Time flies when you’re overwhelmed

…or does it? It doesn’t feel like it’s been two weeks since I posted last. It feels like it was only yesterday. That’s probably because I’ve been doing a good job of forgetting that last week ever happened.

In the interest of remaining positive, I’m going to list a few of the things that have put me in a good mood this morning:

– I’m alive and well
– I made french toast this morning that was probably the best french toast I’ve ever made
– I have an entire day to do whatever I want, which will probably include staying at home, watching TV, and making some Georgian-style french fries
– I think one of my colleagues was flirting with me yesterday
– It’s nice and cool outside

I suspect I’ll try to do a separate post or series of posts on cooking in Georgia, because some of the ingredients that I am used to cooking with are not available here, and some of the ingredients that Georgians are used to cooking with are not common in the US. Making delicious french toast without maple syrup was a bit of a challenge, for instance, and making delicious rogan josh will also be a challenge if I can’t find ginger and some of the other herbs and spices that I like to use. However, I think I am up for these challenges.

So this weekend I finally got paid for the first time since coming to Georgia – which also means for the first time since July – and I went out and bought a nonstick frying pan and a really nice space-age plastic spatula to use on it, and I bought some staples that have been lacking, and now I feel like I’m in the zone where I can cook for myself without having to resort to too much imagination. We still don’t have an oven here, or a microwave, or even a toaster, so there are a lot of dishes that are right out, and more that will require a significant amount of improvisation. For example, I can’t see any way to make decent brownies without an oven. But, perhaps that is for the best. Or perhaps I’ll invent whole new deserts.

Anyway, I guess at this point I might as well discuss some of the events of the last two weeks.

First of all, I started teaching. That would be two weeks ago tomorrow, I believe. I had a Georgian co-teacher, like all the other TLG volunteers, and we each contributed to the lessons pretty evenly – it seemed that we worked very well together. Then, the police academy decided to integrate a second group of students into the English lessons, even though this group had missed the first five classes and would bring the number of students per class to an unacceptably high number. However, apparently there are exactly four hours a week available in which all trainees must be taught English, so instead of starting new classes on different days or at different times, the new students were simply added to existing classes. At this point, my coteacher and I were split up, and now I am teaching my previous group, plus an additional group, at the same time, by myself. My former coteacher has her own group. And the worst part was that they did this split without warning – as in, I came in at 9:45 am and was told that at 10am I would be teaching a group by myself. My coteacher and I had split up lesson planning duties – I had planned and led the previous day’s lesson, and she had planned that day’s lesson – which meant that I didn’t even have time to go over the materials that I was supposed to teach, not to mention print out more handouts to accommodate the additional students.

I guess instead of that paragraph I could have just written “bureaucratic nightmare.” Fortunately I had an outline of the curriculum that I wanted to teach – including a word list – and I just did a whole lot of improvisation based on that outline.

Another thing that is covered under the general title of “bureaucratic nightmare” is the way the course materials were selected. The academy people kept asking us – that is, me and the other TLG guy – what book we wanted to use to teach English to these police. However, they did not give us specific information about the course length, the level of the students, or whether we should be focused on general English skills or on specific, practical English for Georgian police officers. In addition, they kept changing their story – at first we were going to be teaching people who already knew English, then we were going to be teaching beginners, and there are two different tracks for courses – the mandatory English for new recruits, and the volunteer English courses for current officers – and those are different lengths and have different Georgian teachers and etc etc, the point is, we had no idea what we were supposed to be doing from September 15th until about three days ago, and I have absolutely no confidence that, when I show up at work tomorrow, things will not have changed yet again.

So these circumstances made it difficult for us to give recommendations. Also, although the other TLG guy knows EFL books, I don’t, so I wouldn’t be able to recommend one set of books over another anyway, without looking through them. But I wanted to focus more on English for police purposes, because with only five to eight weeks to train these guys, I think we have to focus on practical English that they can use with tourists other visitors. So I tried to make that case, but then I was told to talk it over with the new Georgian co-teachers that they hired. The two new Georgian teachers decided to come up with their own curriculum, which they did in Georgian, so I couldn’t really contribute, and one of them was fairly pushy with her ideas and seemed to have no desire to have us English speakers involved in the process at all. Fortunately I did not end up teaching with that one, but still, the “official” curriculum was basically hers, and I had no part in designing it and I also don’t know what’s on it, since it is in Georgian.

