The Sounds of the Classroom

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When I was struggling during my first year of teaching, a coworker advised me that at some point I would “hit my stride.”  I wouldn’t anxiously anticipate whether the lesson would be a disaster or not.  I would know what to expect.

Knock on wood, I think I have hit my stride.

After 1.5 years in the classroom, I am painfully aware that I am still a beginner teacher.  Had I landed a job in an affluent school district teaching middle school math and social studies three years ago, I might be more confident right now.  However, I would not have challenged myself, and I would have missed out on some important, if painful, life lessons.

Instead, I taught remedial reading for a year in a high-poverty urban high school.  I took a year off from teaching to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA.  Now, midway through the school year in Hungary, I know roughly what to expect from each of my 24 different groups of students.  For instance, one group of ninth graders will inevitably take twice as much time to complete an assignment as the other.

Nevertheless, students are filled with surprises.  Some things they say make me smile, others make me cringe, and others blow me away with their intelligence and creativity.

For example:

A sixth grade student during a superheroes lesson: “I want x-ray vision so I can look through girls shirts.” (They grow up far too young.)

During the same lesson: “Orbán Viktor lies, steals, and gets the country into debt.” (Orbán Viktor is the Hungarian Prime Minister.  I had no idea that a lesson about superheroes could turn political, especially with sixth grade.)

An earnest twelfth grade student: “Ms. Rebman, where do I write my magic number?” (They were playing the elementary school classic MASH to predict a classmate’s future.)

An eleventh grade boy: “Ms. Rebman, you can’t marry Brad Pitt!  You’re already married!” (Subtext: He wishes I were single.  About half of my eleventh grade boys have a crush on me, which both amuses me and makes me feel uncomfortable.)


A second grade girl telling me what items she is selling in her store: “Bikini, lip gloss, Lady Gaga and Rihanna t-shirt, and shoes.” (Again, they grow up too young.)

A fourth grade boy: “Ms. Rebman, in Sims II, a robber took everything from my house.  He stole the TV and the bed.” (I helped him with the words robber and stole.) “Then the police killed the robber!”

Another fourth grader: “Ms. Rebman, can I have my own piece of paper?”

Me: “Atti, It is important to work with Bence. I’m excited to see the menu that you two make.”

Atti: “I want pizza cream.  Bence doesn’t want pizza cream.  I will make my own menu.”

Me: “Bence, why don’t you let Atti serve pizza cream for lunch.  Atti, Bence gets to decide what you serve for dinner.”

The boys looked at each other, nodded, and worked together happily for the rest of the period.  I have no idea what the hell pizza cream is.

An adorable first grader: “Anyám azt mondja, hogy nem tudod a magyar!” At least, I think that’s what he said.  The translation is: “My mom says that you don’t know Hungarian!”  I love that he said this to me in Hungarian.  The youngest students really struggle with the fact that I don’t know their language.  They assume that if they can speak it, then everyone else can, too.

Kindergartners at the end of class: “Szia, Mickey!  Szia, angol néni!” (Good bye, Mickey!  Good bye, English aunt!”

Sometimes I am surprised at the things I say.

Me, modeling how to play MASH: “Maybe I’ll marry Justin Bieber, have 50 kids, and live on Pluto.”

Me, walking into a lesson with class 13: “Zoli, put on your pants!”

Me, also with class 13: “Daniel, you have to wash the crayon off your desk before you may leave the classroom.”

Me to class 10: “Boys!  Stop drawing on each other’s faces with crayon and finish your flag!”

My classroom is often filled with laughter.  Occasionally it devolves into shouting and chaos.  Sometimes a hush falls over the room, and the only sound is the scratching of colored pencils as first graders color their farms, or the tap-tap-tap of pens as high school students cross off MASH boxes to predict their classmates’ futures.

My own farm artwork

Teaching is a dynamic, challenging, and exhausting profession.  At the end of the week, I just want to curl up on the couch with a  cup of tea and a book.  Which is exactly what I will do this weekend because snow is falling and the temperature is hovering around 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

I feel like I’m back in Kalamazoo.

But I am looking forward to going to school on Monday and wondering what surprising things the students will say or do next week.

*I changed all students names*



Filed under Hungary, Language, Teaching

4 responses to “The Sounds of the Classroom

  1. This is a fantastic post – I’m so glad to hear you feel like you’re finally “hitting your stride.” Hang in there.

  2. Paul K.

    I agree, a great post. really make me feel better about my choice to teach after graduation in ’14. Was also considering AmeriCorp Vista. Can U ask how your experience with it was?

    • Thanks, Paul. AmeriCorps VISTA can be a great experience, especially if you are looking to get your feet wet in the non-profit world. VISTA is weird because it is capacity building–not direct service. You try to help the non-profit build its capacity to help people, but you don’t actually sit down and help people.

      Also, I don’t know what your current experience is, but if you want to teach after graduation, start volunteering with kids now! There are tons of after school programs that need volunteers, and every minute with kids is valuable experience.

      Good luck!

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