Schools in Georgia began on September 17th. I woke up early that morning, donned my finest back to school outfit and headed out. The school I teach out is a whole two minutes away from my house. On my short walk I saw students dressed in suits and dresses, many accompanied by their parents. I made sure to get there early seeing as I had been out of town and had not been able to prep with my teachers before hand.
Getting to school early proved a pointless venture. My school hadn’t even decided on a class schedule yet. That day we would not be conducting any classes. Instead there was a school assembly in front of the building where students were given awards, I was introduced, and the first graders were all given laptops. Yup you read that right. Laptops. Georgia has a partnership with One Laptop per Child and now every incoming first grader gets their very own XO mini laptop to keep.
While I think it’s awesome that these children are getting access to computers I would really like it if there was a program to ensure that all the children in the schools had books. See here in Georgia students have to purchase all their books. This means that poor students often have hand-me-down books that they have to go through and erase or nothing at all. Students do have access to the text books in the library, but that doesn’t help them during class. Most of them are just left behind.
After the assembly I was shuffled into a car and told we were going to another school. When I asked why, my co-teacher just said “I do not know.” So off we went further into the village to a poor school with only 13 students. I sat in the office for five minutes and then was ushered back into the car to head back to our school. Mysterious I know. Come to find out later that they wanted me to teach at this other school as well. TLG stepped in and shut that down though as there was no transportation being provided.
When I arrived back at my school I was informed that I should go home and have a rest. It only being noon I was a bit confused. I asked about classes the next day and was given a tentative schedule. Seeing that there was still time left before the end of the school day (they go from 9-2) I asked about lesson planning. My co-teacher told me that none of the students would have books yet. So of course I asked what we were planning on doing and she just shrugged.
During this first week of school things were very chaotic. My schedule was changed four times and I sometimes missed class because no one bothered to inform me of the changes until I arrived at school. In typical Georgian style there is no real planning for class. It’s pretty much the opposite of American classrooms. I tried to do some planning of my own the first few classes, but found that this had only minimal success. Neither of my co-teachers speak English very well and so explaining the plan to them before class proved difficult.
Instead of following a set plan I try to read my co-teachers during class and flow with them. So far I think it’s working pretty well. It can be frustrating in the classroom though. Many of my students have text books that are way too advanced for them. The student’s English levels are scattered across the board. Some students are labeled as being “bad, lazy, or stupid” at the beginning of their school careers and are just ignored or yelled at; never having anything expected of them. This means while some of my students can write sentences others barely know the alphabet.
I’ve been doing my best to ensure all students are getting a chance to participate and that no one just slacks off in class. While my co-teacher is in the front of the class I’ll wander around helping students who are behind. Not having a book is also no longer an excuse for not doing anything. Instead I have students share texts and when they have writing exercises I just have them do it on plain paper. If they don’t bring paper or pens to class, no problem, I’ve got that too.
It’s been exciting to see some of the students getting a grasp of the language. This is especially true in my first and second grade classrooms. The first graders have never been to school before. In fact most of them have been with their mothers 24/7/365 for six years. Our first days of class were hard on some of them. Tears were shed and occasionally a mom had to sit in on the class. We pressed forward though teaching them the first few letters of the alphabet.
During the first week my co-teacher wrote A, B, and C in their notebooks and asked them to write each letter themselves at home. The next time we had class we found that only two of the students had attempted this. Later my co-teacher informed me that the parents had approached her and said that it was very difficult and so they told their children not to do the homework. I was livid. I informed her that school is challenging, it’s sometimes hard, but we don’t just give up, we try. Let her know that we would go slow, but weren’t just going to stop. Apparently these children don’t even know the Georgian alphabet yet. Most of them have never written a letter in their lives! Parents aren’t spending time outside of class teaching their students how to learn and it shows. I’m proud to say after being in school three weeks most of my first graders can write at least A and B, they can recognize A-E, and most know the words, “Hello, teacher, goodbye, stand up, sit down, apple, bag, cat, dog, egg, and fish”.
There are many things about the education system here that need to change. I think having the TLG volunteers here is a great thing, but almost think that the money would be better spent giving their own teachers more training on how to teach or English lessons. Having a teacher giving lessons and not understanding the language well herself is a problem. I’ve had to correct one of my co-teachers on many occasions and I hear her students repeating her mistakes. Since I’m only here for a short amount of time I’m just trying to do what I can and not expect miracles.
Now back to the first day of class… after everyone was done for the day the teachers invited me out to have dinner with them. We took a taxi to the Prometheus Restaurant. This place was gigantic and filled with teenagers. Pretty sure everyone in Tskaltubo from 16-19 was there. Most of the upper level students from our school were there and I even saw some of the students that I taught in Kutaisi over the summer. It was a blast. Lots of eating, drinking, and dancing. Our students kept on coming over and grabbing all the teachers out of their chairs and dragging them onto the dance floor. They even tried teaching me some Georgian dance moves. Teachers and students were drinking together and my host sister even did a toast with the headmaster. Very different than the relationship most students and teachers have back home.
Haven’t been doing much else besides hanging out at home and going to school. Did manage to get the new books into the library and will be updating everyone about it in the next post.