We had an In Service Training last week, and it may be my favorite educational IST of all time. Usually I’m vehemently anti teacher trainings. The thing they did right was to give us enough time to just talk about our experiences and compare notes without necessarily forcing them into the paradigm de jour. It certainly didn’t hurt that they put us up in a nice hotel with good food, either. It’s also easier to be charitable with presenters one already knows, and they had volunteers lead several of the sessions. There was a good “we’re all in this together” quality to it.
My father is right that when I try to go into details about educational things I’m usually no fun to read, talk to, or even be around. There’s something unpleasant that happens in taking a deeply ingrained, complex, implicit skill that’s bound up with personal identity, such as reading or writing, and making it explicit. It doesn’t happen so much with weaker skills like art or website making, unless it becomes completely overloaded with meaning, like my lesson plans did in college. In that case, it’s usually because I’m working at the edge of my own understanding, so that I can hardly communicate what I mean to anybody, in any form, and it completely disintegrates when I have to try hammering at it day after day, as one does in the classroom.
Language is a difficult subject to get a grip on, at least of me — both to learn and to teach. You’ve got some bit of text that’s easy to read and clear. For instance: “Tino Martinoli works every day at his father’s restaurant. He’s very friendly and smiles at all the customers. Tino’s friends often come and see him at the restaurant. They usually talk about sports. At the moment Tino is playing tennis with Jeta and he’s losing.” So you read it, try to understand it — the words, the grammar, the meaning of the whole. Then, if you’re me, you should probably write or say a little introduction to someone else, perhaps a friend or family member, with a similar structure, so you can rely on the patterns you just read, and also express something about yourself and those you know. But composition is its own skill, and needs a lot of time to teach. If I don’t have a strategy ready, or if I’m not willing to fight for that time and space, inertia will have us rolling through the chapter, altering tenses here, choosing pronouns there. There’s nothing wrong with any of that stuff. It’s just boring and a rather poor use of class time. Those are the exercises I skip when I’m studying Shqip, but we spend most of our class time on it. Because it’s easy to manage, and when you’re teaching 40 minute classes at 7 different grade levels easy is important. We can’t do anything that relies on me remembering and communicating a complex plan that changes from one class to the next.
I’m actually beginning to appreciate some of the things they teach in Education courses in the US, even if I haven’t managed to use many of them yet. Objectives, for instance. It’s all very well, if you know that everyone is a good reader, and will get something out of the text simply by running their eyes over the page, to go ahead and let things take their course — but if you’ve got limited time and words or grammar, if uncaught, will disappear into an irretrievable void, it’s better to have some idea what everyone’s supposed to know, and how you’re going to know that they know. Especially in language, where it’s extremely difficult to express what you know or don’t know out of context. Where the question isn’t so much what you know about your subject, as what you can express through it.
It’s been drizzling rain for the past two weeks, so it’s cloudy, misty, and dark all day, then the sun disappears behind the mountain at about 3:30. We have tinted windows, so even though school ends at noon, I haven’t been experiencing much in the way of visible daylight.
Decani monastery’s feast day was a couple of weeks ago, commemorating their founder, King Stefan, and I got to stay there for vigil and Liturgy. It’s one of the best known Serbian Orthodox monasteries, and they had around 1,000 visitors there to celebrate. I stayed in a gable room of the Patriarchate of Pec, about 45 minutes away, with some Serbian ladies. It’s also a very beautiful medieval monastery, with an interesting church layout, where three churches were built side by side, and later connected with a single narthex. Like Georgians, medieval Serbians built tall, solid stone churches, which means that many of the folks with no liturgical role end up standing behind a pillar for most of the service, getting jostled by people trying to get by. They are not so enthusiastic about mounds of little candles, though, which caught down on the milling and dodging somewhat.
A vigil is a combination of vespers, midnight hours, and matins, which in this case had an additional section where we all flowed into the (fortunately rather spacious) narthex to chant and await the Serbian patriarch for 20 minutes or so. It’s also a service where I stand behind a pillar for 3 hours looking at the feet of an unknown saint, listing to lovely and unintelligible chanting, and try to remember God. They’re beautiful, full of incense, candles, shadows, and mystery. They’re also difficult.