Classes in Georgia

So we’re being put through a one-week orientation before TLG sends us out into Georgia on our own.  On the schedule, the week includes three hours of Georgian class per day in the mornings, and then four hours of assorted other classes in the afternoons: Methodology for the first two days, Intercultural Learning for the next three, and then a bunch of other random stuff.

Methodology class was… well… not what I’d hoped.  See, I was hoping they’d focus on teaching us teaching methods.  You know, like a class in pedagogy or education or whatever.  But no, they in fact taught us Methodology – how to evalutate teaching methods, coursebooks, and the proficiency levels of students.  And, I guess that’s sort of useful, in that it might help us select the kinds of materials and presentations we’d want to give to the students.  On the other hand, it doesn’t seem to help us actually use those methods that we are so good at evaluating.  I guess we’ll just have to wing it.

I had thought that Intercultural Learning would be better.  It was, however, somehow even more frustrating.  Now, I will say up front that I came into class a little more than half an hour late due to some communication issues that my roommate and I had with the waiter at the restaurant where we had lunch.  I felt somewhat bad about this, but the cafeteria food here has really not been doing it for me and I was having debilitating cravings for khatchapuri.  Anyway, upon my arrival in class I was happy to learn that I had not missed anything of substance.  The entire time had apparently been allocated to finding out what my fellow teachers expected to get out of the intercultural learning class.  This discussion went on for some time after I came in.

So this is where I get a little negative.  Because if we’re speaking of expectations, I would expect that if TLG has less than 12 hours to tell us everything they possibly can about Georgian culture in order to prepare us for a year in this country, then they would not waste 45 minutes of that time asking us for our opinions about what we should be learning.

We then had an exercise where we had to go around to four stations and write a short response to one or two questions about culture at each station.  The questions were things like, “what is culture” and “can a person have more than one cultural background” and “how flexible is culture.”  Okay, so that’s another 15 minutes wasted asking us what we know about culture.  This was followed by an hour of discussion about what we had written, which amounted to everyone in the class talking about their own (American, Canadian, Australian) culture.

Although I grew up in America, I learned some valuable things about American culture in this class from my fellow TLG teachers.  For instance, did you know that in America, no one ever talks about religion?  I mean, I guess I must have just misheard President Bush in every fucking speech he ever made.  And obviously I hallucinated that Republican primary debate in which the candidates were asked if they believed that the words of the Bible were literally true.  And clearly the debate over the “ground zero mosque” has nothing to do with religion, even though it isn’t even a mosque so why call it that if it isn’t about religion?  Whatever.

I also learned that everyone in America smiles all the time.  Apparently people are trained to smile when other people look at them.  I must have missed this training and gotten Rude New Yorker training instead.  Oh well, I guess that’s what I get for not living in the “Real America.”

So I guess you can tell that I’m pretty pissed off that instead of hearing actual facts about the country where I will be staying for the next year, I had to spend over an hour listening to made up facts about a country where I have lived for all of my life.  I mean, it wasn’t all bad – there were times when the Canadians were talking, for instance – but it was almost all bad.  It was also very, very hot.

After class I was so frustrated and exhausted that I found a cool spot to lay down for a bit.  I inadvertently fell asleep, and when I woke up it was already 20 minutes into part two of Intercultural Learning.  Rather than being late twice in a row, I ended up studying my Georgian for an hour and a half.  This went fairly well.  I have never studied this much for anything – I guess living in a country where no one speaks English is pretty strong motivation to learn another language.

Georgian class was really helpful today because the teacher reviewed the differences between the “hard” and “soft” consonants.  In Georgian, there are consonants like კ and ქ, which both make approximately the sound that we think of as a k or a hard c.  However, the first one is a “hard” k, and is made with a great deal of force; the second is a “soft” k and the best way I can describe it is that it is halfway between a k and a hard g.  Of course, this is only what one teacher is telling us, and people are often very bad at describing the sounds in their own languages, and of course what one produces spontaneously is often highly different from what one produces when prompted, which is again different from what one produces when demonstrating or teaching.  So I will reserve judgment until I have heard a lot more native Georgians speaking in more varied situations, but so far the IPA for these consonants has been half correct and helpful and half incorrect and detrimental.

In any case, I have at least gained the ability to correctly differentiate between when the teacher is using the hard and soft versions, which makes me very happy.

*********

So honestly, this is not all that unexpected.  I have always been really into language and linguistics and language classes, and I have always hated group work and I have always had an extremely low tolerance for bullshit in in-class discussions.  My reactions to this set of classes is totally characteristic of me, and it seems like I’ve gotten even more enthusiastic about classes I like and more cranky about classes I don’t like as time goes on.

However, even given that bias, I do honestly think that an extra couple of hours of Georgian every day – even if it was just practice, or group-work, or role-playing what we learned in the morning – would be much, much more helpful to us in terms of utility in the coming year than lessons on “cultural understanding” and “methodology of teaching.”  I feel like Georgian is so practical and the other classes are so abstract, and abstract is fine, but we only have seven days to gain as much practical skill as we can and I feel like we’re wasting more than half that time on stuff that we could have had as homework or preparatory material or something.  I feel like one of the biggest issues we’ve all been hearing about so far is gender roles, and yet a third of our time has gone by in “Intercultural learning” and we haven’t learned a single damned thing in that class about navigating gender in Georgian society.

