Dear Future Teachers

If you’re doing it for them, you’ll be fine. If you’re doing it for you, that could be problematic at a certain point, cuz they’ll know it.

Jerry Seinfeld

Dear Future Teachers,

When you walk into our school, you will see a kind woman wearing an apron at the büfe, eager to talk to children and sell them snacks for the day. You might immediately notice all of the blue everywhere: blue walls, blue floors, blue doors. You might say szia to the man at the porta and, after practicing your Hungarian numbers and muttering them under your breath a few times, you will boldly ask him for your classroom key. You will see children chasing each other, playing ninja in a circle, or running up to you with smiles. You’ll say good morning to parents who are kissing their children on the cheek as they say goodbye. You’ll see older students kissing their younger siblings on the head as they part ways, or unashamedly hugging them tight.

(Unless, that is, they are two years apart or less. In that case, they’ll ignore each other.)

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Sibling Pics – some of our favorite siblings we’ve gotten to teach over the past two years 🙂 Here’s Sára and Matyi. I love the way siblings care for each other here. 

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Dávid and Teó. Their sister just finished up a year abroad in Michigan! 

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Virág and Emese. 

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Beni and Kata. Beni was our Harry Styles for the Karinthy Gala performance. 

You will walk upstairs, past the student artwork on the walls, and enter the tanári szoba (teacher’s room). If there are two or more people there, be sure to say sziastok, the plural, casual form of hello. It’s a weird thing, having to say, basically, “hi everyone!” whenever you walk into or out of a room, but it has a cool feel to it: that one word validates everyone’s presence, and they’ll validate yours back.

On the way to your classroom, you’ll see second graders with backpacks bigger than their bodies heading toward their homerooms. First and second grade teachers facilitate breakfast, which is usually some combination of buttered bread with ham and warm milk or tea, in the ebédlő. You will sit down at your desk and pull out your napló to refresh your memory on what you’re teaching today. You will think about what warm-up games or songs will be good for the day, knowing full well you’ll be ready to improvise. Throughout the year, you’ll think back to when you started, how nervous and nitpicky you got about lessons, and how used to flexibility you are now. You’ll think about your favorite students and classes and how fortunate you are to be here.

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Let’s pause for a second before this gets too cheesy: you WILL also think about your difficult classes, and you WILL think about your difficult students, and you will know that the day ahead, if only five or six hours long, has the chance to wreck you.

From 8 AM until 1 or 2 PM, five classes of sixteen students will filter in and out of your room. You will say “good morning” to them and listen as they repeat it back to you in unison. During the first lesson, you’ll have energy; if you’re a coffee drinker, bring it. You’ll be sipping coffee, laughing with your students, and feeling like there’s no higher calling in the world. The middle lessons may feel like a blur, but during your final lesson, the clock will painstakingly slow down, as if the hands are caught on some goop, as lunchtime approaches. You’ll try and have patience, but at times, you will fail. That’s ok; nobody is perfect. Just don’t beat yourself up about it. Sometimes students are moody and sometimes they’re straight up difficult. Do you see that self-interested student in the back left corner of the classroom who keeps talking over you? It’s his world; you’re just living in it.

Take some time to go outside during the breaks. The new, colorful turf is incredible and it’s fun to watch students chase each other. There isn’t a real playground, per se, but there is a basketball court, and students seem to make up games that involve chasing each other or punting things at the net of the football pitch. Some girls just chuck balls at each other, which just means they’re getting out that energy they could be using in your classroom, so count it as a blessing. It’s all pretty cool to watch. Students will probably say hi to you. Don’t be afraid to say hi back, and say their names. To a kid, their first name is the most beautiful sound in the world. Use it.

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At lunch you’ll bypass the line and grab a tray. It’s likely you’ll see one of your classes lined up with their red trays, getting ready to be served. You may have just finished teaching them, but the younger groups will still say hi to you like it’s been a week since you saw them. Margit, the woman behind the counter, will pretty much force you to take an apple, or whatever the fruit is, so don’t fight her on it. She’ll scoop you a nice portion of soup and fill your plate generously. Make sure you say köszönöm szépen (thank you very much) and smile as she says egeség with a deep, raspy voice. That means “to your health.” If you look closely, you might be able to make out a bashful wink. She’ll love you.

If other teachers are at your table, they’ll say jó etvágyat, which means good appetite. That’s a good phrase to know and to say whenever you encounter someone who is about to eat something. You think I’m kidding, but I’m absolutely serious. That’s just another thing Hungarians do, and I’ve come to love it. You will too.

If you’re like me, and a lot of teachers in our program, you’re not a “real teacher;” you don’t have your teaching certificate or you didn’t study it in college. Forget about that. Own what you do and love it. Treat your classroom like your kingdom and treat every lesson you teach like it’s a gift you’re giving your students. Prepare well for your lessons and care about these kids. These kids have real hurts and pains and they need to know that someone loves them unconditionally. Try and be creative, even if creativity isn’t your “strong suit.” Learn to find something to laugh about during every lesson even—and, perhaps, especially—if it’s you. Those who have learned to laugh at themselves are the ones who are truly winning in this life.

Understand that everything in your life—every experience, every triumph, every heartbreak, every failure—has prepared you precisely for this week, this day, this moment.

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Take pictures and videos, teach secret handshakes, and don’t forget to learn something every day. Let that kid try his Arnold Schwarzenegger impression, for crying out loud, but do try and find the balance between ‘fun’ and ‘discipline,’ a daunting task. Let these kids teach and inspire you. Be insanely open and direct when you have a problem, because that’s the Hungarian way. None of this American “beat around the bush and when I say ‘OK’ or ‘maybe’ I really mean ‘no’” business – say what you need to say, like John Mayer told you over and over and over and over and over and over again.

Some days will be rough, some days will be stressful, and it definitely won’t be fun all the time. You’ll learn to find new definitions for words like normal, better, and worse. You’ll leave school feeling filled some days, and completely drained often. You’ll feel like you are spinning your tires in certain lessons, and want to pull your hair out in others. You aren’t alone in this. Press on.

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Ági and Gabi, Our bosses and Hungarian moms. So thankful for them. 

In this moment, I am so jealous of you. You have so much to look forward to. If you let it, this could be one of the best experiences of your entire life.

When you walk into our school, you will find imperfect, broken people doing their best. They speak a different language and are soaked in a different culture than what you’re probably used to, but guess what? They’re just like you. They’re happy you’re here. Embrace it.

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6 Comments on “Dear Future Teachers

  1. Beautiful post! Sounds like you guys really made an impact in your community over there. Very cool.

    Like

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