Sunday, September 23, 2007

School Beginnings, Quick Update

It's been a while since I've posted, but I’ve been waiting for something exciting to say. Unfortunately, not much exciting has happened. I’m back in Belgrade, my fourth year of teaching here. We’ve welcomed new teachers, who have filled positions of those who have left, as well as starting new positions such as a Spanish teacher for grades 2-5. This year I will be focusing mainly on the lower school - from age 3 to grade 5. I’m hoping that this will allow me to work more closely with the teachers, modeling integrative technology lessons and providing needed professional development in the area of technology. This in itself is a lot of work, but of course I’ve been asked to do more than that (or I just do it because it needs to get done). Our technician is overwhelmed with all the tasks placed in front of him, so I pitch in when I can. Now I’ve also been asked to create the booklet that will be given to prospective and new parents. It will involve taking photos (and editing them), asking people to write content, the design, and organizing it all. I’m not quire sure when I’ll get it all done.

Our school is now about 360 students - shy of the 380 projected and upon what the budget was based. Now the new director has to deal with how to make up the monetary shortfall, particularly if enrollment does not increase. The staff is adamant about no one losing their jobs, particularly the custodial workers who get paid so low and yet whose families are dependent on that salary. I hope it works out in a way that doesn’t strongly impact anyone.

My computer lab was made larger over the summer, with the accordion curtain removed, as much of the framing wall removed (part is a support beam) and now occupying what was the age 3 room. The extra space is welcomed. There is now freedom of movement, no one has to turn their bodies completely to see the demonstration screen, and the room is less hot. I placed a small round table in one spot for use by those who need to do book research, paperwork, teacher consultation, etc. We also have a presenter’s desk, whose laptop is connected to the LCD projector for demonstrations. I am waiting for a small “office” to be created in the back side, where I can retreat when I need to concentrate and do other stuff. It should be nice when its finished.

Just as in other years, we have students who come knowing not a word of English. It’s nice to see how some of the students immediately befriend these scared or overwhelmed kids. In a few months, some of them will be speaking a fair amount of English and understanding what is being said. Of those, a few will be quite fluent, particularly in conversational English. At the lower school alone (where the largest percentage of non-English speakers are), there are three teachers who work with these students.

In Belgrade, construction continues to happen. Roads are being repaired, a bridge is set to be worked on (which will cause a GREAT impact on the traffic), and more modern business buildings are replacing old ones. In the newer flat area of New Belgrade, large supermarket and electronic stores are being built. In my neighborhood of Senjak, additional cafés are sprouting up and sadly, older homes with the typical terra cotta tiled roofs and large hooded chimneys are being torn down. In their place, larger modern apartment buildings are being constructed, contrasting in style to the older architecture of Senjak, one of the older residential parts of Belgrade.

Politically, I don’t hear much going on. The Kosovo situation has not been settled yet. Hopefully an agreement will be made soon that satisfies all sides. Regional instability could occur if things aren’t handled correctly. Hopefully with a peaceful agreement, Serbia can concentrate again on attracting foreign businesses, which provides jobs, additional needed students at our school, etc.

Personally, school has occupied most of my time and thoughts. I also am beginning an online class - 2 credit graduate course from UW Stout. Although I prefer in-person classes, this will have to do, considering the time frame and distance factor. This past Thursday I began oboe lessons, an instrument that I’ve wanted to learn how to play for many years. Indeed, the double-reed instrument is much more finicky and difficult than something like a clarinet. Hopefully between that and a bit of drawing, I can move my mind away from school for a bit during the day (particularly weekends when I have more time). I also try to go on a walk for a couple of times after supper during the week, but that doesn’t always happen, considering the number of meetings I have at school and the amount of schoolwork.

Early Fall in Belgrade

As I went for a walk this morning, the fall sun performed its magic, pleasantly warming those that entered into its rays. The blue sky made the red flowers seem as if they were on fire. In the historical Topčider park, the shade of the old trees shaded out the warmth of the sun. People were walking their dogs, jogging, or walking at a slow, amiable pace. Others sat on one of the many benches, enjoying the surroundings and watching passersby.

Along the worn gravel or stone slab paths, a few fallen leaves began to gather, the first of the season. Most were a light brown, while others were more ochre in color. Chestnuts dotted the grounds, fallen from the tall chestnut trees that line many of the roads in Senjak. Those trees are the first to drop their leaves, but the color is unimpressive, changing immediately from green to brown, then dropping to the ground.

Framing the doorframe of the park’s larger gazebos were narrow bunches of white flowers, the remnants of a recent wedding. White flowers adorned the arched entrance of the park restaurant, likely the spot where a reception was held afterwards. Elsewhere, three narrow, but 2-storey buildings were being constructed in a hasty manner. The wooden materials - unusual for Serbia - and construction manner made me conclude that this was the set for some movie.
Moving onward, I crossed the road into the smaller section of the park. After passing by a small fountain, some benches, and a spring water tap (were people could fill up bottles), I was now on the edge of one of the forests in the region. The deep toll of the bells were heard, beckoning people to come to the small church. One old man in a full suit passed me, perhaps late for the service.

Once in the “business” district, I noted the number of cafés and banks so close to each other. Buildings were being remodeled and modernized. Nearer to my apartment, more large modern-style apartments were being built, also overlooking the hippodrome. I wonder what those flats will cost. Some were built on empty lots, while others have replaced old quaint homes with the hooded chimneys. Indeed, Senjak has changed even in the 4 years I’ve been here.