My Own Little Embassy

2010 September 16
by Ryan

Well, I am sitting at my two star hotel breakfast table in Frankfurt
sipping my Kamile tee (chamomile tea) while I enjoy a vacation from my
new job. I’ve worked for a full three weeks (part time), and then
I’ve taken a two week vacation in Western Europe. Let me tell
you—it’s a hard life I’ve been leading. But anyway, many of you had
questions about my new “job” at the international school, so I thought
I’d write this blog about my job before I tell you more about Moscow
or Frankfurt.
So, if you read my previous blogs you’ll know that although the
school interviewed me (and said they wanted to hire me ) for a high
school English teaching position, but the position fell through at the
last minute when a teacher changed her mind about taking over the PE
position. They assured me they could keep me quite busy substituting
(if I wanted to be), and they really weren’t kidding. They called me
the next day and asked if I’d like to substitute for the band
director’s assistant (which was actually a vacancy). The HR lady
said, “You know, you said you were musical.” Indeed, I did tell them I
played piano and sang occasionally. I reminded her that I did not
play any other instruments or conduct or anything of the sort. She
said that was fine. So, I reported to the school the day before the
students arrived, met the band director, and started my job at helping
her with everything imaginable. What does a band director need help
with? Everything. It’s a crazy job (band director, that is) that I
would never, ever want even if I did know how to play a clarinet.
But, my job is a “fun” and fairly rewarding position. First of all,
it’s only part time. Rather than going in everyday for part of the
day, I only go every other day. The schedule is a bit complicated at
the school, but if you’re familiar with an alternating A/B or 1/2 day
high school schedule, it’s similar. So I only go on “A” days, which
usually means M, W, F one week, and Tues/Thurs the following week.
This is actually what really sold me on the position. It allows me a
bit of time off while I’m still adjusting to life in Moscow, and
eventually, I’d like to start taking regular substitute jobs on the
off days (not only for extra $$, but also to get a taste of regular
classroom environments at the school). And finally, should an English
teaching position become available during this school year, they said
they’re no problem with me switching contracts in the middle of the
year, and in fact, that happens fairly frequently at the school. Good
to know…
The band director is a friendly, energetic, and very gifted woman
originally from Lancaster, PA. Her husband teaches elementary art at
the school, and they have a son in the 4th grade. They’ve only been
in Moscow one year, so she is quite sympathetic to my general
bewilderment. Even though I’m not a band person, I can be helpful in
a variety of capacities. She has five classes, and all five are
different age groups: 6th grade band, 7th grade band, 8th grade band,
high school band, and then a random guitar class. The days I’m with
her she teaches 6th and 7th (the ones she can really use my help
herding around) and high school. The off days for me are her easier
days with more planning time. She’s really trying to build what was
(she said) a fairly weak band program (obviously there is no American
football team at the school). But, due to her recruiting of last
year’s 5th graders, we’ve got over 60 6th graders who are brand new to
band. Joy. She actually worked something out with their other
elective teachers so that we have half of the 6th graders for half of
the 80 minute period, and they switch and we get the other group.
It’s complicated to explain (again, the complicated schedule), but the
idea was that it would be better to have them in band class more
frequently for a shorter amount of time in these beginning years—even
when they learn to play a few notes, their lips won’t be ready for an
hour of rehearsal yet. So yes…good idea…or so she thought, but this
means that in 160 minutes, we’ve seen 4 (still large) groups of 6th
and 7th graders (with no bells to help us with class changes). And
considering we had to spend the first two weeks screening all 60 plus
6th graders for choosing an instrument (and then sold and/or rented
instrument of choice to them…converting dollars to rubles and vice
versa)….well…let’s just say that I’ve come home absolutely worn out
every day that I’ve worked. The 6th graders are beginning to grow on
me a bit more—they are quite malleable and even the really wild,
chatty group is starting to shape up, but my first impression was a
deep urge to run as far away as possible in the other direction.
I really do love the school. I think I’d have a smashing time
teaching high school English there (and my classes would stay around
18 kids!). This band deal really breaks the mold of a normal teaching
position, but I guess I am learning a good bit. I didn’t realize that
there were different reeds for nearly every woodwind, or how often one
must replace them. (It’s funny when a clueless 6th grader asks me if
his reed is clamped on right, and I say, “Sure—looks good to me…but
maybe you should ask Mrs. W_____, just to check.” A lot of my job is
