My efforts to help promote the school did not end with Thursday’s interview, however, and the following afternoon I found myself speeding down town in a pre-paid taxi to the next stop on my miniature publicity campaign.
I had been asked by our school’s founder to appear in front of a gathering of parents at School 12 in order to explain why the addition of English to their children’s individual curricula would be of benefit. She would be joining me on stage and would act as my translator.
It was the second of such commitments, as I had travelled to another school the previous week in order to do the same. Unsure what exactly was required of me, I found myself worrying for nothing as I soon took a back-seat to my translator and saviour, who did most of the talking for me.
School 12 was another beast altogether, however, and after a mix-up with the times left us in a large hall with teenage folk dancers we were soon watching the crowds pour in from our seats at the front of the reorganised lecture theatre on the third floor. Before we could make our case, however, the meeting started in earnest and a near-hour long argument swiftly erupted in the process.
I’m not quite sure what the discussion was about, but from my pigeon Russian half-hearted attempts to keep up with national news I imagine it had something to do with the recent educational reform. Words like “internet” and “programme” were practically spat out by parents, while a woman I took to be the head teacher tried determinedly to press on with her PowerPoint presentation.
There wasn’t much in the auditorium to distract myself with as I waited for our turn to talk. In front of me lay an empty stage at the back of which was hung the screen currently being projected onto. Before it sat a portly woman who was in charge of the connected computer, and kept the slideshow going even while the presenter was busy defending the various changes. She too joined the debate whenever things got particularly heated.
Behind us, at the back of the intermittently bored and barking parents, hung four enormous portraits depicting the stern and authoritarian stares of principles, past and present. A fifth was visible every time the door was opened by a late or leaving parent. It depicted a saintly patron, one who seemed to stare disapprovingly at the tennis tables and sporting equipment at her feet. And then at me when I took to my feet before the mob.
I only spoke for a few minutes, giving my name, my nationality and apologising for my inability to communicate with them in their own language. My colleague was a much better speaker than the woman she had taken the stage from, and the dissent died away as she explained what we did, how we did it and what their children — or indeed they themselves — might gain from an education in the English language.
As she introduced the school’s leaflet and asked who would like to know more, almost every hand in the room shot into the air as we split the bundle between us and set off down parallel aisles. I ran out about three rows from the back, where I was now almost engulfed by an audience eager for free hand outs, and started apologising with одну минуту as I replenished my supplies. I fully expect our student body to double.
With the school’s other English speaker set to return home this week, I imagine I’ll be doing more of the same over the coming fortnight. It’ll likely add to an already increased workload as I take on double the hours at work, clean and pack up my flat, and attempt to complete the two articles on my trip commissioned by Quest Magazine, while trying not to simply repeat what I have written here.
The end is nigh, and it’s approaching faster than ever.