The End Is Near, Let's Finish Early

Eight days, it’s been eight days.  What an exhausting year 2011 is.

I came back to Hungary excited and ready to get back in the swing of things.  Then the typical surprises started happening.  It began I was told, “Alex, you need to put all of your marks in the computer.”

This surprised me and caused a few problems.  You see, not only did I not have the grades ready to go in the computer, but I hadn’t even given the assignments yet.  I’ve been given a lot of freedom to do whatever I want in most of my classes – which was awesome.  My only rule was that I had to give a minimum of two marks to each class – one for an oral assignment and one for a written assignment.

Sounds pretty simple, except for a few challenges.  One, I still don’t some of the students names.  I know what you’re thinking, “Alex what kind of horrible teacher are you?”.  I have a few reasons for this:

  1. I have over 150 students that I only see once a week.  Plus, it’s not uncommon for me to go a month without seeing them because my lessons are often cancelled suddenly, unexpectedly, and without explanation.  As fate would have it, it’s usually when I rush back to school after a nap or something.  Yesterday I was informed of this while the pay-per-cup coffee machine was making my coffee.  There’s 100 Forints not well spent.


  1. They constantly tell me different names for themselves.  Are they messing with me?  No, they’re trying to be polite.  You see, Hungarian names are told in reverse order (for example, Angelina Jolie would be Jolie Angelina – she’s very popular here).  So they try to “Americanize” it to help me out.  But, there are some very common Hungarian names that can be first or last names.  This leads me to wondering which format they’re giving me their name in and causes me to become more confused.


  1. Some names are similar to names I’m familiar with, but pronounced very differently.  Daniel is a good example.  This is a name I know, but the Hungarian pronunciation is much closer to the English Danielle.  Are we talking about a boy or a girl?  Add a last name (that may be said before or after Daniel) with a strong Hungarian accent, and you can begin to understand why I forget.


This may be a good time for you to go take some Advil, you’re probably starting to get a headache.

Another challenge for giving assignments is that students miss class a lot.  Sometimes they’re sick, and sometimes they’re skipping class.  I still don’t know how I figure out which one’s which.  After they miss a lesson, they never come talk to me to see if they need to do anything.  If I hold up an assignment from the previous lesson and say, “Did everyone get this assignment?” they all just stare at me.  Apparently “no” isn’t a word they focus on their English classes, because this word seems to evade them.

The final challenge has to do with the written assignments.  When I asked what they would like me to teach the students, I was told to focus on speaking.  Get them to talk.  They learn grammar and writing in other classes, I don’t need to do that.  Oh, except for that writing assignment you must give them.

Make them speak, not write.  But grade their writing.  Welcome to Hungary.

The first two weeks of January are the last two weeks of the first school term.  Therefore, it seemed natural that I could give them their writing assignment this week as a sort of final exam.  I planned to give it as a homework assignment for many of the groups, so we could still be speaking in class.  I was so prepared that some of the groups even had it before break with the instructions to turn it in next week, the last week of the term.  What a great teacher I am.

Instead of getting congratulated, though, I was given the previously mentioned instruction “Alex, you need to put all of your marks in the computer.”

The conversation continued to something like this:

Me:  “I don’t have the marks yet because I haven’t given all of the assignments yet.  I didn’t think I needed to have it done because the term doesn’t finish until the end of next week.”

Teachers:  “But you must give the students their marks.  You have to give them one written and one oral assignment.”

Me:  “I know that, but I didn’t think they had to be done yet because the term doesn’t end until next week.  Why doesn’t the term end until next week if the grades all have to be done now?”

Teachers:  “The students need to know their marks, so you must mark their assignments.”

Me:  “Are you a robot who’s programmed to drive me crazy?”

I didn’t actually ask that last question, but I certainly thought it.  The surprises are what keep everything exciting.  The language barrier is what keeps everything interesting.  The eight hour time difference between Békéscsaba and Colorado is what has kept me tired all week while marking papers.  And what the kids write their assignments about is what keeps me loving my job.

I have some good stories about that, but they’ll have to wait for another day.


Hungarian word of the day:


Pronounced Boo-ek or Boo-ache, I can’t remember which.  It’s the cool little abbreviation for Happy New Year in Hungarian.  I’m sure it will be a happy new year, but I’m still waiting for it to be a new year with more sleep and less grading things two weeks early.