Looking back on all of my years as a student (which only just ended two months ago) I can only now truly appreciate all of the work and dedication it requires to be a teacher. Most of the energy necessary for this occupation comes from the difficulty of working with students. Kids are a tough audience, and the older they get the harder it is to keep their attention.
This little light bulb of truth has only just revealed itself to me in the past couple of weeks here in Georgia. My first day of school here was intimidating for many reasons. My main problem from the beginning was deciding what my role would be here. The teach program brings native English speakers here as teaching assistants, but all public schools already offer English language education (that I know of). Thus, we are secondary assistants to the English teachers already in place in these schools. This can certainly go very well if the schools know how to effectively use us, but this is not always the case. At least this has not been my case.
I will not go into much detail, but since I have been here I have not felt that the teachers really know what to do with me. My day to day is unpredictable. Not having been given a specific role in the classroom, there are days when I show up and am told to teach a class (on the spot) and there are others when I just sit at the front and listen as the teachers give their lessons from the book. It’s been a bit of headache and I have been trying to work it out with the teachers.
Despite the uncertainty, school is truly enjoyable for me because of those occasional students who are actually interested and want to learn. My school is a single building facility with just over 1,000 students grades 1-12. When I first arrived at school, I was treated like a celebrity. Teachers in the faculty lounge would smile at me and mumble something in Georgian about being a kai gogo (good girl, they love saying this!) while others have taken an interest in either teaching me Georgian or marrying me to one. The students, meanwhile, usually greet me in the halls with overjoyed Hellos! and smiles.
In the classroom, I often get kisses on the cheek, friendship notes, and the occasional photo shoots after class (literally I have stayed after class several times because of students clamoring to take pictures with me). I teach grades 3-12, and these kids truly make each day worth it, even though some days are better than others. But there are many issues with the education system here that even someone with no background in this area (like myself) can easily observe. Yes, these problems are evident in the classroom in many ways, but rather than go into such details (which I’m pretty sure I’m not even allowed to) I’d rather express my optimism for these kids.
This past Friday, the Minister of Education and Sciences for Georgia organized a meeting with volunteers in the Tbilisi area to discuss the education system in Georgia and its recent reforms. It was very interesting to hear how much things have changed in the past few years alone. Not long ago there weren’t even windows or a heating system in the schools; now school is cancelled if the heat isn’t working properly (like it was Friday!). There were once safety issues in the schools and now they are noticeably secure. There’s no question that there’s a long way to go—kids really have little incentive to actually progress from year to year and the older students are very difficult to control. After hearing the Minister speak, it is easier to understand just where these problems are coming from and how difficult they are to address. It will take time but I have much hope. These kids really deserve to have people advocating for them.
I’m still really happy to be here. I think this program has room for growth, and like everything else here, it has really evolved in its short life span and will continue to do so. I think it’s imperative that in the future there is more organization in regards to preparing the schools and teachers receiving volunteers so that they can understand how best to use us as resources and make this effort as effective as possible. Some days are really great and I feel like I’ve done something to help the kids learn, while others really make me wonder what I’m doing here. I can only hope that sometime soon I’ll have a breakthrough with some of my co-teachers (I have 5) and start having a stronger, more structured role in the class. Either way, I so love these kids and I’m definitely going to keep trying to bring something to them from my time here.