|USIA Fulbright Scholar in Finland|
(second letter from Ed)
Greetings from the Old World. I hope everyone there is doing well.
We just finished the first period here, so I thought I would give you an update (the school year is divided into five periods; the second period just started and will last until the first week of December).
I had four classes during the first period, two chemistry classes and two English classes. As I believe a mentioned before, the Chemistry 1 class had a little over 30 students. All in all, I think it went pretty well. I am certain that some of the students had difficulty understanding English. I did take this into account when I submitted the grades. The grading scale here is from 4-10. 4 meaning that you failed and have to retake the course. 10 being the best. I had three tens, mostly sixes and no fours. Their whole grade was determined by the one exam that they had at the end of the 8-week period. For those students who did well, I confident that they learned the material well based upon the work they showed on the test. For those who just barely passed, I'm not sure if they really learned anything.
The Chemistry 1 class is compulsory for all students. There are three other chemistry classes which are optional. The top student in the class had excellent English skills, but after that, I not sure how much of connection there was between English skills and performance in the chemistry class.
The overall classroom atmosphere was good to very good during the 8 weeks. Even though is was a large class (and somedays we were in a room where they were right on top of each other), discipline was not a big problem. That is not to say that they were perfect angels. There were those who liked to talk to their neighbor too much. After subtle hints, and then not-so-subtle hints, to be quiet were unsuccessful, I had to move a couple people to other seats. This seemed to work. About 2/3 of the students from the chemistry 1 class are now taking chemistry 2 with me this period.
The chemistry 3 class had only 7 students. Overall is was ok, but a little tougher challenge than the chemistry 1 class in spite of the smaller class size. For one thing, I hadn't taught several of the topics in a while so I had some late evenings getting ready for the next day's class. Also there was one student in the class who was somewhat of a pain in the neck. He is the one that I alluded to breifly in my last e-mail. He was the brightest in the class in terms of chemistry skills, but had the worst English skills. I think he kind of resented the inconvenience of having an English speaking teacher. During class, in spite of me saying that if he ever didn't understand my English he could just raise his hand and I would be happy to stop and let him ask a friend to translate, he would constantly ask his friend for help while I was talking. One day, I asked him to switch seats and he walked out of the room. When I gave him his test back, he threw it in the garbage. He ended up with an 8; apparently not his usual 10. Aside from him, the class was very good. They had Anne for a teacher in chemistry 1 and 2, and she obviously did an excellent job because they had no trouble recalling concepts from those courses. In this class there were two tens, two nines, one eight, one seven and one six. Actually no one was going to get a ten until I checked their previous grades from last year and I thought that maybe the 13-page exam I gave them was a bit much. As I said before, it is hard for me to know just how much more difficult it is for them now that they have to learn it in English. Just how important their course grades are anyway I am not sure of. Anne can explain this too you better than me, but from what I understand, their scores on their matriculation exams (which they take in their final year here) are much more important to them in terms of whether or not they will be accepted at a university. For example, if they get a five in all four of their chemistry classes, but then they score a 10 on their chemistry matriculation exam, I think that basically their course grades are irrelevant. Like I said, Anne can correct me if I am wrong.
The English courses were interesting. One was a course designed to teach English skills in the context of Environmental issues and the other was just a conversation course which did not have any exam. Let me just sum those up by saying that I hope their English skills haven't plummeted as a result of having me (Mr. 420 Verbal GRE score) as their teacher.
Other things………..I've been keeping a log since I have been here. Here is a sampling:
Some simple tasks become an adventure in a different language. For example, the lady at the photo shop was asking me if I wanted my pictures glossy or matte. I didn't understand her so she would point to the different types to make her point. I still didn't get it. Finally, I tried to say something in Finnish like "What would you recommend" and then I just settled for what she gave me. The pictures seemed to turn out ok.
Another computer adventure: in Microsoft Excel, when I tried to enter a command such as AVERAGE to have the software do a calculation, I then realized that I needed the Finnish words for the commands. (Average = Keskiarvo)
They give me free lunch at school!!!!! Although it's not much and I have only eaten there once so far, it is a very nice gesture on their part.
On the Express Bus to Helsinki, I noticed that if you hit the Stop button above your head, the word STOP illuminates on the front of the bus for everyone to see. I found this out when I meant to hit the Light button and I accidently hit the Stop button. I then pretended to be sleeping……..
