Mast’savlebeli means teacher in Georgian. And that is what I am here in Georgia. An English Teacher. (Cue song from Bye Bye Birdie. . .) I am working with 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 10th, and 11th grades. I have about 21 lessons each week and work with three different teachers.
Despite the age differences, there are many similarities throughout all of my classes. The first being Georgian students are noisy! They whisper to each other. They practice the material “silently” to themselves. They check answers with each other. They even say “Mast’! Mast’! Mast’!” while trying to get the teacher to call on them. All thirty some of them do this at the same time. My ears are still protesting the sound. I’m sure in a couple more weeks I’ll be used to it. Right now, though, I want to cover my ears in most classes. The noise, though, is just a sign of one of the best attributes of Georgian students. They are so excited to learn English. I can’t speak about other lessons, but they seem to really want to be in school. They take their education more seriously than many of the Americans I know. These students also have a high tolerance level. The school is often without electricity and therefore heat. They only have chalkboards in the classrooms. No extra books or supplies in the rooms. There is a tiny library and a computer room that seem to rarely be used. There is also only one severely outdated science laboratory for the whole school. Yet, students think their school is beautiful. They appreciate the large classrooms and the things they do have.
The best part of getting to know my students is seeing their confidence emerge. I walk to and from school. That way I get to see more of Poti and burn off some of those calories they keep stuffing down my throat (seriously, Georgians never seem to stop offering me food!). This week I’ve had four different students approach me on these walks and speak in English with me. The fourth grader only got as far as “Hello, how are you?” but the smile on her face when I responded was resplendent. A seventh grader had a whole conversation with me about my computer. They are timid when conversing, but I take the signs of initiative outside of the classroom as beacons of emerging understanding and retention.
Obviously, It isn’t all or even most of my work. I’ve only been here for three weeks. There was a past volunteer here last semester, and their teachers have been here for years (one has been teaching for over 40 years). These people get the credit for giving students the opportunity to learn the basics of English. I’m just trying to give students another reason to be excited about the material and teachers the opportunity to improve their English with a native speaker. Two of my teachers have been exceptional to work with. They let me read a lot and are open to my suggestions of games and activities that get students speaking aloud. One, however, is difficult to communicate with. She doesn’t seem to understand my accent. I have an even harder time understanding her’s. She also has a teaching philosophy that is very difficult for me to understand. She yells at students all the time. Sometimes, it seems like for no reason at all. She corrects students in the middle of their attempts to sound out words. When students make a mistake, she screams that they should know it already. A topic is introduced and then reviewed a little the next day. No activities are given to practice or to use the new information in a practical way. The students are just supposed to memorize texts. I try to gently add my suggestions to class. We are still communicating with each other, however, slowly and painfully at times. I think her classes will be the best opportunity for me to challenge my own teaching style. I feel like I can offer those students more, more laughter and more interesting material. I also feel like I can really help this teacher improve her own English. She’s obviously been studying a for a long time. She understands the basics but has had little opportunity to use it outside of regurgitating for a classroom. This is the challenge that I wanted. Let’s see what happens in the next five months, shall we?