Reflections: First Bell

Today was the “first bell” (перший дзвінок) ceremony at schools all across Ukraine. Quite similar to last bell (see this post), first bell gathers all pupils and teachers to open the school year and welcome the first-formers to school. As the school year begins — and with it my second full semester teaching English in Ukraine — I offer you the following thoughts, in no particular order:

–> “Школа і церква” (“shkola i tserkva” = “school and church”): the Greek Catholic priest repeated this phrase multiple times during his speech at the first bell ceremony (it’s normal/expected for the priests to be present at big school ceremonies and they always give a little speech/blessing). His present to the school was a bible. This is one aspect of Ukrainian culture that I don’t think I’ll ever get used to — it actually freaked me out a little, listening to him repeat “school and church.” It made me think of separation of church and state and how glad I am that it exists in the U.S. (and how it should stay that way). But in a country such as this there is almost no separation — my school is not a religious school (like America’s Catholic or Jesuit schools) but rather it’s expected that each classroom has an icon, and the pupils take “Christian etiquette” classes (I have no idea what those entail). I respect and appreciate religion of all kinds, but why does it need to be brought into schools and governments?

–> Babies are really cute. I had a nice lunch with my colleagues, Diana Dmetrivna and Yulia Vasylivna, after first bell. Yulia has a 5-month-old, Sophia, who is adorable and very well-behaved. My counterpart, Halya, had her baby a week and a half ago but he’s still in the hospital because of some lung problems. I cannot wait until she can bring him home. (Disclaimer: I do not want a baby of my own yet! But I begin to appreciate the joy they bring.)

–> When someone speaks to me in Ukrainian, my brain has stopped translating into English. I just understand, seemingly by magic.

–> I know what classes I will teach this year: (who were my wonderful 2nd-formers last spring); 5A (new class for me); (my large-but-strong former 5th-formers); 7A (formerly 6A — one of my favorite classes, fantastic all around); 8A (formerly 7A — really nice class); 8B (formerly 7B — small, nice group); 9A (nice group but quiet/shy); 9B (fun, strong class); 10A (formerly 9A — I love this class). Mostly older kids, as the cards fell, which is fine with me — lots of opportunities for speaking about interesting things. What I don’t have yet is a timetable — Diana Dmetrivna tells me it will change multiple times in the next week or two…

–> Speaking of changes, my school has new leadership as of a week ago: Both our director and one of our vice directors retired. The other vice director, Viktor Mykolaiovich, is now school director. Two other teachers have become our two new vice directors. These changes will be good, I believe — I like Viktor M. and think he will be more receptive to my role as a PCV at school (coupled with the fact that I now know the ropes a bit better).

**What’s new for you this fall?

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