The second day of school was my first day to have actual classes with students, and I was pretty excited. This was a college prep high school which included 4 grades numbered 1 – 4. The younger students were 14-15 years old and the oldest were 18-19. I was 22.
I arrived to school at 7:30 a.m. as practically the first teacher there. Classes started at 8:00. I received my schedule from the teacher I later named Plan Man. I was happy to see that I had Fridays off as a courtesy to me as a foreign teacher who might want to travel on the weekend. I had a full-time Polish teacher’s schedule of about 20 hours (full-time is 18-24 teaching hours). I had every group from all grades once a week and the seniors twice a week. Unfortunately, I also had a Polish teacher’s salary. My salary for the whole year plus the 13th salary bonus still did not cover the cost of my plane ticket to get to Poland. Oh well.
That morning, I learned that I would not have a permanent classroom. I would have a different classroom for practically every lesson, requiring me to return to the head cleaning lady aka “mother of the school” to show her my schedule and get a key. Sometimes the key had gone missing and I couldn’t have a lesson. Other times, we opened the door to the room to discover there were no desks or no chairs or both.
I got my key and began searching the enormous old German school building for my classroom. I entered, prepared myself and waited for the students to arrive. As it turns out, teachers often congregate in the staff lounge until the bell rings at 8:00, so they thought that I was absent and sent someone to check if I was there. The students filed in. It was the 1st grade of high school before the most recent reforms so that would translate to American 9th grade. The students stood at their desks, wished me a “Good morning” in unison and continued to stand even as I sat myself down. I stood up and told them that they may be seated indicating with my hands. My hands were going to get a real work-out this school year.
I had written on the white board (which had “fuck” written in permanent marker in the bottom corner) :
What is your name?
My name is …
I am ….. years old.
I told them my name and how old I was and proceeded to ask each and every student the same questions, one by one.
What is your name? My name is Łukasz.
How old are you? I am 14 years old.
What is your name? My name is Agnieszka.
How old are you? I am 14 years old.
What is your name? My name is Agnieszka. (It’s a popular name)
How old are you? I am 15 years old.
And so on and so on for about 30 students. I walked around the room and pointed to students at random asking them their names and ages and tried to run through everybody’s name aloud as a new name/face was added to the list. It was really difficult as all these foreign names were completely new to me and this was just the first names. When I couldn’t remember somebody’s name I asked again, What is your name? and got back My name is… Pretty simply, you’d think.
It was all running smoothly until I got to the last girl. She was agitated and bright red throughout the whole lesson. Maybe that’s why I saved her for last. I asked her, “What’s your name?” Her response was nothing but a big smile and nervous laughter. I asked her again adding that my name was Chris. Nothing. Ok, third times a charm so I dared ask again to which I got a scream of “Nie wiem” as she burst into tears. Then the bell rang literally one second later. I think we both appreciated being saved by the bell.
The class cleared out, and I took my things and the key and locked up. I went to the teacher’s lounge kind of shell shocked and wondering how I was going to do this for one whole year.