Aristotle wrote (or said, but there’s not a link on YouTube for some reason) that, “Those that know, do. Those that understand, teach.” Sure there are more updated spinoffs on that quote but I like this one. The world need not be centered around academia and the teaching profession, but to underestimate its importance is to plan for failure. After 3 years of teaching I still do not fully feel a teacher in the sense that my sister or some friends in America are. Yet, feelings aside the reason I am here is to teach. Through my teaching, as the Greek would deduce, I will also begin to understand Georgia (it’s not simply about the English language people). While understanding is no overnight process, after a full week in the classroom (and some meetings before that) I think I can comment on what I’ve realized about my specific school situation.
First and foremost, I should put out a disclaimer that I am volunteering in a program which has the specific goal to spread the English language throughout Georgia. What is most important to remember is that this is the first year of an incredibly ambitious undertaking. Funded primarily through international aid, Georgia is putting a great emphasis on tomorrow’s leaders in a way that few countries have had the foresight to do. Whether you agree or disagree that spreading English is a ‘noble’ undertaking…well that’s for a different discussion. However, I firmly believe in the principles set forth by this program which is one reason I am here.
So, onto Martvili Public School #1. From early September there had been a few meetings scheduled irregularly where I became acquainted with the well-mannered staff of about 30. I’ll add that of that 30, two speak English fairly well and three are English teachers. I am one of those three. A fourth English teacher will be joining on October 15th who I am told is young and an excellent speaker but she is currently working in Prague. When she comes, the other will leave as there are not enough hours since class sizes have gone up quite a bit.
So September 15th. The first day. It began with what one might call unorganized chaos. There were performances/speeches/songs bravely performed by first graders in a room hotter than Hades. Impressively, neither the temperature nor the incessant talking of everyone else in the room (100 or so people) spoiled their enthusiasm. Actually, I have no idea what they said. Couldn’t hear a word as I was standing in the back. Well it was also in Georgian but I couldn’t hear anything. This caused slight embarrassment as my principal actually introduced me to the whole room at one point. When I heard some clapping I turned to the front to see about 65% of the room looking at me. A minute later I mustered out a “Gmadlobt.” = Thank you. At least it was not the embarrassment that caused me to sweat….and then the first graders continued.
After about an hour of that I was taken to my first class by my co-teacher. 8th graders (also at the moment teaching 3rd, 4th, 6th, and 9th…thus far. It’s a bit diverse) were first on the bill. It began interestingly enough as I was beckoned to sit in a chair by one student in a class of 30. I think sitting and teaching are the same as oil and water; they don’t mix so I was already uncomfortable. However, as I sat the students immediately did their best Von Trapp family introductions (Student A stands, yells ‘Hi, my name is _____!’ sits. Repeat x 30) minus the whistle. After that I would have turned the drapes into clothes had I remembered any of their names. Or there been any drapes.
The lessons that day progressed with my co-teacher and I dividing the classes and both of us teaching about half of the time; each doing our versions of introduction activities. As I realized that my co-teacher’s style and my own went together as well as a midget and one of those funny bicycles, I broached the possibility of taking control of several classes of a week entirely by myself. She was most pleased with the idea and this week has been much better as we have avoided stepping on each other’s toes.
Now, while I have many more detailed things I’d like to write, I’m acutely aware that there is a sensitivity to what can be written here. Not simply the risk of being personally invasive, but again this is a fairly large and experimental government project receiving largesse. As statements from other’s blogs have already ended up in news reports, I also have no wish to be scandalous. For the moment, I wish only to end with some abstract statements.
Simply put, the Georgian school system suffers from the same problems found in any country. More attention needs to be paid to individual students, social promotion seems to be a safer choice than making hard choices, and change can be looked at with wary eyes from entrenched positions. However, I cannot stress strongly enough the enthusiasm many students and locals have shown for the ideals of this program. It’s setting an excellent foundation; yet, what they build from here is what will matter much more so than what the foundation looks like.
To get away from the school for a moment for part 1 of my family description. I think I ought to start with the most enigmatic character: Luka. It seems that little boys are the Roman Emperors of their homes. Whatever they want, their mothers often cater to and their fathers are proud of whatever is accomplished (or is not broken), for they are their little boys. Well, if my comparison with emperors holds that would make Luka Caligula. If he were not absolutely adorable with glints of sainthood, I would be convinced he is on the path to being a sociopath. The little hellraiser, when asked by my host grandmother (the one with the horrible back and bad knees) to please go get some water, responded, “what, you do not have legs?”
One of the first words I learned in Georgian here in Martvili was tselkia which means wild. That’s Luka. One second, tselkia Luka is sheer excitement yelling “Me minda” (I want) the next screaming in horror at a scraped knee. Now this little tyke is not a problem in the least for me-perhaps I’m foreign or just too tall. But whenever I’ve tried to teach him I think I should go in with a tranquilizer. But that’s Luka. Adorable, sleeps til 11:30 am, does not eat at normal hours, is standing behind me yelling Shakira right now, and loves Pepsi-Luka.
So that’s that. I’ll put up a picture or two tomorrow of the school (it was raining today) & really I’ll get to the sea sooner than later. I’ll also think of a creative signoff but for now: Kargad! (Be well!)