The school is nothing like back home but pretty much standard here. It’s basically a concrete block and what I imagine a Soviet era building to look like. It’s very cold and there are no lights in the hallways. The classrooms are a little more comfortable as most have wood floors and stoves to provide a little warmth but even then, jackets, scarves, and hats stay on…and I completely understand if it’s difficult for the children to take me seriously in my large purple jacket (technically the color is blackberry), but I’m from L.A. so it’s staying on…however, I promise the clothes underneath are very teacher-professional!
All the classrooms I’ve been in have windows so the sun definitely provides some added warmth, but you get used to having a constant shiver. The walls are bleak and pretty bare and the chalkboards (if the room has it) are definitely as old as the building. But they do have chalk and use old rags or sponges to clean the boards. The children are unfazed by this as it’s all they know, and it’s rather humbling to watch them refill the stove with wood and then get right back to learning.
My first class was the 11th grade and there were about 10 students present. There’s quite the flu epidemic going on and about half of the school is out sick. And this is the case at almost every school in our region, so needless to say I’m almost out of hand sanitizer. The last thing I need is to get sick! The teacher introduced me to the students and I noticed she was speaking only in English and the students understood everything she was saying! I did an internal arm pump and thought this is a good start. Then she looks at me and says, “Rachel, tell zem about yourself,” so I did…I got nothin’ but a sea of blank faces. The teacher then repeated what I said, in English, and they got it! Now mind you, I spoke slowly, clearly, and choose my words carefully, so really, I was at a loss.
Class proceeded with the students reading from their books and I was rather impressed, as was their teacher with her constant praise every fifth word. I watched them read the text thoroughly, translate it back to Georgian, identify the grammatical parts, and very enthusiastically, give multiple synonyms for the word or phrase. They can read it, write it, and speak it with their teacher, but then me and my American accent walk in, and crickets. Ok…so its starting to make sense now…they’ve never spoken with a native English speaker before so they don’t know what it sounds like! They don’t need grammar (from me), they need pronunciation. Enter, my program🙂
My first day ended with a concert in my honor…seriously??? Who the heck am I?! The students performed traditional Georgian dances and songs, and one student even read two poems that he wrote. The concert was great and I couldn’t have been more flattered that they did all of that for me. Talk about a warm welcome! After the concert, I was escorted back to the teachers’ room for a supra.
Read more about Rachel’s experience on her blog site…