My first lesson was this morning. I was to teach a group at an IT company in a part of town to which I’d never been. Yesterday I was given all of their textbooks and was told that the group was on Chapter 7. I spent several hours yesterday poring over Chapter 7, planning a lesson that would be stimulating and educational.

I was given directions to the place, the kind of directions that make you nervous before you go because they don’t really seem clear — “Take the metro to this stop, exit and walk around the corner, get on the free bus, at least we think there’s a free bus, go to the middle entrance of the orange building, go to the left and call Inna upstairs” — but once you are on the ground, they make sense.

I was fifteen minutes early, but the lesson was at eleven so I figured my contact people would already be at the office. But this is Russia! They don’t have the concept of normal office hours. Nonetheless, the administration gave me a passcard to go upstairs. When I got there, I asked the security guy if he could show me to the room where they have their lessons, so I could get set up. He took me down a long hallway to a small meeting room.

I spread out my books, wrote my name on the whiteboard, and decided to call the mobile phone of the “group leader”, Daniel, which the language school had given me, to let him know that I was already in the classroom. I didn’t remember which room I was in, so I went to open the door and check. The door was locked! The security guard had locked me in the fucking room!

I started to freak out, mildly. If they didn’t want me wandering the halls by myself, I would have happily waited by the front desk, but you don’t lock a person in a room, certainly not a person who has come to perform a service for your company! What if there’s a fire? I started to think all kinds of terrible thoughts about Russia and how their security culture had gone a little too far this time, and how I was going to complain to the language school and tell them that this was unacceptable, that if this was how they treat people than I’d rather be unemployed or leave the country altogether.

Eleven o’clock rolled around. No students. I thought, OK, if they don’t come soon, I’ll call the front desk and flip out and insist that they unlock this door. I was about to dial at 11:05, when the door opened and the students came in. They seemed surprised to see me there. But, we got started.

I asked the students to tell me their names, three things they were interested in outside of work, why they were studying English and what they wanted to work on the most. There were four guys, probably between 25 and 30, and they didn’t have too many surprises for me. They like cars, football, movies, and theater (no, it is not gay for a Russian man to like theater). One guy said he liked walking. One guy said “I like children, women, and mountaineering.” OH-KAY then!

It turned out they were on Chapter 3, not Chapter 7, so my well-laid plans were useless. It occurred to me later that I could have just skipped to Chapter 7, since the book is thematic, rather than one lesson building upon the next, but instead we winged Chapter 3.

It went all right, I think. The guys, being Russian guys, didn’t seem to have any obvious reactions to anything and didn’t make a lot of eye contact, but they didn’t seem bored and they did ask some questions. A big chunk of Chapter 3 was a picture story about two guys that get drunk at a party and are walking down the street and get accused of trying to break into a car and get arrested. It seemed like a situation that could happen to guys of this age group in Russia, so I was grateful that I had to wing it with that story rather than the one about plastic surgery in Chapter 11. I learned the Russian word for the “drunk tank” at the police station — the guys translated it literally as “sober-maker”.

At the end of the class, the “group leader” said, “So how did you get into this room, anyway? Did you get a passcard?” I explained how I got in. “Oh, next time I’ll meet you downstairs and we’ll get you a permanent passcard.” Then we went to leave the room, and he pressed a button next to the door, which I think unlocked it. So, I wasn’t really locked in, and the security guy shouldn’t have taken me in there in the first place. Phew. I wasn’t going to have to freak out at anyone.

Tonight I have an individual lesson with an eight-year-old boy. It sounds like he’s a nice rich kid with a pushy mom. We’ll see how it goes. It can’t be more intimidating than a room full of Russian guys.

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