Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wait, So What is it I'm Doing Here Again? Oh Yeah, TEACHING!

There is one topic that my teaching blog has failed to account for- teaching. Writing about food, culture, and travel is great and everything. But I have yet to write about what I'm actually doing here.

This wasn't an accidental oversight. Truthfully, the reason for this shortcoming is that I don't always like to write about bad things or things that bother me. Don't get me wrong, teaching isn't as bad as that makes it sound. It's just that there are aspects of the Georgian educational system that are kind of hard to a. explain on a very basic level, and b. hard to deal with on a personal level.

A. It's hard to explain to people the things that schools throughout Georgia go without: supplies, all the students being able to afford books, all of the English teachers actually being able to have a conversation with a native speaker, electricity, heat. It's hard to explain that there are a lot things in American schools that no one even thinks about but Georgian schools just don't have them.

B. It is also hard to explain how I am dealing with explaining to teachers that there are many things in their books that are just incorrect. The books are rife with grammar mistakes, spelling mistakes, and gender stereotypes. And the gender stereotypes are often the hardest to deal with. How do you tell a teacher that you don't want to use an entire page of the book because the entire exercise is based on the fact that women can't drive, or that women are supposed to clean dishes and go shopping while men are supposed to fix appliances? How do you explain that although the students will probably forget the actual lesson in a few days, they will retain the underlying assumptions about the roles of women and men? But the gender stereotypes can be another blog all its own (and eventually will be, hopefully).

So what am I actually doing here, day to day? Well, my average week looks a little like this...

Mondays are never very remarkable. Almost all schools in Georgia start at 9am and I have the first class on Mondays. It's the 8th grade. They might be my favorite class. But they might be my favorite class mostly because of one student. He is ridiculously smart, but he is hyperactive. My co-teacher told me that he was diagnosed with "hyperactivity," whether that means ADD or ADHD (its hyperactive cousin) I have no idea. But instead of getting him the help that he needs, his parents refused to believe it. Their child is "normal." So he talks through all of class, standing up, moving his desk, switching chairs, disrupting everything and everyone. But the funny thing is he talks all through class in English- it just has absolutely nothing to do with what we're studying. He'll talk about werewolves and act out his own little movie scenarios (complete with different voices for the different characters) and basically do anything that is not related to class. He could be a really fantastic student if he could just focus. So yeah, that's my first class Monday. Then I have 6th and 4th grades. Nothing much to report on those, honestly. I'm free around 12:30 and then I go to the gym at 3.

And, yes! I have a gym! It took about 2 months to find, but I found one! It's at the Telavi Tennis Courts, which is a small scale tennis club down the street from my house. The gym isn't too, too bad. It's a small room, maybe 12x12. There are 2 treadmills; an eliptical (which doesn't work), a bike machine (which might also be a little broken); a weight lifting machine for legs, arms, and shoulders (it's in need of a little oil and the cords could be tightened a bit); there's this weird thing that's like a bench and it moves so you can work your abs, but I usually just use it as a bench; several random cheap looking things that I'm not really sure what they're supposed to do; a rowing machine that only works your arms, but not your legs at all. And the best thing out of them all is a machine that's supposed to just vibrate the pounds away. It's a belt that's attached to a little machine. You strap yourself in, press go, and stand around while this machine jiggles the pounds away. It is the weirdest sensation! The gym isn't wonderful, but it serves its purpose. And it helps me feel better about all the bread and potatoes I consume on a daily basis.

Tuesdays I have 8th and 6th again, but my last class is 9th grade. Holy Heavens, I hate my 9th grade class. (Can I say that I hate a class? Doesn't sound very teacherly, does it?) It is always taken over by the boys in the class. None of whom do anything or care at all. Some of the girls will do their work and bring their books, sometimes. But they can't ever speak over the din of the boys talking in the back. And you can't do anything to stop it. There is no detention hall, no notes home to parents, no punishment for anything. One day I stood in front of the class and told my teacher to translate everything I was saying exactly (because the boys don't know anything except "Sit down" and "Shut up!" which they yell out constantly during class). I told them they were disrespectful and they should be ashamed at themselves. Shame. Yep, that's a big word in this culture. It didn't get them to stop talking, but it did actually draw them out of their little chit chatting. Ahh well, baby steps, I guess.

Wednesday is my busy day. I go to 8th, 4th, and 9th grades. I get done at 2:20. It was originally 2 o'clock when I first got here in February, but the schools have switched to their warm weather schedules. So now I'm done at 2:20. I have to rush up the hill to my house (about a 10 or 15 minute walk), grab a very quick lunch, then race up to the university by 3 where 2 other TLG volunteers and myself teach English to Telavi University professors. I teach the advanced class. Although "teach" isn't really an appropriate term. I basically show up and have conversations in English. This is the most cultural interchange I probably have all week. Most conversations come down to what they do in Georgia versus what we do in the U.S. It's really interesting and it's a really good forum where I have a valid reason to ask all the stupid questions I have about Georgian culture. After that I go to the gym again. Yay, gym!

