Monday, October 4, 2010

Fair Fights, Crossing of Legs, & Inherent Knowledge

So I haven’t been fired yet! That’s a reason to celebrate, is it not? So here’s ten more thoughts on the first few weeks of teaching that may or may not piss some people off (I would bet on the former).

Ati – You know how I’ve brought up the rule of three? Something to do with the holy trinity or something or other. Well it’s reared its ugly head in the classroom, where it’s commonplace for students to raise their hand while spastically fluttering their hand about and shouting Mas, mas, mas! Mas is short for mastsavlebeli (teacher), which is how the students address their teachers. I’m all for enthusiastically wanting to participate in class, but I’ve already laid down the law that the more noise you make the less likely I’ll call on you. It still hasn’t worked though, and unfortunately, Tamari has taught my year Vs (my largest, most hyper and enthusiastic class) to say May I?, which I’ll tolerate just for the purpose of getting the students to use English, even if they don’t really know what they’re saying. I’ve also weaned them off of calling me Mas and towards calling me Teacher. Baby steps.

Otsi – It’s written in our contract that under no circumstances are we supposed to use physical force in the classroom, which is fine by me; I’m currently dabbling in pacifism anyway. But that doesn’t mean the Georgian teachers aren’t hands on when they need to be. No one’s getting smacked around or anything, but it’s quite common for a teacher to grab a kid’s ear (usually a boy in the age range of ten to fourteen who somewhat resembled myself at that age; a complete pain in the ass) and give it a little twist. It’s harmless and does the trick, so I’m all for it; add in the fact that it’s a breath of fresh air when compared to how children are treated in America where kids have more rights than minorities. Although I don’t know if that beats the teachers answering their cell phones in the middle of class (yes, that does happen).

Otsdaati – Speaking of rough-housing, we have ten minute breaks in between classes, and generally I head to the teachers’ lounge to prepare for the next lesson or just read my book. But a few times I’ve either waited around in the hallway or went to class a bit early, and it’s like a war-zone out there. Kids are running around, chasing each other, wrestling, or just straight-up fighting. It strikes me all as quite Darwinistic because they behave pretty well for forty-five minutes, then that bell rings and it’s like all the rules are dropped, the teachers turn the cheek, and all hell breaks loose. Just last week I had to break up a hair-puling fight between two ten-year old girls, a first (and hopefully a last) for me. It was terrifying. Sometimes I watch the boys playing soccer in the yard during the breaks, and it resembles nothing similar to the beautiful game, but more like a mixture of rugby and MMA. Needless to say, I won’t be joining in anytime soon as I don’t think my insurance covers getting my ass kicked by my students.

Ormotsi – But I don’t really blame them for having so much pent up energy and not having a means of release. There’s not much going on at the school. I’m not going to compare it to my own experience, sine I went to one of the better private schools in the state and resembled a country club more than an academic institution (my father loved to give me the business about it too: You don’t want to be late, the cappuccino service ends at 8:30). But the lack of resources is astounding.

Ormotsdaati – Resource isn’t a word I thought much about when it comes to teaching and learning, but coming here made me realize how vital it is to the process. The Bandza School has one computer with no Internet access, they don’t have a printer or a copier, half the classrooms don’t have lighting, most of the students don’t have books or workbooks, there’s no in-door plumbing while water is taken from a well etc. I’m not complaining, as God knows there are schools in the world that don’t even have chalkboards (in Bandza, all of our classrooms have chalkboards while the students generally supply the chalk, which I found both amusing and quite thoughtful), but it does make you cognizant of the importance of resources, and how they are consistently taken advantage of or even completely ignored back in the States (I would kill for a day in an English library). As I said in my previous post, I feel like once I get finished here, I’ll be prepared to teach anywhere.

Samotsi – It’s always funny how even the most apathetic kids can seem motivated in the first few weeks of school. I was one of those kids; this year’s gonna be different, I’m gonna pay attention in class, I’m gonna take notes, I’m gonna meet with my teachers more… Yeah, right. Usually this new found scholarly attitude would last less than a month before I was spacing off in class, thinking about God knows what (usually how many chicken sandwiches I would wolf down in the day’s lunch period or how I was going to score booze for the upcoming weekend [JTTT]). I get the same feeling from certain students in Bandza; that feeling that they’d just rather not be there (since I used to be one of them, I know their characteristics and mannerisms) but I can tell they have that beginning of school buzz, even if it’s starting to wear off ever so slowly. Even the enthusiasm (or wonderment) directed towards me has faded just a bit. I’m just trying to enjoy it while it lasts and maybe figure out a way to keep it going.