Whereas, on the other hand, the meetings at the hotel in Tbilisi, led by Nino and including a panel of teachers from previous groups, were incredibly useful and informative.  I wish there were five of Nino so she could run these Cultural Learning classes herself.  I’m about to go down to hear from another panel of teachers from previous groups, in the meeting room at 9pm.  I imagine we’ll get a lot of good information from them.

So, despite some frustrations, I’m just trying to keep it upbeat and focus on the positive, of which there is a lot.  And remember, it’s only four more days and then I’m on my own.

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6 Responses to Classes in Georgia

  1. Will C says:

    Thanks for writing these – it’ll be good to have some idea of what to be prepared for (I hopefully go out late September).
    Hope the classes get more stimulating!

  2. Beenthere says:

    Look—I hate to tell you this, but I really think you’re being set up for a very, very hard time. You’re going to have to navigate this whole situation very carefully. In the first place, Georgian teachers of English have been fired to make space for the TLG crowd. These people relied on that salary not just to support themselves, but to support their entire families, given that the unemployment rate is about 71%. You are going to be paid more than any of the other teachers in your school, who also don’t get paid vacations abroad like you do. These teachers have spent years getting a teaching degree, and you’ll hit the classroom with only a week of training. So the likelihood that you’re being sent to some Godforsaken village where people are primed to resent you is really high. This whole program is highly politicized in ways you all are not aware of, and it’s been put together totally on the fly.

    So listen—be careful. I’m worried about all of you. Try and lay low, avoid talking about politics, be as humble as you can with the other teachers and try and make them feel like respected professionals. Stay sober as best you can and seriously, don’t fuck anybody you’re not planning to marry, because that’s a major issue in Georgian culture.

    Good luck. You guys are going to need it.

    (And feel free not to approve this comment—it doesn’t need to be public).

    • Beenthere says:

      Whoops. Apparently you publish all comments automatically. Well, the advice still applies. Watch yourselves out there…

    • panoptical says:

      Believe me, I know and suspect a lot of this and more. I’m not aware of Georgian teachers being fired – especially since we are supposed to be co-teachers who work with the current school staff, so it wouldn’t make sense to fire anyone to make room for us, although I could imagine the Ministry wanting to use TLG as an excuse to let go of some problem teachers. And from what I’ve heard, English education in Georgia is in serious need of reform, and reform usually means hard decisions and changes that may negatively impact people.

      I’m also aware that we’ll be making more money than Georgian teachers and a lot more money than other Georgian workers. On the same note, the Georgian teachers have been told that the only way they can develop their nation out of the poverty that it is currently in is to develop the skills – language, and computer skills – to be able to interact in an international environment. So in a way, the Georgian teachers really need us, and that can build resentment also. However, we also have to remember that jealousy over material conditions is a Western value. From what I understand, Georgian society is less about keeping up with the Joneses and more about sharing, hospitality, and group-living. In other words, I think that we as teachers will be judged not based on what we get from the Ministry but on what we contribute to the well-being of the group, and teaching English is definitely a worthwhile addition to our homestay villages, towns, or cities.

      Anyway, thanks for the comment – I don’t moderate comments at this point because I have no guarantee of consistent, regular internet access, and I’m kind of just hoping no one acts in a way that forces me to change that policy. But I also don’t believe in censorship because I think it’s more useful to discuss things in the open than have concerns like these go unspoken and unanswered.

  3. Tender Buttons says:

    First off a little note of thanks: I really look forward to reading your blog Neal. I’m delighted that you’ve been able to update it nearly everyday since you’ve arrived. I also hope for my sake that you are granted a home-stay with a decent internet connection.

    Im particularly thankful and inspired that you don’t censor or sugar-coat for the sake of others. (a behavior I must reluctantly admit I have succumbed to).This post/comments in particular has been one of the more interesting and possibly useful posts I read on all internetlandia.

    Gender roles in Georgia…I’ve come to the conclusion that it may be like traveling back in time to the sleepy Eisenhower years, very traditional gender roles but maybe with more of an emphasis on exonerating the male children. My familiarity with my Latin American side makes me no stranger to this. I just hope I can get away with refusing to be set up on dates and expressing my deep disinterest in ever getting married. I know thats where a women’s worth lies, but hopefully they’ll understand that even though Im pushing thirty, I will survive somehow.

    But I know that this trip will be about sharing different perspectives and being tolerant and whatnot, so really, this may just be a small price to pay for an amazing experience and feel what its like to live in a real community….and for eff’ssake, THEY’ve got to put up with ME, after all. 🙂

    Neal, you’re almost into the great wide Georgian open….be like the kitteh clinging to on a branch and hang in there!

    • panoptical says:

      They actually give you a lot of helpful advice about how to deal with the gender stuff. They recommend telling people “white lies” such as that you are married or engaged, because otherwise apparently no one will stop trying to get you married/get you in bed.

      And thanks for the comment – I’m glad I could be helpful to people who are going to be, or thinking about, coming over here.

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