Laura Frantz was the Grinnell Corps Greece fellow for 2004-2005.
Laura Frantz's Reports
Report 1Laura Frantz
Even while I write this update, my head is spinning from the number of things I have already done today, and the number of things I have yet to do. I am not just a teacher here at Anatolia College, nor am I just a dorm advisor; I am a whole variety of things, from substitute English teacher to assistant newspaper editor, photography instructor to bus supervisor. I even do bus duty. At the dorm, I serve as a sister, counselor, friend, tutor, and policewoman for the boarders, and in my free time I am a student of Modern Greek language and ancient Greek philosophy.
Of these various roles, most of my time and energy goes into the dormitory. I wake the kids up in the morning, hang out with them when they return home from school, make them study when they need to, and make a valiant effort (usually unsuccessful) to put them to bed on time. As a sort of dorm mother or sister, I am gradually finding my niche in the dorm family. The other day one of my younger students, a girl I tutor regularly, told me that had I not been there at the dorm she would left Anatolia and returned to her village. On another occasion, after I had burst into tears at the end of a long day, several students gathered around me, gave me tissues and conciliatory pats, and told me "don't cry, Laura." As one girl said, "even advisors need advisors sometimes."
The students themselves make working at the dorm so rewarding. While most of Anatolia's students come from Thessalonica's wealthiest families (and have the clothing and cell phones to prove it), the boarders come from families of modest means, from towns and villages outside the city. Most, in fact, would not be here had they not received generous scholarships from Anatolia. As a result of this disparity, the dorm students need extra help with their English and extra attention in general, and I like to help them keep up with their more privileged counterparts. Perhaps also as a result of their backgrounds, the dormers seem more mature and independent than their classmates. Little wonder, since most of them left their friends and families at age twelve and moved to one of Greece's most difficult schools in Greece's second biggest city. I admire their spunk.
Unfortunately, this same spunk turns from delightful to insufferable when multiplied by 67 students, and it falls to me to keep order. During study hall, I have to keep the kids from talking at all, helping each other with their homework, leaving the library, and in effect participating in any sort of fun, cooperative learning. I find myself, to my own dismay, becoming very authoritarian. Similarly, I sometimes police the cafeteria at dinner to make sure that the kids sit at seats we have assigned to them, rather than with their group of friends. After living for four years in the freedom of Grinnell's self- governance system, studying in the buzz and chatter of Burling 1st, I feel uncomfortable being so controlling.
When I am not patrolling the dormitory, I am usually working at various jobs at Anatolia. My favorite of these jobs, to my own great surprise, has been that of substitute teaching. I had always feared substituting would be like cleaning toilets-mopping up other people's messes. But at Anatolia so far, with a couple of notable exceptions, the kids have been well behaved and eager to learn in the lessons. In addition, I find that I enjoy the freer, theatrical aspects of being in front of a class; subbing here entails a lot of artistic license. Rarely do I get more than a few hours (or, in some cases, a few minutes) notice before I have to teach, and the department hardly ever has time to write lesson plans, and so, armed with little more than a textbook and some notes, I improvise most of my lessons. The other day, for example, I got a call at about 9 in the morning, asking me to substitute at 9:45. I quickly dressed, ran over to the English offices, and whipped out a quick lesson plan there. On a whim, we decided to do an e.e. cummings poem with the first form. We read the poem, discussed it, and then wrote our own in the same style. Something about being up there in the class, teaching a captive audience of young and creative minds about something I love, left me feeling exhilarated, even intoxicated.
In addition to substitute teaching, I am involved with the extracurricular program. So far, this experience has tested one of Grinnell's loftiest claims, that a liberal arts degree can prepare you to do work in which you have no formal training. I am currently advising the student newspaper, the photography club, and coaching two duet acting students, even though I have never taken an acting class or been in a play, never written for a newspaper, and my interest in photography has never been serious enough to take a class. Nevertheless, I spend several hours each week planning lessons, learning as I go, and trying to stay a step ahead of my students.
Quite apart from my lack of training, making progress in these clubs is difficult. A typical interaction goes something like this: I am sitting in the art room, waiting for the inevitably late photography students to arrive, when the first few trickle in: "Hello miss!" "Hello!" I respond. "Did you develop the pictures you took last week?" And they may answer, (as one student once did) "No, because my brother took the camera and broke it!" Or, "Miss, I didn't bring my camera! " I forgot mine too, miss!" Miss, I've never been here before, can you explain what we did the last couple of months?" "Miss, I can't come next time..." And then they digressâ¦"Miss, how old are you? Do you have a boyfriendâ¦? Miss, where are you from?" And so on. So as you can imagine, we don't get much done from week to week. But we have fun!
Finally, I get to continue being a student here. Twice a week, I take two classes at the small college owned by Anatolia, the American College of Thessalonica. I particularly enjoy my Greek class, as it is full of rowdy, good-natured Balkan boys and a couple of loud Americans. Our poor teacher, a quiet, diminutive Greek woman, can hardly control the class, but she still manages to coax a lot of Greek out of us. In fact, my Greek is getting pretty good. Not as good as Will's, since he is studying it about 5 hours a day, but I can at least carry on some stilted conversations and do basic verb conjugations. And I pick up choice vocabulary words from the dorm students, particularly the more irreverent ones.
Here are some of my stronger impressions of life here:
-Anatolia staff rooms! If you walk in on a Friday morning at around 10:35, when all the teachers have their break, you can hardly breath from the smoke filling the room. The table will be overflowing with olives, cheeses, bread, little treats, and, most of all coffee cups. They don't just drink filtered coffee here: rather, they love to imbibe a tasty, zippy beverage called Frappe, a combination of Nescafe foam, ice, condensed milk, and water. The table will also have a couple of bottles of wine on it, and even some Ouzo. On the bookshelf sits an ancient hookah, which overlooks the whole hedonistic spectacle.
-Speaking of coffee, Greeks are experts at slowly sipping coffee, smoking their cigarettes, and, well, doing nothing. Napping is programmed into the day, and to honor this most stores close between 3 and 6 in the afternoon. Greeks have even mitigated the stress of Mondays-almost everything closes by 1 or 2 on this day. However, this relaxed schedule is accompanied by an equally relaxed attitude towards deadlines and generally getting things done. If you need help fixing your phone (as I did, several times), don't expect the electrician to visit for several days. And certainly don't expect events to start on time.
-Exploring Thessalonica is a pleasure. It is a city of so many layers-Hellenic, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, Jewish, and today's modern amalgamation. It has been conquered and re-conquered, each occupant leaving traces there. I love wondering in the old Turkish neighborhood, and around the crumbling walls of the old city. In the center of the city, beautifully preserved Byzantine churches peep from between high-rise apartments and traffic-choked streets. One can walk down a central square flanked on one side by an intact roman agora, a Turkish bath on the other, and the sea on the far end. And on rare clear days, one can see Mount Olympus across the gulf.
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