And then there's Thursday. I have 8th and 6th grades and then 3rd grade. The 3rd grade is good. It's mostly playing games. But the problem is that I am really handicapped by the language barrier. My co-teacher for the 3rd grade is my worst teacher. I have to repeat everything I say at least once- her conversational skills are next to nil. And the 3rd graders' English isn't good enough to understand what I say unless it's basic questions about what's in the book. So I'm really dependent on this teacher who can't understand me. It eats up a lot of class time. This is also the same teacher who blew me off several times when I had tried to arrange meetings with her to make lesson plans. And when we eventually get around to making lesson plans she doesn't pay attention to them during class anyway. She is really a terrible teacher. It's so frustrating.

But Thursdays always get better. After school I catch a marshrutka (the minibuses that are the primary mode of transportation throughout the country. There isn't really an organized public transit system, just the minibuses) to Akhmeta, a town about 40 minutes away. Akhmeta is where the UNHCR office is located for the region. One of the girls from my group is living with the director of the UNHCR Akhmeta office and helps run the Pankisi Community Center. Pankisi is one of the major areas where Chechen refugees are living. I visited Pankisi for three days last time I was in Georgia. Those were the most powerful three days I think I've ever had and I knew I wanted to try and come back, even just for a visit. But now I can do more than just visit. Every Thursday I go to Pankisi and teach two English classes. The first is for high school seniors who don't have much occasion to practice what they learn in class. I really like this class because they actually want to learn. Sometimes I forget that these kinds of students exist! After the seniors I teach the staff who work at the community center. They are a really great class, too! These women are so funny and have such lovely personalities. I'm pretty sure most of them are refugees (which reminds me: You should never do the activity of describing the rooms of your house while teaching refugees. Mostly because the dining room, living room, bedroom, and kitchen can be the same room. I was so embarrassed when I did that. Oi vey). I wish my Russian was better so I could sit down and talk to them and hear their stories. The staff of the community center is entirely women and they are so inspiring. I always leave Pankisi in a good mood. Always.

And then it's Friday! I wish I could say Fridays were easy, but they are anything but. I have all day with my worst teacher. Our first class is 7th grade, then there is a 10 minute break, and then we have the 7th grade again. It is the most foolish way of organizing a class. I'm sure the students love it because they don't have as much homework. But I think it's a foolish waste of time. After the 7th grade it gets a bit easy with the 3rd grade, but I still find myself wicked stressed after leaving school at the end of the day. My bad teacher is just so bad. And it's an evil cycle: her students don't speak or understand English very well, so I'm dependent on her translating everything I say, which eats up more time, which means that the students don't learn as much and they stay in this stagnant place. It's so frustrating. At the end of the day I usually end up calling someone in the area just go to a cafe and chill out. By the end of the week I'm usually in need of a casual drink with a friend. And I do mean casual- drinking with the host fam is always a huge ordeal that requires toasting and eating and drinking to excess. Sometimes I just want to hang out, chat, and have a beer. Well, ideally I'd like to have a cocktail, but they seem hard to come by in this country of beer and wine. I didn't really have a problem with this until about 2 weeks ago when I was walking down the street and out of nowhere I thought of gin and tonics. Ever since then I can't stop thinking about them, especially since the weather is getting nicer. But I have yet to see any limes or tonic water in this country, a sad fact I'll have to live with until July. And I don't understand how they can be bereft of limes. They have oranges and lemons everywhere, so why not limes?

Wow, that was quite the sidetrack. It's probably a bad sign when you're talking about work and you get sidetracked onto cocktails. But these things happen... evidently.

Weekends are always different. Sometimes I'll go into Tbilisi if I need a break from Telavi. But it can get so expensive, especially because it's almost impossible to spend an afternoon in the capital. It just makes more sense to stay the night, which is 20 lari right there (I get a TLG discount at this one hostel that's in the center of town. It's really great. It's called Boombully. Definitely check it out if you ever find yourself in Tbilisi). I try not to go into Tbilisi too often. Most weekends I'll stay in Telavi, see other volunteers in the area, and basically chill out.

So that's what my week looks like. I hope I haven't bored you too much. But I figured I should account for what my job actually is. People might start to suspect that I've been hired to just hang out and travel around; although, that was the driving conspiracy theory behind my last blog post, wasn't it? But despite the looks of things, I do actually have a job here. I promise.

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