Well I have completed my first week as a teacher, and I definitely have a greater respect for the profession. I even feel guilty saying that because I am only a co-teacher, so I cannot fully empathize with those who do it all themselves. Who knew that making lesson plans was so difficult? And what level am I supposed to teach to? I still have a good number of questions, and I don’t think I will answer all of them before I leave. Before this experience, my knowledge of educational theory was all based on what worked for me; however, I have found that the methods I liked most in the classroom are not for the majority of students. Regardless of my struggles with lesson planning and theory, I find myself enjoying the children and my colleagues – a sentiment that will add to my ability and my good time here in Georgia.
The teachers were waiting for me at the door on the first day of school, and it was sort of an awkward reception because only one of the teachers speaks English well (though 3 teach the language). Also, the principal speaks no English, so communication was limited. Everyone was incredibly friendly, however, I and have found that this amiable spirit has not waned in the slightest. I was introduced to each classroom and asked multiple questions from the students. The most common was if I had a wife and children, which I find weird because I look at myself in the mirror and I know there is no way… there is just no way. I guess it is a fair question, though, because 20-23 is marrying age here (I know of 3 people here my age that have been married for ~5 years). Overall, the students were very excited to see me (especially the girls), and, again, this exuberance has not yet failed – then again, it is only the first week.
I was quite worried about my role in the classroom, and, though I still am not sure of it, I know that the kids will receive quality English teaching. My co-teachers are all quite talented, and I definitely do not have similar complaints to those of the other American teachers here. Apparently, some schools have incredibly poor control over their students, the teachers talk on cell-phones during class, and the only English work done is memorizing and reciting English conversations. This is not the case at my school, and I really think that the children are receiving quality education. For this, I consider myself lucky, and I hope to further improve their English by focusing on conversational skills.
The girls adore me here, and it is amazing. God, what the average high school boy would give for the looks, love notes and hand-made gifts that I receive constantly. And I have a special connection with the boys as well! I make up special handshakes with each of them, and I have promised to play soccer with them as soon as I can. While such attention could deter learning in the classroom, I find that the adoration comes with a respect that helps maintain a good educational environment. I hope that this positive aspect of my stature will not wear off as I suspect the googly-eyed girls and love notes will.
In other news, I have played a ton of soccer this week. I am dismayed to admit that I am much worse than the 15-year-old boys I play with, but I am a muscular giant amongst them which comes in handy. Despite my lack of skill, it is still a great time, and I hope to get in as much soccer as I can before the weather turns completely foul. It is definitely a great time-filler, and it is probably good to work off the ridiculous amounts of khachapuri (cheese bread) that I eat.
Yesterday was mtsxetoba (I can pronounce it correctly, and I assure you that you cannot) which is a big holiday here celebrating the birthday of the city mtsxeta. The main event is, of course, in the birthday city, but we celebrated our holiday in Tbilisi and went out for khinkali. Khinkali is definitely one of the most loved foods here, and I would have to say it is my favorite as well. Basically, it is a meat dumpling that takes a good amount of skill to eat because it is considered quite rude to spill any juice onto your plate. When George Bush came here, he could not figure out how to eat it correctly, and, apparently, it was quite shameful – I can only imagine the awkwardness of his ignorance to the ancient tradition. Besides the flavor, my favorite thing about Khinkali is that you must have beer to wash it down or else it is not the full experience. To top it all off, they are only about 25 cents each, and even a big dude with the munchies would be stuffed after 10.
I met the other side of the family (Tata’s parents and sisters), and that was definitely an interesting experience. Her mother is a family doctor and her father is a veterinarian, so they have a super nice house. Though it isn’t too large, the furniture, cabinetry and flooring are top notch as was the wine they gave me. I have never had a drink so flavorful, and I am eager to try more of the famous wines here (Georgia boasts being the birthplace of wine). While many family’s will turn on awkward Georgian TV singers, they provide their own vocal entertainment and it is fabulous. All the girls sing extraordinarily well, and Tata plays piano while Salome (Sally) expertly leads on guitar. I usually find impromptu singing incredibly awkward, but their skill level and family focus on art made it an enjoyable experience. They were singing mostly American songs (Crazy- Gnarls Barkley for example), so I knew the words but I refused to sing along much to their dismay. Anyways, it was really cool, and their family is all super close to each other. I am excited to spend more time with them and I think it is likely I will get to do some travelling with the family as well.
If there was a negative to that experience it was the political talk that followed the musical session. Generally, I do not like to talk politics for many reasons; however, they were super interested in my thoughts as an American and they basically forced my views from me. I debated feigning liberalism because I could tell this family leaned heavily in that direction, but I just couldn’t stoop to that level. Long story short, I delivered my views as nicely as I could, they disagreed slightly less nicely and then talked amongst themselves in Georgian about Georgian politics for a good while. The biggest part of the problem is that they want to know what America thinks about Georgia’s political situation; however, most Americans could not point them out on a map, let alone make an informed statement about Georgia’s attempts to join NATO. It was awkward and frustrating! I guess that is why they told us in training not to talk about politics with Georgians. Not surprisingly, I didn’t listen and promptly dug a hole.
In closing, I am having a great time with great people. I am excited to see how school progresses, and I am definitely going to give it my best effort. There are lots of cool stories that I would love to get into, but I have had some complaints at the length of the blog, so I am sorry. I was forced to have a bottle of vodka with my mama for lunch, I saw a dude get hit by a car, I learned that using the term girlfriend here means sexually active (they strictly avoid that term), I learned how to play dominoes and backgammon with the old men, and I enjoyed coca-cola as never before. Oh travelling…. how good you are!