy. Grease and sweat starting to soak through copious layers of dry shampoo. Add another spray anyway. Sad looking bun today. Scalp getting a little itchy. Will wash tonight...

Day 6: Was lazy again. Look like a hideous sea witch. Slight build up of dough like substance on scalp. Can I actually go to school looking like this? Do I have time to have a shower before school? No, already running late. Can I wear a beanie indoors? No. Oil slick bun it is. Spend entire day attempting to avoid always- impeccably-dressed boss.


Day 7: I can't go on like this... Wash. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Human connection

I just got excited about an exchange with a stranger. A girl asked me in Estonian what bus we were on today and I answered her back, with a stupid grin on my face. Why did this make me so happy? Because Estonians NEVER talk to strangers on public transport. Notoriously known for being introverted, they are usually content in their little bubbles, avoiding all eye and body contact. Everyone choo-choo-ing on their own little track of life, either unwilling or afraid to diverge off their course. 
I find it both lonely and comforting at the same time. It is nice to be able to relax in my solitary bubble without being worried about coming off as rude or impolite, but often find myself craving this type of spontaneous human connection with strangers. 

Just for the record, once you do eventually break down the barrier and get to know Estonians, they are kind, welcoming and make great friends. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Am I doing the right thing?

As a fairly new teacher (<5 years of real experience), I often ask myself this question. Along with a bucketload of others:

Am I teaching this concept correctly?
Am I satisfying the criteria/ standard/ curriculum/ outcomes?
Am I assessing too often/ not enough?
Am I documenting enough?
How do you spell that word again?
Am I catering for student X enough?
Am I spending too much time working with my needy student Y and neglecting the rest of the class?
Why can't I seem to get through to student Z?
Am I pushing too hard/ not hard enough?
Are my expectations to high?
Am I doing enough Maths?
Am doing too much Maths?
Am I too loud?
Is my teacher voice annoying? (My husband likes to describe it as: occasionally 'shrill')
Do I let my class get too noisy?
Are the parents satisfied with me?
Am I making sense?
Do the kids understand what I'm saying at all?

Before I spiral into a blackhole of negative thoughts and self doubt, I take a moment to breathe and ask myself 2 simple questions:

1. Do my students enjoy coming to school? I think so, at least the majority of the time.

2. Am I doing the best job I can for these kids? Yes, I believe I am.






Sunday, March 12, 2017

Old soviet buildings: Linnahall

Before going out for a nice dinner with my husband, we went for a walk up the iconic 'Linnahall' in Tallinn. The old soviet city hall that was neglected after Estonian regained it's independence in 1991.  I was inspired to try a bit of personification  by Terje's writing about the Furious snow queen

Linnahall, 
It's true, you have let yourself go.
A mere shadow of your former self,
you sit there looking abandoned, neglected and unloved.
Still, yet slowly disintegrating with time.
Some think you're ugly, an eyesore in the background of a rapidly developing city. 
I think you are interesting and beautiful.
You still attract visitors on occasion,
even if it is just to drink a beer on your crumbling steps, watching the sun set over the Baltic Sea.  






There are plans of an extensive renovation in the next few years, but I like her just the way she is.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Pancake Saturday

Somehow, Saturday's have become the day when I make pancakes for my husband and I.
My attempt at being a domestic goddess, which couldn't be further from the truth.

This ritual brings back many happy childhood memories of when my Grandfather would make pancakes for my sister and I. My Grandfather had a massive sweet tooth, which did not pair well with his diabetes!  He used to make the best pancakes. Mouthfuls of sweet, crispy, buttery goodness topped with lashings of whatever topping you could think of. Usually, it was ice-cream. The pancakes were not just a weekend breakfast treat either, they were enjoyed any time of the day. When we were home sick from school with a cold, they often became our lunch, deliciously naughty.

A colleague once expressed to me " It's impossible for a child to be sad when their grandparents make them pancakes on a Sunday." It's true, there is something about this ritual that brings a sense of warmth, love and comfort.

My pancakes I make today are a slightly healthier version of my Grandfather's; protein pancakes topped with cottage cheese and berries instead of ice cream. But they still bring back the good memories.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Student-Led Conferences

Watching my Grade 3 interacting with their parents during the Student-Led Conferences today has been quite an eye opening experience!

Some of my most outgoing, brave students became quiet, shy little mice. Others are as comfortable and relaxed as can be. 
Some students become a completely different child with their parents. I find myself pondering the reasons as to why this could be. Do students feel uncomfortable mixing their school and home lives? Are the afraid they will not live up to their parents expectations? 

It puzzles me as they all have so much to be proud of. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The travel itch


I have the travel itch again. 
Niggling like a scratchy tag on a new piece of clothing. 
A need to explore unknown territory, burrowing it's way deep inside my soul. 
I wet it's appetite with a recent, fleeting weekend trip to Vilnius, now it is hungry for more. 
It eagerly awaits the long, extended summer vacation, when it will be truly set free. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Small gestures


While out with an old friend T on Saturday night, We saw a mutual acquaintance . Someone mentioned it was her birthday. Without hesitation, T went to the bar, asked if they had any candles and insisted we go to sing her happy birthday. In the moment, I admittedly felt a bit awkward because I haven't really talked to this acquaintance before. 

