Published: April 8th 2012April 8th 2012
Form one class
singing time in form one.
After teaching in Australia for three years I decided to jump on a plane and try my hand at teaching English in a foreign country dragging Aaron along with me. (He did actually want to come, but not being a teacher the prospect did seem a little more daunting). We thought it was a perfect opportunity which combined our desire to travel as well as an opportunity to be immersed in a new culture. What is an average school day...?
I am teaching English at a small school in our village with around 150 students from grades 1-12 while Aaron teaches at the larger school with about 380 students also from grades 1-12.
Both of our schools are large concrete buildings which have not been maintained for many years. There is no running electricity in the classrooms which means it can be quite dark at times, freezing cold in winter and I think we can lock in hot for the summer.
This is very different from my experiences in Australia where if there is no power there is no school. In the past both schools must have had electricity, however all that remains are the holes where
Form one class
My form one class, co-teacher and I. She showed me the peace sign and asked me what it meant and then wanted a picture with all of the students doing it. She actually made them practice doing the peace sign.
the light fittings and switches once were. The classrooms are heated in the winter months by a small fire place (petchi) and are maintained by the students in the classroom. The cleaners from my school removed them from our classrooms this month as we have run out of firewood and although there is no snow it is still cold in the classrooms.
As my schools student population is smaller it generally has a more relaxed disposition. School begins at 9am and the formal school day ends at 2pm however, students are only required to attend their lessons and often I notice the school is completely empty by 1:15pm. The school is run like an Australian high school in that each lesson runs for 45 minutes which is followed by a ten minute break before the next lesson begins. As you can imagine having ten minutes between lessons for all five to eleven year olds in the school is just long enough to ensure madness. If you have managed to settle your class by the end of one lesson, they return little monsters again for the next. I do not believe this system works for younger students.
fight my way back to the staffroom through stick fights and games of chase. There is no morning tea or lunch breaks during the school day but there is a small shop across the road which students run to between breaks, usually to stock up on bubble gum and chocolate.
Some days run like clock work while others can be instantly changed. Like on Wednesday of last week more than half of the students left school at 11:00 to attend a church service. Or when all the teachers from my school were taxied into the local town on Thursday to open new bank accounts.
Subjects vary from grade to grade but generally students have lessons in Mathematics, Georgian, Georgian History, Biology, Sport, Music and languages including English, German and Russian. This year has been the first year of English instruction at both schools in our village. Languages are valued in the schooling system with students in our schools receiving three 45minute English lessons a week.
There has been a big push from the Georgian government for English learning and our program is a direct result of this movement. Currently Georgian is the country's first language, with Russian
Aaron joining in a game of fruit salad.
secondary. In conjunction with their push to the west (along with European Union and NATO aspirations) the country is hoping to have English recognised as their second language. What is it like teaching in a foreign language?
It can be very frustrating at times...but easier than what you would think. In the beginning students where asking to go to the toilet and I was telling them to sit down, not understanding their question. Replying to them in English only left both parties in more confusion. Four months on and we now have a grasp of basic Georgian language and a better grasp of classroom specific language. We are also lucky to be co teaching with Georgian/English speakers; however the level of English from co-teacher to co-teacher varies. My co-teachers have quite a good understanding whereas Aaron’s teacher is much harder to communicate with. The students at my school have been very patient and now I usually have no issues conducting lessons using a combination of Georgian, English and gestures. What are the classes like?
We both teach English to grades 1- 7. Class sizes vary, mine are very small having only 7 - 14 students
while Aaron's classes are much larger with 25 -33 students. Teaching in Georgia is still done very traditionally with the teacher at the front and students in rows. Students are expected to memorise passages of English and translate it into Georgian. We spend time teaching speaking, reading, writing and grammar. My Georgian co teachers are quite flexible and allow me to play games and teach English songs as part of the lessons. My students love "heads, shoulders knees and toes” and singing rain, rain go away. At the moment I am also teaching my grade 7 class ‘The Time Warp" which they will perform at the end of semester concert.
Twice a week we run an English club after lessons at each of the schools which have been popular. We focus on conversational English and play lots of games. Last week we taught the hokey pokey and played duck, duck, goose which they loved.
I have also been running English lessons for the teachers of my school which enables me to learn a lot of Georgian at the same time. What are the students and teachers like?
Many students have a lack of respect for teachers
Form 7 class
Learning "the time warp"
and the teachers have little authority within the schools. I found this very confronting in the beginning. I feel this stems from the communities lack of value in education. Many families within our village make a living from farming and it is common for children to be absent because they are working on the farm for example our little host brother sometimes does not attend school on Monday and Tuesday so that he can herd the sheep. Along with this there is a lack of employment opportunities within Georgia. In saying this there are many fantastic children, who since we have arrived take every oppurtunity to practice their English with us. It is hard at times to present English as purposeful to our students and parents when we are the first English speakers they have ever come in contact with. However Georgia is pushing for more tourism, we have seen a lot of development in this area even since we arrived. English will provide these students with more opportunities for employment in this area.
The teachers at both our schools are really friendly and as the year has advanced so has our communication with each other. My Director does
not speak much English, only enough to say hello and how are you, but she is lovely and often calls me into her office to eat cake. Last week two of the younger teachers insisted they take me to Kvereli to get my hair cut (and insisted they pay!) which is extremely generous considering my Georgian wage is double theirs.
We are enjoying living and teaching here so much so that we have actually decided to extend our contract in Georgia for another semester continuing at the same schools and with our current host family.
There are more photos below