10 June 2007

2006-07 Teacher of the Year!

The teachers of Tapa Gümnaasium awarded me the school's Valguse Roosi Medal, or White Rose Medal, and the students named me Aasta meesõpetaja, or Male Teacher of the Year.

Both awards were big surprises to me (especially after I caved in to a restless bunch of 9th grade students at the end of May and showed Jackass Number Two in one of our classes). Someone asked me what I had done to earn such recognition from both the teachers and the students. Mentally, I painfully replayed the scenes in which I didn't get a gossiping quartet of 8th grade girls to pay attention one Monday morning, couldn't get a dozen, numb 9th graders interested in discussing jobs and careers, couldn't explain a grammar rule to my 11th grade class, and failed to fully explain to 12th graders how to use some fairly technical vocabulary words. Then, aloud, I answered "Nothing" (in more ways than one) but remembered one student telling me that I had jibed with the students, that is, I had gotten just as tired of writing letters to pen friends and "filling in the gaps" as they did.

Well, according to the May 26 issue of the Tapa Sõnumed (page 7), I was voted Male Teacher of the Year, because I am good with young people and have a good sense of humor (yes, I really do think the reoccuring bit in Jackass Two with Spike Jonze as an old woman with sagging breasts is funny). The Female Teacher of the Year was Ursula Palts, the chemistry teacher, who, according to the Sõnumed, is also good with young people, has a good sense of humor, and is a good conversationalist. Ursula is a statuesque person who whips around the school like a dry leaf on a blustery day.

I received the White Rose, beautifully etched in glass by Rakvere artist Riho Hütt (above, left), from the school director at a teachers meeting on May 29. I shared this year's award with the effervescent and enterprising Sirje Sell, an Estonian language teacher, the incredibly kindhearted Tiina Piip, the dean of students for children in the first four grades, and Eevi Koppelmann, the dreaded maths teacher who melts after a couple of belts of cognac.

The flower is a symbol of youth and blooming (forgive my rough transation). In Western tradition, among flowers, the rose embodies the ideal. It is a symbol that is at the center of the heart, the spirit of the world, and the cosmic wheel. White is a metaphor for praise or adoration, and it symbolizes inner light. White is also a symbol of immortality, eternity, pure existence, revelation, wisdom, judiciousness, joy, happiness, and life (all unquestionably sub-plots running through Jackass Two). Therefore, Tapa Gümnaasium's White Rose medal is given at the end of each school year to three or four teachers and to one or two students in recognition of their exceptional service to the school.

Because the meeting May 29 was the last one of the school year, I had prepared a short thank you for all of the teachers. After reading it, I gave each female teacher a small carnation and each male teacher a chocolate bar, per Estonian customs. Below is the speech I read, completed in Estonian a few hours before the meeting with the help of Kristen, Lii, Jaanika, Katrin, and Kätlin in my 11A class.

For a glimpse into just how the Estonian language works, compared to English, and how difficult translation from one language to another can be, in general, I provide you with a literal translation of my speech in English as well. Note the lack of a prescribed word order (subject, verb, direct object) in the Estonian sentences.

Ma olen aasta meesõpetaja.
I am the year's male teacher.

Kui päris aus olla, siis ma olen aasta kõige õnnelikum õpilane.
But if honest to be, then I am the year's luckiest student.

Kuna te kõik olete mind õpetanud.
All of you everything have me taught.

Kui ma olen tõepoolest aasta õpetaja, siis tänu sellele, mida teie olete mulle õpetanud.
If I am truly the year's teacher, then thanks for this, what you have to me taught.

Ma saan aru poolest jutust, mida te räägite.
I understand not all, what you speak.

On asju, mida ma ei mõista, aga ma näen kui palju te mulle ja õpilastele oma lahkuse, mõistlikkuse ja kannatlikkusega andnud olete.
Are things, what I do not understand, but I see how much you with me and students helpful, understanding, and patience given have.

Ma olen teile väga tänulik.
I am to you very thankful.

Ma tänan Elmut võimaluse eest siia kooli õpetama tulla. Samuti tänan Külvit, Tiinat ja Sirlit, kuna alati on tore kuulda oma emakeelt.
I thank Elmu [the school director] opportunity for here school to teach to come. Likewise, I thank Külvi, Tiina, and Sirli [the other English teachers], because always it is nice to hear your own mother tongue.

Ma olen õpetamise, noorte inimeste ja isegi inglise keele kohta palju uut teada saanud.
I have teaching, young people and even the English language about many new learned.

Ootan juba huviga järgmist kooliaastat. Vähemalt ma arvan nii.
I wait already for an interesting next school year. At least I think so.