28 May 2009

Last Class of the School Year: Last 5 Minutes

Last Class of the School Year: Next 30 Minutes

Last Class of the School Year: Next 5 Minutes

Last Class of the School Year: First 5 Minutes

23 May 2009

Navitrolla's Trees

21 May 2009

Most Noble Order of the O'Upstreamth

Because of a series of upcoming national exams for 12th graders, today was my last class with Tapa's 12th graders, the 14 or so teenagers I have taught for the last three years. I began the 90-minute lesson with a look ahead, saying to them:

About a month ago, I received a letter from the Kodakondsus ja Migratsiooniament - the Citizenship and Migration Board. The letter said 'Lugupeetud Hogan: You have been in Estonia for three years, and you still cannot speak Estonian. We think it is time for you to leave.' About two weeks later, I received a letter from the Russian consulate. The letter said 'Uv-a-ja-yee-moi Gas-ba-din Hogan: You have been in Estonia for three years. You know how to speak Estonian. We think it is time for you to leave.'

And so, after three years of ironing my own shirts, after two summers that lasted no more than two weeks, and after a year of watching CSI: Miami, New York, Las Vegas, Detroit, Idaho and Extreme CSI and NCSI, I have - as many of you know - decided to return to the US in August. I thought about teaching in Viimsi Gümnaasium and even Jõhvi Gümnaasium, but when Elmu asked me a second time to stay here in Tapa for at least another year, I felt it could be only Tapa or Chicago.

I told Elmu I really couldn't stay for one year anyway. If I would stay, I would have to stay for two years, to see the 10th graders - who are my second favorites - through to graduation. But if I did this, I would miss my own nephew's graduation next spring. Moreover, I have a two-year-old niece I have seen for only two weeks, not to mention a whole Facebook friends list of individuals - colleagues as well as classmates - I haven't seen for three years.

The older my parents get, the more help they need. The older I get, the more difficult it is to find a job. Just as it was the right time for me to come here, so it is the right time for me to go back. Besides, after your graduation parties, I doubt there will be much Russkij Razmer left in Estonia.

Today, I would like to thank each of you, to thank you for letting me be a part of your high school years. When the 6th graders were like wild animals and acting all crazy and the 11th graders were like zombies and wouldn't say a word, I knew that I'd find mature, astute, and even funny young adults among the 12th graders.

I then addressed each student in the classroom individually, thanking Raili, for example, for her near perfect attendance over three years, Marge for the image of her walking out of a Subway sandwich shop on Oxford Street in London, Kristel for being an ambassador for Tapa with a sense of humor, Oleg for his enthusiasm, Mikk for his honest opinions, Jürgen for being my right-hand man, Mihkel for his leadership, Annika and Nelda for their fantastic compositions.... And then I concluded with tears in my eyes:

I have worked in big cities and little towns. I have worked with white people, with black people, with Hispanic people, with Asian people. I have hired people, and I have fired people. I have been in the homes of poor people and in the homes of rich people. I have peed alongside millionaires. Maybe you are from Tapa or Lehtse or Ambla. Maybe you graduated from Tapa Gümnaasium, maybe you are from Estonia. In my opinion, though, there's no one here who does not have the ability to be successful anywhere in the world.

After that, I had to blow my nose and have a cup of coffee in the teachers' lounge. During the second half of the class, I had - thanks to the kindness and cooperation of the esteemed Duke and Duchess of Upstream - the extreme honor and priviledge of bestowing upon my 12th graders - those who had stuck with me for three years - perpetual and irrevocable membership in the Most Noble Order of the O'Upstreamth. Because it was indeed an official induction, forever recorded in the Great Register of Upstreamth, I had to don the Great Miter of O'Upstreamth (above), sent DHL by the duke and duchess.

With the miter atop me head, I proudly gave each student a certificate that read:
The Most Noble Order of the O'Upstreamth is hereby bestowed upon...for hitherto participating in more than 400 English lessons from September 2006 to May 2009, taught by an inexperienced, balding, middle-aged, overweight American with a big Irish nose, and for hithermore completing tedious grammar exercises, reading uninspired textbook articles, acting out everyday situations, writing profoundly moving essays, watching tear-jerking black and white movies, and laughing countless number of times, especially on Friday afternoons after 1:45. And at the bottom of the certificate, the fine print read: This certificate entitles the bearer to one night’s lodging, one steak dinner, and one bottle of domestic beer anywhere in the United States, when accompanied by a valid Mastercard or $399 in cash.