Thursday, June 9, 2011

Focus on growth

When I first arrived here in Georgia, I felt overwhelmed at the amount of work that needed to be done to reach the Ministry of Education's goal to raise the level of English in classrooms across the country. At the small school I was assigned to, over 90 students with varying degrees of English skills were placed in my care. My two co-teachers' English was decent enough, but their teaching methods needed some modernizing. I wondered how in the world I was going to make any difference whatsoever in the level of English spoken in this small village. I am only one person!

I made the decision to focus my attention on my co-teachers. After all, they are the ones who will remain here long after I am gone. They are the ones who will be teaching the classes for generations to come. I felt that my efforts would have the most far-reaching effect with bettering not only their English language skills, but also their teaching skills. (I know that I blogged about this decision months ago....)

And after seven months of hard work, I am very happy to say that my goal has been achieved. I'm not done yet -- there is still another week of school, and two or three more weeks until I leave. I still have some speaking and writing classes with my co-teachers and pronunciation classes with my best students. But this past week, my teachers received compliments that have let us all know that my work here has been worthwhile, valid, and successful.

In Zugdidi, there is an Educational Resource Center (ERC) that holds training sessions for the teachers to learn how to change their teaching from Soviet-style to Western-style. It has been done with mixed success. I am proud to say that my teachers have improved tremendously. They have changed the way they do lesson plans and assessments, and have focused on running learner-centered classrooms, not teacher-centered ones. Back in November when I first arrived, the TLG trainers (my employer) told us volunteer teachers that if we went along with our co-teachers to these trainings, we would know what the Ministry is trying to get the teachers to do, and that we could then help them understand how to put what they learn at the ERC into practice. It's one thing to sit in a seminar and hear what should be done. It's another thing to do it. So, since November, I have attended the workshops with Lika and Tea. Then I have helped them do what they have learned. (Sometimes this felt like an uphill battle..... especially the assessment and homework-accountability issues.)

This week we had our final training session at the ERC. Our trainer, Peg (an English Language Fellow from Georgetown U partnering with the U.S. Embassy) had a "final exam" of sorts for the group. It was a practical skills test of how well they learned what she has taught them about planning, assessing, and managing the classroom. (I act as a teacher's assistant at the trainings, because I know all the answers.) Lika was in one group and Tea was in another as they completed the tasks to test their skills and understanding of the Western teaching concepts. Peg was so impressed with Lika's and Tea's work -- she was thrilled to see their improvement and that they really understood what she had been teaching them. I was so proud! Peg complimented them and told them how much it means to her to have Georgian teachers who understand Western methods and are actively using them. I beamed like a proud parent!

After the session was over, we walked through town with a few of the other teachers from the local schools. A couple of them talked with Tea and told her that they were impressed with how much better her English has gotten over the last several months. Tea looked at me and smiled. Again, I beamed with pride for her accomplishment.

I know I made the right choice in focusing my energies on Lika and Tea. The strides they have made in both their language skills and teaching skills is astounding. I am fully confident that these two very motivated ladies will pass their certification exams and go on to be very, very effective English teachers.

Growth is good!

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