Okay, fine, whatever. So then, once the two Georgians had agreed on a curriculum, we found out that the new recruits were at five different levels of English, and were going to be split into three groups – one that knew absolutely no English, one that new very basic English, and one that could be described as high beginner to low intermediate. So of course each group needed its own curriculum, so the Georgian curriculum that the Georgians had come up with was basically out the window – a week’s work, wasted.

Meanwhile, I also began sitting in on the already ongoing English lessons offered for current police officers who voluntarily take English classes to improve their English. The teacher who was teaching them was very helpful to me, and one of the things she had was a booklet called “English for Georgian Police, Level 4: Pre-Intermediate.” It turns out that there are five levels and a teacher’s guide in the English for Georgian Police series, which was designed by some specialists at the US Embassy here in Tbilisi. “Why has it been two weeks, and I’m only seeing this now, by accident,” I asked the administrator who has been in charge of me, but I got no answer. After another two days I finally found the right person to ask and the right time to ask her, and got the entire series, and then – only then – was I able to start designing my own lesson plans, based off of my own curriculum and supplemented by these English for Georgian Police modules.

My roommate tells me that this is the way schools work all over the world – everyone sort of hoards information and materials, and you have to figure out what questions to ask and who to ask them of if you want to get anywhere. But it seems to me that this level of disorganization comes from the fact that there’s no administrator whose sole job it is to oversee all of the English programs. There’s no person who knows where all the resources are, what they are, who is doing what, who knows what, and what the courseload for the teachers is going to be at any given moment. It seems like a bunch of people who already had very busy days at work were just thrown a bunch of extra work, were essentially told “here are two Americans, now make an English program” and each one of those people passed the buck down to the next person in the hierarchy, and at the bottom were me and my roommate, and that’s why every day we were given instructions and told to make a decision and every subsequent day we were given new instructions and told to make a different decision.

But, I’m eternally optimistic. I keep hoping that now things have stabilized. And it’s not for myself – I mean, I get paid the same tiny stipend basically no matter what I do, as long as I show up for classes and don’t make a complete ass out of myself. It’s just that I genuinely want this program to succeed, and I want my students to be able to interact with English-speaking visitors on a practical level, and so I’m hoping for their sake that there aren’t any more major changes. Because doing something like adding a group of students to a class already in progress isn’t fair for anyone – it’s not fair for the old students, who now have less individual attention, and it’s not fair for the new students, who are now two weeks behind. And the fact that a set of materials that was custom designed by actual professionals for the exact purpose of teaching English to Georgian police was withheld from the teachers until the enterprising, troublemaking, curious one found it hidden under a rock somewhere is just a shame all around. But now I do have it, and now I even have a review sheet that I made, in my spare time, for the new and old students alike so none of them will have to miss anything we’ve covered, and now I have a concrete set of materials, and so as long as there aren’t any other major changes, I think I’ll be able to do some justice to my class.

And now I think this post has gone on long enough, but here’s a teaser for the next few: I still need to cover my adventures in Georgian alcohol, adventures in cooking in Georgia, and adventures in traveling in Georgia.

Sometimes when I’m not feelin so groovy, this song cheers me up:

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One Response to Time flies when you’re overwhelmed

  1. Amanda says:

    This sounds strikingly similar to the Elementary school I work at here in Florida. We’re 7 weeks into the school year, and students andclasses are still being moved around, adding new teachers, splitting classes, moving students. . . And often times, teachers don’t find out about the next huge load of responsibility thrust upon them until the day before it needs to happen. And there are whole rooms full of books and resources that nobody knows about, so they just sit there on the shelves until people like me start telling people about them. I’m actually quite surprised though, that this happens in other corners of the worls. . . I wonder where else.

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