Saturday, January 27, 2007

Baking Challenges

I have no doubt cooked more since arriving here than I have in a number of years. I am actually baking bread! Whats more, I'm enjoying doing so!
I have adapted to a European oven and its settings, which are quite different from ours in the States. Many ingredients are available in Szolnok, but few are available in Ujszasz. Since any items purchased in Szolnok must be hauled in bags, first by bus, then by foot to the train station, on the train, back by foot to our flat --- this really limits what we will purchase in Szolnok. Therefore, I am cooking with a select group of basic ingredients and trying to be creative within that selection.
Breads have been plain old white, potato-cheese and corn flour yeast bread. More recipes are waiting to be tried out.
Deserts are limited to basic ingredients also. I've used apples a lot since they are readily available. I will try banana bread and walnut bread soon. The walnuts are harvested from our yard and first must be cracked and the nutmeats removed.
In our flat we have one bread loaf pan which I use for all baking, both breads and deserts. I have been looking for an 8x8 square cake pan for a month now. No luck yet.
Someone needs to make a fortune by selling cake mixes, etc. here in Hungary. No such things are available even in the biggest grocery stores. Everything must be made from scratch. There are only 3 kinds of cookies available in stores and they need to be dunked first before eating! No cake flour, so I stay away from cakes because they turn out coarse.
Also, no baking chocolate or chocolate chips.
Rye, whole wheat, etc. flours are not available. White bread is a Hungarian staple.
More as I branch out and try other things!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Back to Education

Back to the subject of education. A few months ago I wrote: I am not shocked or surprised by Hungarian students' inability to think for themselves. Afterall this was a Soviet country only a few years ago. I am surprised, though maybe not really, by the educational system itself. Very few changes have been made, except that they study English rather than Russian. I was asked to speak to a 13-14th grade technical school communication class on the difference between verbal and non-verbal communication in Hungary and the USA. One of my points was that Hungarians do not make eye contact with strangers. They are afraid. They still live within a shell. Safety in anonymity. Also they will not tackle controversial topics to discuss. Again, keep your ideas to yourself. They do, however, use sarcasm to express their opinion rather than state it.

Students still sit in straight rows. Only a blackboard graces the room. Chairs, desks and a blackboard. That's it folks!!!!! Not even an overhead projector in the school. The library is smaller than our bedroom and is only open a few hours a day. Even then, many books are locked up. Teachers do not have classrooms. They must carry their supplies from classroom to classroom with them. Everything is out of a textbook and a workbook. The teacher always sits at her desk and lectures from her chair and then assigns work in their workbook. End of class. How exciting!! I am reminded of my days in school in the 1950's.

Best Practices do not exist in Hungary. It's not even an idea on the horizon. Business as usual. English is taught with workbooks. NO speaking that is not scripted. Our goal is to speak extemporaniously. We have had to create the wheel all over again. Our TEFL course and our CETP workshop were NO help whatsoever. We do not teach grammar. Our job is to get the kids to TALK. The regular English teachers in the school do not do this. Workbook, workbook. They have lots of words but cannot put them into free speech. Kids who have had 7 years of English cannot speak in a sentence that is not scripted. We are outlining how to teach conversational English - goals, objectives, steps in the process. As I say,, we are inventing the wheel all over again. Even on the internet everything is grammar based. Hm, maybe we should sell this when we are done!

Individualized teaching?????!!!!! They look at me like I am crazy. I have been told it is the student's responsibility to learn, not the teacher's responsibility to teach. If they do not understand it is their problem and not the teacher's.

I realize our school is not top quality. It catches the dregs that cannot get into the better schools. I do not mean to insult my students. They are great kids. But you apply to high school here. Our students were turned down at the good schools.

There are no clubs or sports in this educational system. I do not consider that this is necessarily a bad thing. No electives as we know them. Many students take the train for half an hour each way to get to school here. There is no lunch time provided. Just class after class during the 8 period day. They are supposed to run to the canteen and buy a sandwich and eat it on the way to the next class. They do serve a hot lunch which we try to get each day if we have an empty hour. IF THE KIDS EAT THIS THEY HAVE 10 MINUTES TO DO SO. Always a bowl of soup and something. (Cabbage is in season - so guess what has been on the menu lately!)

This has been my experience here. No discussions on philosophy of education, goals, etc. Just workbooks and lectures. Mind boggling.

Today’s addition to this diatribe. It is now a month later and we are still struggling to get the kids to talk. Today we started using the topic of movies, hoping it would spark interest and fun for the kids to talk about. Some interest yes, but to ask them to get up out of their seats and talk to each other in English and do a movie survey – nope!! Unless they speak one on one with us or to us in front of the class, we do not get English. They revert to Hungarian. We have created pages of goals and ways to get to those goals with the kids. We have theory and stats to back up all of our work. It’s just that nobody’s told the kids that this is what they need to do! We have tried to create a comfortable, non-threatening classroom atmosphere for them to work in. But, if it isn’t scripted, they don’t try. (There are a few exceptions, of course, but we are talking about the majority of the kids here.)

It is at least a help to know that the EU has put educational reform on the list of necessary items Hungary must complete before they get full membership. Looking online I find countries working together on teaching concepts for English as a Second Language. Hungary is not one of these countries.

We have tried simulations and this has been the biggest success for us. But to lay the foundation for new topics we must do vocabulary work and get them to practice this vocabulary. Pair work only works if scripted. If we walk away, back to Hungarian!

We are determined and will win this battle! We are here to teach conversation. We must get them to converse, not just parrot phrases and sentences given them.