There is a lot that I want to say about the educational system here in Georgia. The government has great plans for change in the country's education, but their methods are a little screwy. I am daily making notes to myself in preparation for crafting an email to the Ministry of Education sometime before I leave Georgia to tell them my view of how things are really going in the country's educational system. Government agencies don't always have a clear picture of what is really happening. Although their vision is noble, there is a lot that needs to improve before the president's wish to have every child in Georgia speaking English becomes reality. But that's not the point of today's post.
While there is much that still needs to change here, I am glad to say that I do see change happening. The educational system that has been in place in Georgia for decades harkens back to Soviet times when rote memorization was the method of learning and ear-pinching was the method of discipline. The Ministry of Education has started training their teachers in "new methods," including discipline. The old ear-pinching, head-whapping, knuckle-rapping, berating, and criticizing is being eradicated (although it still happens at the hands of the old teachers), and the teachers are being taught to be loving and positive instead of harsh and negative. I saw this change in action today.
Ninth-grade boys. If there is any group of students that inevitably gives me trouble, it is the ninth-grade boys. It was true of every freshman class I had in Pennsylvania, and it is true here, too. Granted, my present students do not behave as badly as some I have heard about in other parts of Georgia, but they talk and distract the other students. Today five of the boys were especially disruptive. Lika and I had to reprimand them several times during class.
After class was over, I went with Lika to the teacher's room to write our lesson plans for tomorrow. We got to talking about the ninth-grade class and what we could do with the boys who don't pay attention. When we named specific students, the other teachers in the room asked what we were talking about. Lika told them what had gone on in our class that day. The school assistant director and the ninth-grade homeroom teacher wanted specifics on the boys' behavior. We gave them as accurate a description as we could of their general disregard for the material, their fellow-students' ability to learn, and our ability to teach. The homeroom teacher disappeared. Five minutes later, the door opened and in she marched, trailing the guilty parties behind her, heads bowed and eyes down like whipped puppies. I had no idea what was going to happen - I am no good at confrontation, especially unplanned, and I was hoping desperately that I would not have to accost the boys via translator in front of all the teachers in the room. Thankfully, I didn't have to say a word. The homeroom teacher and assistant director did all the talking that was needed. I was very glad to see that they spoke to the boys with care and concern (with all the fervor and emotion and volume of the Georgians) - they demonstrated the needed change from the Soviet-style punishment - it was much more like the Mennonite "Dutch-uncle talk," informing them that their behavior was not appropriate for school and admonishing them to respect their classmates' right to learn and the teachers' right to teach. The boys apologized and with heads hanging low, promised to work harder and pay attention in class.
One of the boys just about broke my heart. He is the one who never, ever pays attention - never brings his book to class - never answers a single question - doesn't take the tests - he is physically present in the class, but that's it. In every class, Lika and I have to call him out for distracting the other students. I don't know why he is in our class, except that he has to be somewhere during that period. When he was standing there with the other boys in the teachers' room, the look in his eyes tore at my heart. There was so much hurt and sadness there. His father died the day he was born, and he has no father-figure in his household. For a boy-turning-young man, it is so important to have strong, male role-models. I could see in his eyes that he has just about given up. My heart was breaking because I wanted to tell him that he has great potential if he would only believe in himself. I have no idea if he ever gets any encouragement to work hard to better himself. From his normal, daily behavior, I would guess no. After the boys had apologized, I stood up and told them that they all could be very good students if they would just apply themselves. I encouraged them to work hard to give themselves the best chance for a good future. Lika translated for me. I hope they understood.
One of the most difficult things I face here is just this: my teaching-style is relational, and it is tough to build a relationship on such a small base of understandable communication. There is so much that I want to say to these students to encourage them for their future. I will have to settle for whatever they can understand and continue to show them that I care about them through actions beyond words.