Samotsdaati – I guess I don’t understand how good I have it. Tamari has told me that the students behave so much better when I am in the classroom, which is why even if I’m not doing much, she prefers to have me there. In fact, she’s even used me as a way to bribe the students into behaving better. If I’m not sitting in on a lesson (usually because Tamari tells me I don’t have to, “It does not matter.”) and the students ask, where is Max? She will tell them that I did not come because they were acting up in the previous class. It’s a complete lie, but whatever works…

Otkhmotsi– This doesn’t have much to do with teaching, but I thought of it while observing a class the other day. Georgian men have an unbelievable ability to cross their legs at a disturbing angle. It starts at a young age, as one of my students (Padri) crosses his legs to a degree that it makes me queasy just to look at (please don’t ask me why I note the level to which my boy students cross their legs). But you’ll see many older Georgian men also crossing their legs like there’s nothing in between them. It’s mostly the skinny guys who have twigs for legs, like Murmani (my hero/P.E. teacher). I mean, I’m no John Holmes, but if I lift my right leg up onto my left leg past the upper ankle, I start to get a little light-headed. So the fact that most Georgian men can’t fit a ruler in between their legs when crossed is either impressive or just plain weird. But I will say this, a man who can cross his legs, thigh over thigh, while looking comfortable comes off as much more intelligent and distinguished. Maybe it’s just that every picture I’ve ever seen of Abe Lincoln had him with his twigs crossed over each other in a way that defies physics. And no one was more intelligent or distinguished than Abe Lincoln, sexual orientation be damned.

Otkhmotsdaati – I started on this in the last post, but the difference between who I was teaching during my TEFL course and who I’m teaching now is night and day. The older Italians I was teaching in Florence paid next to nothing to attend, but wanted to be there, which is nine tenths of motivation; just showing up when you really don’t have to (they paid for a certain amount of lessons with no cancellation fee, so if they didn’t want to come, they didn’t come). Not all of my current students don’t want to be in school, but there’s definitely a few that couldn’t be bothered with it, and those kids tend to be the same boys that get their ears twisted by the teachers. This particularly pertains to my VII-IX classes, which are larger (after ninth grade, you can choose between English and Russian, so the classes are smaller) and consistently have five or six boys who don’t pay attention, talk the entire class, and can’t wait to unleash hell after that bell rings. I’ve suggested splitting them up within the classroom, which seemed revolutionary to Tamari (they’ve not quite grasped the idea of assigned seating at my school), so we’ll see if it helps. Isolating the problem usually makes it easier to solve, or at least keeps it from spreading for the time being.

Saati – And lastly, back to my stupidity. It amazes me how little I know about the English language. We all know it, but why or how we know it can range from zero, to some-what. This brings me back to my Latin classes, where I started to realize there were rules and grammar constructions within a language. Amazingly, this is something we only grasp once we begin to learn a foreign language. Generally, you don’t have to learn the rules of your own language because you inherently know them (I’d say we’re born with them, but more or less we learn them from our parents from when we’re sucking on the teet to when we’re potty trained [for some it takes longer, like the citizens of West Virginia]). Generally for TEFL jobs, the most important requirement is being a native English speaker, but I think it’s just as vital to have a thorough understanding of the rules and makeup of our own language (part of the reason some of the best English teachers I’ve met aren’t native speakers is because they had to learn the rules that we naturally but unknowingly follow). So I make sure to bone up on my own knowledge before teaching or diagramming a grammar point, because nothing makes me feel as dumb as standing up at the chalkboard and trying to remember the rules to the second conditional. That kind of reminds me of this story about Ted Williams, probably the most natural hitter to ever play baseball, and his attempt at being a hitting coach. When his players came to him asking what was the best way to hit a slider, he just said, “You see the spin, expect it to break, and you hit it.” Of course it’s not that easy, but for a baseball genius like Williams, it really was that easy. I’m no genius, but as much as I want to say it’s like this because I said so, that probably isn't the best way to teach.

For some reason, the pictures are not uploading correctly, hopefully I'll have them soon...


  1. I'm almost proud of you... (schwasniff)

  2. I'll take it! That's much better than what my Dad says to every morning, "You're a disgrace..."