more organizational/secretarial—I make lots of charts of instrument
inventory,etc. These are not always my strongest skills, but I
suppose it’s good to get some practice without having to worry about
other things (like being observed by crazy supervisors who have a
vendetta against certain works of Shakespeare, namely, the more
interesting ones, for no apparent reason). All the faculty and
administrators I’ve met are really lovely, approachable people, and
even though it’s K-12 and one of the larger international schools,
it’s still pretty small and intimate. People remember your name.
I’ve discovered a number major perks to being employed at the school,
even if I don’t yet have my dream job. First and foremost in my list
of needs: the food. The cafeteria at the school is WONDERFUL and
open all day and into the evening. It is quite possibly the best food
I’ve had in Russia (this isn’t saying much, but still) and it’s by far
the cheapest. I can get a large hot meal, a salad, a drink, and
dessert for about $4.00. That’s a good deal anywhere, but do you
realize that that even a modest meal out in Russia is going to cost
you $20.00 at minimum? Groceries are expensive (and sometimes of
dubious quality) as well…so….even if I don’t make much money right
now, I know I’m saving considerably on food. I can grab
breakfast/snack in the morning….tea/fancy coffee drinks/snacks all
day….after school you can literally get a full meal (I’m not!), but
what a good idea for these kids who have sports practice until late,
right? They’ve got a healthy after-school snack right there. You can
even get take out boxes and take home a pizza or chicken curry for
your dinner…..or, if you have a late evening there (like, a band
concert), you can just eat dinner there. Parents are welcome to eat
there as well, and they often do. It’s much more of a community
cafeteria, and that’s sort of nice, on many levels.
As I was relishing my lunch and praising the wonders of the quality
and pricing, several teachers warned me, “Be careful, or you’ll gain
15+ pounds like I did last year.” Ha ha—but, they let me know that
there’s a nice workout room that teachers can use, and there’s even a
trainer guy that does group sessions for teachers every day from 4-5pm
(or, as we now say, 1600-1700). I swear I’m going to start going when
I get back. Really.
My commute to/from school has become a comfortable, worry free ordeal
for me now. I’ve got the metro trek down to a science, and some
mornings I’m able to make the whole process (door to door)in as few as
40 minutes. (Remember that we live in the southern part of the city,
and the school is in the northwestern outskirts). I’m even relaxed
enough to start reading on the long part of the metro ride. The
shuttles that take me from the metro station to the school (and vice
versa in the PM) are frequent, punctual, safely driven, and free. I
am absolutely convinced there is no way I could drive there in much
less time, especially in the afternoons—especially in snow and
negative temperatures. As a result, I think I’m going to become a
full time public transportation commuter. I’ve always liked this
idea, and now for once it’s truly practical. The school does not pay
for the metro, but it’s so cheap compared to the DC metro (like a $1 a
ride), I’m not concerned at all. Actually, I think we’ve decided I
should go ahead and buy the year fare card—it’s about $350 or so, but
(as its title indicates), gives you unlimited metro rides for an
entire year. That’s a pretty great deal. Ryan already has one.
Another perk is that (supposedly) Russian classes for faculty will
start soon (these are optional of course)….either in the morning or
afternoon. I’m really hoping for some afternoon sessions, because I
already have to get up really early to get to school by 7:50—7:30 is
pushing it for me. But, either way, this is great because the classes
offered at the embassy are during the day when I’m working…not to
mention, they are inconveniently at the embassy, which is neither
where I live nor where I work. I mentioned that the school in many
ways is like “its own little embassy,” and someone said that they
really think of it in that way, and the folks who live in Pokrovsky
Hills (the residential community with the beautiful town homes right
by the school) really use it like one. So yes—the school has
everything I need and, unlike the embassy, I feel like and am treated
like I belong there.
After just a few days of “helping,” the band director decided she
would love to officially offer me the official contractual position of
teaching assistant (apparently I’m quite good at making copies after
years of practice), so they school is kindly making it out to start
Sept. 28th through the end of the year. This allowed me to still take
my lovely vacay in Germany without concern of time off.  The
contract is good because being a real TA pays much more than
substituting as the TA, but it does not pay that much more than a
regular teacher substitute job (in fact, I figured out it only pays
about $5 more dollars a day). But, it’s more consistent and
potentially more interesting/helpful/productive. And I get to listen
to 7th graders practice “Can Santa Can Can,” which, right now, is
sounding more like “Can Santa Honk Honk.” Beautiful.

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