Some days I feel the gravity and importance of what I am doing here more heavily than others. Today was one of those days.
The Educational Resource Centers positioned all over Georgia function as offshoots of the Ministry of Education. Teachers go there to participate in trainings for the new Western educational system that the government wants implemented in all schools across the country. At our ERC in Zugdidi, there is an American English Language Fellow, Peggy who leads the English language teachers' trainings. Peggy is working at teaching the English teachers how to change their teaching style from Soviet-era to Western. Since I am part of the English department, I attend the trainings with my two co-teachers. We had one today.
Today's topic was Classroom Management -- a tricky one for even the most seasoned teacher -- but here in Georgia where real education has not been historically valued (under Soviet rule), disrespect and misbehavior are all-too-common problems in the classroom. I am fortunate to have mostly well-behaved students, but that is not the norm across the country. In today's training, Peggy introduced concepts like focus-activities to start a class, dealing with misbehavior as soon as it occurs, and having some type of penalty (a word none of the Georgian teachers knew....O, so telling.... They knew the word "punishment" but not "penalty") for not having homework completed. As an experienced teacher, I have used all of these concepts in my (American) classroom for years. But this was truly breaking new ground for the teachers at the meeting today. Most of them had no idea what Peggy was talking about for the focus activity nor the penalty for incomplete homework. (Tea was the exception here -- we have talked about all these things in our kitchen-talks.) Retraining the teachers in an entire country is a gigantic task -- a task that is much more difficult than it may seem. And we TLG teachers are a part of that task.
Equilibrium is difficult to find in trying to model Western-style education without completely taking over the local teachers' jobs. There are so many things that are not in place in the present educational system that are needed to support a Western teaching style -- the grading system, the curriculum, the basic philosophy of education -- it's like trying to play soccer on the bottom of the ocean -- not entirely impossible, but very difficult!
In Lika's and Tea's classes, I am working at slowly changing the way they approach teaching -- methods, activities, attitudes toward homework, grading. Taking one thing at a time is the best approach for them and the students. If we tried to change everything at once, it would be too overwhelming for everyone. Each week I broach a new topic in as delicate a way as I can to see if they are satisfied with the present system -- neither of them is, so I am free to suggest that we try something new. In the following days, I help them put new things into their lesson plans, then teach that part of the lesson to model the change for them. They are both excited at the changes and see that their students are going to greatly benefit from their new approaches.
Unfortunately, not all teachers are convinced that the new teaching styles are going to work. I am working with three teachers to prepare them for their upcoming certification exams -- Tea, Lika, and Sopo. Thursday I spent time with Sopo helping her with her writing. As we talked about school, I made a comment about spending time in class writing. She replied that there is no time what with having to review all the homework exercises that the students didn't do the night before and then "telling the lesson" -- meaning that students stand up and recite a ridiculously lengthy and irrelevant text from their book -- the very things that Peggy is teaching them to NOT do. I really wanted to tell her that she is wasting her time doing those things, but I don't know Sopo well enough yet -- so I bit my tongue and said something benign. But I can't let this go. In the coming weeks, I'll find some way to come back to the topic and try to reiterate what she is learning (or, supposed to be learning) from Peggy.
Teaching the teachers. That's part of my job -- and I think it is the most important part. These ladies will be here long after I am gone. They are the ones who will be teaching the students here for years to come. If I can help them become quality teachers, everyone will benefit.