Most of my fellow education volunteers and I agree that by far the most effective technical training we went through was practicum in PST. We were thrown into Georgian classrooms in our respective villages and created lesson plans and activities with our respective practicum counterparts.
Because Staging for Georgia occurs at the end of April, we had to jump into practicum almost immediately in May before school ended early June. This meant that we had only a few introductory technical training sessions (such as how to make a lesson plan) before officially teaching. It was only after we taught at schools that we had sessions, for example, such as “Multi-Level Classes” and “Critical and Creative Thinking.” There are upsides to the timing of our staging, however—it gives us just enough time to settle into site in the summer and two full school years with the students for education volunteers.
Anyway, practicum this year was unique for many reasons, one of which was that viral meningitis outbreak in small schoolchildren throughout Georgia. Although it really only happened in large cities, the Ministry of Education and Science made an executive decision to cancel all classes from 6th grade and below for something like two weeks—right in the middle of our scheduled practicum. Our dates kept getting pushed back, until it turned out that we actually taught the very last week of classes up to the very last day.
Another unique part of practicum for my group was that we only had one teaching counterpart in our village, who only taught grades up to 8—so we weren’t able to get experience with any older students. There was a second English teacher who covered those other grades, of course, but she didn’t live in our village and due to the commute didn’t have time to work with us. This meant that our group of 6 trainees made do with the limited amount of teaching time available to us, so either 2 trainees would be teaching with our counterpart Ana, or three (! ).
Gomi Homies and our wonderful counterpart Ana, on our last day. Excuse Kyle’s sock headband. Photo credit: Alan Luan.
In contrast, one of the other villages, Surami, had I think 3 counterparts and the trainees there were even able to conduct individual lessons with a counterpart. This is really Peace Corps reality, however; the situation we had in Gomi mirrors the situation some volunteers have at permanent site. Often, many of the teachers have other things going on—families, commute, private tutoring—and do not have the time to work with volunteers. Of course, at permanent site, there should be at least one motivated counterpart who would have applied for the volunteer to come to the school in the first place. In my case, said counterpart actually got married and moved to Russia, but luckily all 4 of my remaining counterparts are still quite motivated, and two of them have even worked with PCVs previously.
I’m not exactly sure how many kids total attended Gomi’s school, but if I had to guess I’d say somewhere under 200. The classes we taught ranged from about 8 to 20 students, depending on which years were fertile ones for the village I guess. I’m looking to have a significantly different experience with my new school of over 800 students, and class sizes of about 30 and sometimes even more.
A typical class size in Gomi (note: 3 people in the back are PCVs, not students..) Photo credit: Alan Luan.
One of my favorite and most rewarding classes was the 8th grade class I sometimes co-taught with Carmen. I have written about this before, but the first day we ever taught (of anyone in Gomi) was that 8th grade session, and the kids were completely disengaged. We had misunderstood their English levels and the activities we had prepared were not quite right. Classroom management was a huge problem, especially with a large group of disruptive boys. I think we began to gain their respect, as well as come up with more engaging activities specifically for them, and Carmen and I actually had an extremely successful lesson teaching compass directions (N, S, E, W) and transportation means with them. Then again, this should be taken with a grain of salt, because they were also our last class ever, and they were really not engaged with the games we had prepared for the last day of school. So, there’s that.
Photographic evidence of the pretty rough last class we had with 8th grade. Photo credit: Alan Luan.
Another part of what made practicum so helpful was that we would have observers come to see our lessons and give us feedback. Our observers were typically Mari and Manana, our education trainers, and Asmat and Teo, our education program managers. The difference between the two is that Asmat & Teo are permanent staff members (currently Asmat is my direct boss), whereas Manana and Mari are only hired for summer and maybe other trainings. Anyway, one of these four women would sit in on our lessons and take notes on what we did well and what we could improve on, and then debrief with us after the fact. Even though we were always apprehensive when we had a visitor, it kept us on our toes and I really appreciated the feedback I got from them.
"Please get the right answer so my teachers think I’m a good teacher!!" Photo credit: Alan Luan.
Once, as a result of the meningitis outbreak, we presented mini-classroom sessions to our peers in other clusters as well. Zach and I were partnered, and taught a mad libs course on parts of speech. I thought it went well, but it was also immensely helpful to get feedback from trainees who weren’t from our own clusters—the diversity of experience within our training group is crazy. For example, we have a guy named James who was a Fulbright English teacher in Kazakhstan for a year prior to coming to Georgia. We joked that James could lead our training sessions.
Another difference between our practicum experience and what I anticipate for actually teaching is our relationships with our counterpart. Our counterpart Ana in Gomi was supportive in helping us with our lesson plans, and because of the sheer number of trainees, generally let us take over lessons. For 45 minute lessons, having 3 trainees was usually more than enough. Occasionally, we would ask her help in translations. It was good practice in terms of classroom management and teaching ourselves, but for our primary projects, we learned that just taking over the classroom is not the Peace Corps’ model of development. Everything we do should be in a partnership with our counterparts, and taking over the entire classroom session is not a sustainable way to improve our counterparts’ teaching methods after we leave either. I don’t think this will be a problem at all with any of my counterparts, as they all seem extremely competent already—hopefully I will be able to match up with them and bring something to the classroom!
One of the biggest challenges in terms of teaching here that was highlighted by practicum is the English textbooks that the schools across Georgia use. They are, effectively, English textbooks designed for native British children. The texts constantly refer to “Big Ben” and the “London Bridge,” and are clearly not well designed for foreign language learners. In practicum, we learned to create lesson plans extremely loosely based off of each chapter in the books; and speaking to my new counterparts, this is what they generally do as well. One of my aunts is actually a TEFL teacher at a high school in Long Island (and has been for a while), and I will probably be asking her for tips and tricks to teach to foreign language learners as well.
I have some photos of my Favorite Practicum Lessons in Gomi (I figured that if I have photos of them, they must have been good). They include: Kaitlin, Kyle, and Alan teaching how to tell time, and using their bodies (and the childrens’ bodies) as the clock hands; Alan teaching numbers, body parts, and plurals by drawing monsters; and Zach playing Pictionary with body parts and trying to draw a stomach.