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It has been a while since I last posted. Lack of time has been a large factor, but I also had a computer snafu wherein my machine didn't install a driver right, which made the keyboard inoperable. At the end of the day though, those are just excuses.
A lot has happened in the intervening time. Learning the language continues to be a daily struggle. The English Education (EE) trainees (that includes me) completed their practicum where we worked with local English teachers to get some hands on experience co-teaching English in Georgian classrooms. I traveled to Telavi for Job Shadowing to see ho co-teaching is really done and to really just hang out with other volunteers for brief stress relief. Along with Zach Knighton and Kyle Johnson, I explored Vardzia for my culture trip (there will be a post about cave cities of Georgia some time, I swear. Most importantly though, we all learned where we were going to be posted for the next two years, and then we went to check those places out.
The placement process began before we even assembled in Washington D.C. For EE a list of 100 schools was vetted for security, bringing the number down to 99. The list was further refined taking in account our skills and interests. Where I would have liked some place warm, my only real request was that there were also science teachers that I would be able to work with too. I also asked that they clone my training host family in Gori because they are so awesome.
So where'd I go? When I got my envelope, I had no real idea what it meant. I was given the name of a town, a director, the English teachers, my host family at the permanent site, and a stream of data about the school, its needs, and current projects. Class size looked good, teachers wanted English classes too, and there's an E-Twinning project linking the school to others in Europe. The Program Manager for Education East explained a couple of projects, but I still didn't really know what to expect. Where I was told that the reason for the placement was that she felt it was the school most open to creativity and new ideas, I felt the real reason was that the town is watched over by a castle (now ruined by earthquake) whose name translates as "Come see me". Seriously, you can't get a better invitation than that (and yes there's a story behind that name, but that's another post).
Of course the next thing that happened was that we all piled into marshutkas and drove down to Borjomi too meet our new directors. When the time came, we all lined up, directors on one side and trainees on the other. Tengo, our training manager, made something of a game of it, but I cheated, as I had tracked down by director on Facebook the night before. The short version of this meeting is that setting myself no expectations meant that I was blown away. Nino is exceptionally open to the crazy ideas I had, and when, during one exercise, we had to list 3 qualities that we hoped for in the other, we both put creativity. Its important to remember that the next two years aren't just about my crazy ideas, they are also about hers and the community's wants and needs. It really helps that we're on similar wavelengths in these regards as so many of these things we each want compliment and/or build upon one another.
As for the site itself, although it is called a town it is really more of a big village. Neighbors come out and talk to each other in the streets. There's a warmth there that you don't find in a city. Given this is should be no surprise that my host family there was equally welcoming; though, I was surprised to learn that my new grandfather is the deputy director at my school and has a small classroom in the house where he tutors math (one of his students also wants to be an architect). Also my new host mother is the school librarian. Given all this, the biggest surprise was actually the school itself.
The class sizes seem to average around 15, which is not only manageable, but it also means I can give more attention to the students. The teachers also want to work with me. The English teachers I worked with were both great, and I even wound up co-teaching a couple of classes. Being the end of the year, the students had already turned in their books. So, there were some difficulties and there was much awesome.
Where English Education is my primary purpose, I want to help with other subjects too. With that in mind, I got to chatting (through a translator) with Maya, the biology teacher, and I learned that she's already doing after school science projects with the kids! She was open to the idea of collaboration and also wants to improve her English skills. Darejan, the physics teacher, was similarly easy to work with. I pitched her the idea of making an air conditioner after seeing so many of the teachers dying of heat in the teacher's lounge. After sketching it out on the black board, she immediately grasped the ideas behind it. I practically didn't need to finish the drawings. The next thing I know she's already had kids photograph it and someone else had volunteered spare parts.
Then, of course, there was the 4th grade concert. Song, dance, and poetry excited the audience that afternoon. Where the bulk of the performance was by the 4th graders, members from other classes helped out too, plus the incoming first graders got in on the act at the end. For me, the greatest measure of a teacher isn't how well their students do on tests, but how their students touch the lives of others. There wasn't a single face without a smile. So I would say the they did well indeed.
Events were crowned by a supra held in honor of Erik, a G13 volunteer posted in the same town. His two years of service was completed and he was heading back to America. It was clear how many lives he'd touched, and how deeply those lives touched him. Something he said that evening resonated with me: "Any of these people could have gone to Tbilisi and made more money, but they instead chose to stay here and help their community." Those are the type of people I get to work with.
Was there more? Absolutely, but this post has already gone on a bit long. So I'll just sum up and say that I'm quite happy with where I'll be going.