I went to Helsinki yesterday with some other teachers on a chartered bus. We went to an educational exhibition (i.e. people were trying to sell their products). I wasn't getting much out of it so I just went to the downtown area to do some shopping. I got some gifts at Stockmann's and then I went to the harbor area to the Flea market. I found that the vendors there were hagglers just like what you would find in the States. On the way home we picked up some German students who were coming to visit Huittinen and Finland for a week. A difference between Huittinen and home is that the stores here are open for fewer hours. For the supermarkets it's generally 8:00 am or 9:00 am to 8:00 pm or 9:00 pm (M-F). Then on Saturday they probably will only be open until 6:00 at night. Everything seems to be closed on Sunday. The Post Office is not open on Saturday or Sunday. Perhaps it is different in Helsinki.
9/6 (later in the day):
I decided to see a doctor because of my eye problem (pink eye). I was happy to hear that the cost for the service (actually the cost for the entire year if I wanted to continue to go to this medical center) was 100 mk (about $20) !!!!!!!!! It wasn't crowded so the doctor saw me in a few minutes. Also, regarding the payment, I didn't have the money so they trusted that I would go to the bank tomorrow to have the money transferred to their account.
When people sneeze here, people usually do not say anything like God Bless You.
I got some mail again which I don't know what it is. I need to have someone tell me if it's important.
Some of the students interviewed me on camera today for their media class. They had followed me around with a camera a few days ago. Apparently I will be a brief segment on the local TV station in a few days.
This morning in class (during the first 45 minute period) there were constant interruptions over the loudspeaker in the classrooms. They would play music (which I could shut off) but I could not turn it off when they spoke. Apparently, the occasion was that the final year students have only 100 days left and now they were given run of the intercom for the first period. After a few times, it got to be pretty humorous because I had not been clued in to the fact that this would be happening, and I wasn't sure what was going on or what they were saying. By the end of the period, I relented and just turned on the music for the remaining 5-10 minutes.
We had a faculty meeting earlier. Obviously I couldn't understand very much, but Helena (an English teacher) was kind enough to translate most it for me. The thought occurred to me that I could use her for the BCC faculty meetings……..
The Mormons (or someone like that) came to my door again. This time they were prepared with some English speakers!
Germans came to visit school this week. They sat in on a couple of my classes. Actually, I was very impressed with their knowledge as they were answering many of the questions.
I enjoyed the birthday party yesterday (Anne's father's party). I think it is interesting to note that when there are not enough chairs for everyone at the table, it seems to be almost understood that the men will eat first (and the women seemed to do all the cooking). I think I'm going to like it here!……..One other thing, the youngest in the family (Fanny; about 6 months old) always cries when I hold her. I guess I need more practice.
I was a little late today for an exam proctoring assignment that I had. Actually I didn't even know about it. It was just a fluke that I showed up at school when I was needed. Even though I was the one who was late, people apologized to me for not letting me know.
My apartment looks like a mess now, even more so than usual because they are scheduled to change the windows in a couple days and I had to prepare the place by removing things from in front of the windows. Also, I had to remove the blinds that are in between the inner and outer windows. Fortunately, as usual, Anne's family came to the rescue to help out. Ari-Pekka and Alpo (her Dad) came and did most of the work at removing the blinds because I had to go to school to teach at night. I guess the positive side to this situation is that I can put off cleaning the house for a few more days.
Today was a little bit of a strange day at school. Before giving my exam to the Kemia 1 students, Erkki told me we needed to move all the desks into another room because the desks that were being used for testing in the gym were being moved back into the classroom where we were having the tests. All the students helped out with moving the desks and they didn't seem to mind………Satu, another teacher and principal of the night school, translated my test into Finnish for the two students who preferred to take it in Finnish.
I also found out today that my two evening school classes (English) end much sooner than I expected. For example, this is the last week of teaching and I thought we had about two or three weeks left. I told the students that the test would be in one week and they didn't seem to mind.
I worked out with Anna-Maija (stretching and lifting weights) last night. She stayed an extra 45 minutes after the regular workout to help me with stretching exercises. It was like having my own personal trainer. It is extremely nice of her to do this.
Ari-Pekka and his wife came over today to help with the cleaning up after the window repairs and also with putting the metal blinds back up. They have been so nice for so many times now that I hope I don't start to take them for granted. I definitely could not have put the blinds back up without his help.
Nobody showed up for the first environmental chemistry class today (there were only two students on the class roll)!!!
P.S. The two students did show up the next day.