So people always expect that the biggest difficulty teaching in the developing world will be lack of resources. “You won’t have electricity/computers/internet/printers/photocopiers/books…how will you cope?” This being my second time teaching in a developing country, I can say from experience, the lack of resources is challenging but the human component of support between parents, teachers and administrators continues to be more important. The biggest challenge to teaching in Georgia is–at least for me- classroom management.
For those who are new at teaching you might not appreciate the importance of classroom management and instead think someone is too strict for wanting it. But truthfully, a properly structured classroom is essential for the students to learn anything. Resources can be improvised, and teaching styles can be adjusted to. However if you spend all your time shouting to be heard, or at least half of it telling the students to be quiet (or as in the Georgian case – sometimes telling them what horrible people they are for not being quiet) you have taught nothing other than how to cuss people out.
The challenge in Georgia is that there is really no structure. In the U.S., whether or not you realize it, the parents, teachers, and administrators have concocted a very structured set of graduated punishments/rewards that every student implicitly knows by 3rd grade. You screw up a certain amount and you’ll lose recess/be sent to the hall/lose lunch/be sent to the principal/have to stay after school/ be suspended/be expelled. Using this structure U.S. teachers and administrators support each other and work together to create structure and discipline in a school – two things which are essential for learning. In Georgia that entire list is mute, in most schools you aren’t even allowed to send the students to the hall, and there is never a recess or a lunch that you can take a way. The parents won’t concede to letting you keep kids after or making them come early and everyone must pass – so there’s not even a hope that failing the student will make him or her wise up. In the end it’s all up to whatever the teacher can do and enforce in the classroom with the support of NO ONE else. This inevitably leads to the bad habits that many volunteers complain about – Georgian teachers insulting the students personally in order to make them behave professionally. Yes it isn’t right – but if you really try to feel what it’s like to have 30 unruly teenagers in a classroom with no one to help you for years on end it’s also very understandable.
As a volunteer its extra challenging because your role in the classroom is rarely every serious. You are the person who comes up with funny speaking activities. In my training in the Peace Corps they recommended that you not even approach a game for about 3 months less the students begin with the impression that you are “fun” and not “serious”. Since our stints here are so short that’s just not possible, and we are easily seen as a friend first and a teacher after. Also our inability to properly understand Georgian definitely means that we can’t stop certain conversations in their tracks or even do simple disciplines easily. Now I grant that there’s likely a few volunteers and teachers who are graced with enough physical presence or charisma that this isn’t an issue. When you aren’t one of those lucky few though, the problem requires careful planning and attack.
So my co-teacher and I have made it our next big, in-school project, to create a better structure in our classroom. In our English classes we will be having the students create the rules and consequences – in English – that they will abide by. These will be posted on the walls and we will try to enforce them as fairly as possible. As I said the human component is most important and I’m blessed this time through with an open minded, innovative, and supportive co-teacher to see me through these months. It will likely be something we work on the entire time here, but teaching is similar to life in that real excellence isn’t a destination, but the path. So we’ll try this, and if it works we’ll run with it, and if it doesn’t we’ll try something else.
As the sages always say, a great challenge is also a great opportunity. Georgia will offer each person here different opportunities to grow, with the strength we have through supporting each other, my co-teacher and I won’t less this opportunity pass us by.