Wednesday, September 25, 2013


On the way home from school this evening, I told Jim that this job is turning into the easiest teaching job I’ve ever had.  Coming from an elementary experience where I was responsible for 6-8 lessons a day, 5 times a week, I feel like I’m being spoiled in a high school setting where I teach six different groups of 11th grade students for 80 minutes three times a week – what, three lesson plans and I’m done for the week?  Really?

Jim’s schedule is more strenuous than mine – he meets with eight groups of students, on two different grade levels, so he has to do at least six lesson plans a week.  Plus, his teachers change their minds more often than mine do – so he has to be flexible (see the Jello post). 

We both work as twice-monthly counselors with an assigned group of students, and I’m working with two elementary classes as well.  And then there’s the staff development – I’m working on a literacy team, and Jim is working on a team to help teachers take advantage of moments during lessons where we can document student understanding, rather than just handing students a quiz every lesson.

But the best part of this job is working with these students.  Granted, this is a school for the elite, but these students are so well-behaved, so polite, so dedicated to their school work that I am amazed.  They use their time well, they keep each other concentrating on their work, and they want to do well.  It’s a great atmosphere.

Of course, they’re still kids.  And they make me laugh.  Daniel, who is a bit reluctant to speak in English, finally joined in at the end of class the other day.  I asked for a show of hands to see who had spoken at least three times in English, and Daniel’s hand shot up.  “I spoke three times in English!” he repeated.  We all laughed  - it was the first thing he had said in English during the whole class!  He’s doing better, with encouragement.

So we’re happy, and we have good people to work with, good students to teach, and we’re making good friends.  Life is good, even on the far side of the world. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013


Carved in Jell-O???

A friend in Tonga used to counsel me to remain flexible, because things could change at a moment’s notice.  “Things aren’t carved in stone here,” he’d say, “they’re written in Jell-O!”  Considering the average temperatures in the South Pacific Islands, I loved the mental image of messages written in Jell-O and then being eaten!  It was so fitting; meetings scheduled a week or more in advance were cancelled, others were scheduled with just an hour’s notice.  Everyone was used to it, no one got upset (except the Pa’alangis, until we accepted the fact that we weren’t going to change THAT habit of Tongans).

Well, Jell-O has found its way to Kazakhstan.  Given that we live in a global village, I guess that shouldn’t be too surprising, but I really thought that given the history of this country, the administrative style of a school would be highly structured and authoritative.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.  The principal here, who speaks very little English, greets me with a smile every day.  She took about 5 pages of notes when I gave a 15-minute collegial training after school this past Wednesday.  (It was mostly about letting kids draw pictures to go with their vocabulary words, to help them remember the word better.)  My co-teachers are marvelous – all proficient teachers in their own right, but willing to listen to new ideas and try new approaches.  And because of their openness, schedules are heavy, obligations are strong, and meetings are frequent – and can turn on a dime. So here, too, everything is written in Jell-O.

For example, this week we should have taught about 24 hours of classes.  I think I taught 12, because students were obligated for baseline assessments (a test that can show what they already know).  But I didn’t know about the students being tested until I was physically in the room.  Oh well, it’s time to be flexible!

I am also supposed to plan with 7 other teachers, so that we are all teaching the same skill and lesson objective during the same week.  Well, we met today and figured out a project that would start next Monday and last for two weeks, and then at the very end of our meeting, one teacher said she had to wait two weeks – more Jell-O!  The rest of us will go ahead without her.

Other things which seem capricious have taken me by surprise, but in a good way.  I did jump out of my chair here at my desk at home the other night, when someone set off about 30 firecrackers in the parking lot just outside my window.  Some really nice screamers and spinners – and then we laughed because all the car alarms started up.  I had never been that close to fireworks before – LOUD.  The empty box of rocket casings was still on the ground the next morning – I guess the box was too hot to handle right after the rockets went off!  We’ve had fireworks about four times in the four weeks we’ve been here – weekend, weeknight, doesn’t matter – just when someone feels good.  Jell-O.


Walt Disney’s “Mickey and the Beanstalk” has a scene in which Goofy dives into a plate of Jell-O and just enjoys himself.  I have decided that’s a good lesson for me.  Just hold my breath, dive in, and enjoy the flavors!  Save some Jell-O for me!

Friday, September 6, 2013


The first night we spent in Kazakhstan, Jim and I sat down on the edge of our bed and looked at each other in horror – the bed was rock-hard.  Seriously.  Think dining room chair seat with a sponge on top.  Though we didn’t say it that night, both of us feared that we would be on a return flight to the US within a few days.

You see, Jim’s got back issues, including deteriorating disks and arthritis.  For the last fifteen years, he has sought out softer and softer mattresses, and has even slept on half-inflated air mattresses, in order to get the rest he needs.  And now we were expected to sleep on a really hard bed?  Might as well ask him to sleep on the floor – a definite no-go.

Except that has not turned out to be the case.  On our third day in Kazakhstan, Jim agreed to go for a walk, and we toured the park near our hotel (see the blog with the memorial, " A Capital Place" dated August 19th).  We came back, climbed the stairs to our hotel, and he didn’t need any extra pain pills.

A day later we walked probably a total of 2 miles.  And on ONE pain pill.

Since then, we  have walked to and from school (takes about 20 minutes), climbed up and down 4½ flights of stairs to our apartment, and climbed the three stories at school, all on a maximum of two pain pills a day, not four to six, as was needed in the past. Is it just a hard bed?  We don't think so.  

We have acknowledged the hand of God in getting us this job – the circumstances of “just happening” to notice an invitation in LinkedIn, the ease of emailing a resumé and participating in a phone interview, and the fact that our assignment matches exactly the duties of our voluntary missionary service in Tonga – too many “coincidences” to be coincidence.  We know the Lord led us here.  But we didn’t expect the gift of healing. Jim has had fewer issues since we arrived here than he has had in perhaps ten years.  It’s like he has a personal angel lifting his legs and supporting his back, as if he's a marionette. He’s not totally healed – we don’t need that.  And we credit the bed, but it can't be just the bed.  He’s healed enough to be able to do this job, and we are grateful. 

We know we are in the right place.  We have been blessed in order to fulfill our responsibilities.   My wish for you is that you will notice the hand of the Lord in your own life. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013


The first of September is the first day of school, no matter what, here in K-stan.  So, Sunday morning we had a wonderful "welcome everyone" ceremony called First Bell, then a couple hours of assemblies and classes led by the school counselors, before winding down for the day.   Here is a slide show of some of the students and families performing at the ceremony, and the ringing of the "first bell."  Enjoy.