Yesterday, T  forwards me a message from the birthday girl. She explained that our birthday song was the only one she had received this year, since this was the first one she was living away from family. 

T reminded me that a small gesture can really make someone's day. 
She's a good person. I want to become more thoughtful, like her. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

My dear sister

Dear Sister, 
I wish I could be with you right now to help mend your broken heart. 
Instead, I am 15 000km away. 
I know our FaceTime chats are not enough.
I am sorry you are hurting. 
I am sorry I can not be there to eat naughty food with you to numb the pain.
I am sorry you always seem to pick the wrong men. 
I know you don't want to hear the 'plenty more fish in the sea' line. 
Does that line even have any value when they all seem to be sharks, circling for a taste of blood. 
Dear sister, things will get better. The pain will slowly fade into a distant memory and you will be happy again. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

My Desk


This is my school desk... No, this isn't what it looks like half way through a busy day, this is how I leave it when I go home. During the day, it is even worse. No matter how hard I try, I just can't keep it tidy and neat. I envy other teacher's desks, with their spot for everything, colour-coded order. 






Since I just finished a poetry unit with my 3rd Graders, I decided to try out a haiku poem.



My desk
Piles of teacher life. 
Post-its of unfinished lists.
Waits till tomorrow. 

On reflection, now I know why my students enjoyed writing poetry with no rules. Conforming to rules is much harder! 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Tropical vibes

Last night I went to watch some live Estonian reggae with my husband and an old friend. 'Estonian' and 'reggae' are two words not frequently  associated with each other but these guys are really great!

There is something about reggae music that makes me happy. It transports me to a sunny tropical island, complete with the coconuts and palm trees. It puts me instantly into holiday, 'hakuna matata' mode. It makes me want to dance with my eyes closed like no one is watching.

Today, it's a crisp -3°C outside. I think I'll remain here in my warm little reggae bubble all day, thank you very much!


Saturday, March 4, 2017

To be understood

As I walked into the brightly lit salon, the mixture of various synthetic smells filling the air and funky house music playing in the background, I felt nervous. I mouth felt like sandpaper, my checks felt flushed and I looked like a sweaty, jittery mess, despite the 3°C weather outside.
'Come on, you can do this,' I told myself.
'Tere! Mul on aeg kinni pandud.' I said to the cute, blonde smiling girl at the front counter.

After 2 years of taking the easy option of speaking English with my hairdressers, today I took the terrifying plunge and put my (very expensive) Estonian lessons to the test with a new hairdresser. I decided to use only Estonian for the entire 1.5 hr exchange;  the explanation of what colour and cut I wanted, the chit chat, the payment, everything. And guess what? I didn't walk out of the salon with blue and purple hair! As I strutted to the car with my sexy new do, I had this compelling urge to give myself a fist pump. I had done it! Yes, the exchange was awkward, uncomfortable and I felt like a 3 year old child with a stutter, but I was understood! And it felt amazing.

Learning this very hard language, having never learnt another language before, has given me a new appreciation and empathy for those students who come into my class with limited English language skills.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Cotton wool kids

Last night, during my Estonian language course, we were discussing the differences in childhoods around the world. Here in Estonia, children are taught to be independent from a very young age. From the age of 7, most children are travelling to school by themselves on the city public transport system. In Estonia, it is also  commonplace to see babies asleep in their prams outside a restaurant while their parents leisurely enjoy their meal inside. Things are vastly different in my country of  birth, Australia.  Most parents would never allow their young children to catch public transport alone and I suspect the sight of a a baby sleeping outside a restaurtant would evoke feelings of horror and panic in most passers-by.
Here, there is a sense of freedom, safety, trust and a lack of fear, which I find oh so refreshing.
Is Estonia a safer place than Australia? Is it something deeply ingrained in culture? Are parents simply more laid-back here? Is our fear in Australia rational or are we just raising cotton-wool kids?
Some difficult decisions to make when I  eventually have children of my own.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Mud



Some words about mud while observing on playground duty:

Our playground is a muddy mess.
Winter has said goodbye and made way for it's more annoying rainy, wet cousin; spring.
Some embrace the slippery squishiness, as happy as pigs in mud.
Others seem anxious and even afraid of it as they gingerly tiptoe through.
Every child is different.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Last minute

A split second decision, a 'why not' moment.
A colleague suggested I sign up for this challenge yesterday so here I am.
I have been thinking about blogging for a little while now... I blogged my Europe travels with my partner in 2013, however this was primarily just to keep family updated. Recently, I have been thinking about blogging for myself.
 A way to consolidate all the chaotic thoughts that fly around in my head, like bees who have had one too many coffees.
A more productive way to spend my free time rather than binge watching TV series or finding myself caught in the black hole of social media.
A way to 'Practise what I preach' in my classroom.