Before we left Evansville to come to Pecs, most people were pretty clear on what Margaret was going to be doing – she was the Fulbright Fellow, teaching and doing research. James would be attending school and doing school-work for his teachers back home, maybe playing tennis and drums if there were places to play. My role in this adventure was a little more vague. My stock response to those who asked was that I would do client work when possible, work on a writing project (not this blog, an actual writing project) and mostly keep the family on track and organized (which is pretty time-consuming in a foreign country where we don’t speak the language). My friend Matt referred to it as a “sweet vacation.” I was thinking a little more along the lines of a sabbatical. That changed when we met with one of the schools we were considering for James and, after a few minutes of discussion about whether the school would be a good fit, the English-speaking teacher, Betti, turned to me and said, “And you’ll be teaching English for us, no?” Long story short, I’m teaching 6 English classes and 2 drama classes a week to grades 4-8 – pretty much from 7:15 am – 1:30 pm on Tuesday and Wednesdays. So two days a week, James and I go to school together (and he’s in my 8th grade classes).
The ANK is the large bi-lingual school in Pecs. It’s bi-lingual in that all of the students take some English Language classes, but there are sections of each grade where the students have at least one English class a day, meaning that there’s a pretty strong concentration on it. About a third of James’s classes are taught in English (by a Hungarian who speaks English). Math and Physics are taught in Hungarian, but James seems to be keeping up pretty well. James is exposed to Hungarian more than Margaret and me, so he’s picking it up faster. It probably helps that his brain is a bit more sponge-like than mine.
I’ve never taught English as a Second Language, and coming up with lesson plans on the fly has been a bit of a challenge (I probably spend 2 hours on prep for each class), but I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the kids and helping them with their English. Some of them are nearly fluent — the boy who is almost hidden behind the desk in the photo below is named Arthur Maximillian and he speaks with a very posh British accent from having spent several years in England. After lunch he might say, “Ah, yes, the peas were quite lovely, yeah?” In fact, most of the English speakers in Hungary speak with British accents (which makes sense, as they primarily learn it in Great Britain). The teachers have asked me to focus on speaking and listening, so we’ll be working on pronunciation, vocabulary, reading books and plays out loud, and setting up role-play exercises (buying things, talking on the phone, going to the doctor, etc…)
On the first day of class, James and I got there a bit early and we were stopped by the “receptionist,” who’s job seems to be to keep people from entering the school. She doesn’t speak any English and I couldn’t remember how to say, “I am a teacher” (it’s the title of his post, by the way). Rather than taking us somewhere to figure out where we belonged, she took us to a tiny classroom and left us. After a few minutes, James and I snuck out and eventually found the person who could tell us where to go.