Meeting with the Minister – Part II

Posted on December 11, 2011 by

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In Part I I wrote about the Minister’s comments and answers to questions. In this part, as promised, I will discuss the additional information presented by the head of TLG, Mrs. Maia Siprashvili-Lee.

I’ll start off with the numbers: TLG currently has 35 employees, including the regional representatives (of which there are 7 in the regions and two in Tbilisi). The Ministry itself apparently has about 150 employees. There are about 4200 Georgian English teachers in Georgia. There are 2200 public schools and 74 Educational Resource Centers. I love numbers!

Teacher Training

The first thing Maia told us about was the current teacher training project. Apparently the teacher trainings caused some distress among TLG volunteers who would have liked to have been included in any training that their coteachers obtained. Unfortunately this was impossible because the Teachers’ Professional Development Center – an independent organization in charge of teacher training in Georgia – doesn’t have enough English-speaking trainers to conduct the training in English. Apparently it was hard enough convincing the TPDC to conduct training in the first place, and then to do so in the areas that TLG volunteer reports showed needed the most attention. We were assured, though, that the TPDC trainers are highly qualified in their fields and that the focuses of the training – Lesson Planning and Classroom Management – are not English-specific and are applicable to all subjects and so having them be in English is not a priority. Also, I would personally add that I think that the Georgian teachers will get more out of the training if it is in their own native language.

Textbooks

Maia also addressed the situation with the Macmillan books. Apparently many volunteers are missing some or all of the books they were supposed to have been given. Ultimately, it was not TLG that was in charge of distributing the books, and the distribution process got confused in at least two different ways, and as a result the Ministry halted all distribution until the problems could be resolved. I’ll just say that it’s not exactly unusual for things to go wrong with logistics, communication, and resource allocation in the Georgian educational system and that it seems like every time there’s a new distribution of stuff, the majority of the stuff doesn’t get where it’s going in anything remotely resembling a timely fashion. This textbook thing is thus utterly unsurprising – but we’re all hoping that it gets resolved soon and Maia promises that we’ll have our books by next semester.

TLG for Georgians

Believe it or not, Georgia still has some remote regions with no English programs at all! TLG’s Special Projects department is now operating a program by which Georgians who speak English well will volunteer to go to these regions and offer English education in the local schools. This will largely take place in Samtskhe-Javakheti, Kvemo Kartli, and Adjara. Volunteers who sign up for this program will receive the same benefits as foreign TLG volunteers, with the exception of flights; rather than flights, Georgian TLGVs will be offered financial assistance in pursuing a Masters degree if they choose to do so. Around 20 volunteers will go out starting in January.

This project is aimed at young and adventurous people with a good command of English. In addition to promoting English education, the project’s subsidiary goal is to promote the idea of volunteerism within Georgia in the new generation.

TLGV Screening

TLG is now penalizing recruiting agencies that send bad volunteers. If a TLGV’s contract is terminated before completion – in other words, if the TLGV doesn’t work, or behaves badly – the recruiting agency must refund the fee that TLG pays per volunteer. This measure is taken in addition to video interviews through Skype, criminal background checks, and other checks TLG does to ensure the quality of its volunteers. I will be doing a post in the near future about what it takes to be a good TLGV and what is expected of the volunteer when they arrive. Ultimately it works out better for everyone if fewer people come to Georgia with incorrect expectations.

Apparently one TLGV signed up for the program so they could come to Georgia and start a business. My advice: don’t do that.

Plans for the Future

The TLG team is working on revising orientation to ensure that volunteers get all the info they need. A TLG Deputy Program Manager (who is American) recently attended an entire week’s training to get an idea of the progress that has been made and the improvements that still need to happen.

TLG will be performing spot checks in host families and at schools. These unannounced visits will allow TLG to get an accurate, spontaneous view of what goes on day-to-day in the TLGV’s lives.

TLG is working on getting CD players for TLG volunteers to use. The players would remain at the schools and belong to the Ministry, but would always be accessible during the TLGV’s classes so that the volunteer can play the CDs that accompany the Macmillan books.

Final Thoughts

Overall, this meeting did seem to be way better than last year’s. One volunteer asked questions that her coteachers asked her to ask, which I thought was really cool – call me selfish, but it would never have occurred to me independently to ask my coteachers if there was anything they wanted to know from the MES. Maybe I should start thinking like that, though – thinking about building strong relationships with my coteachers. There were many fewer complaints, many fewer logistics questions and problems, and many fewer (not to mince words) stupid or obnoxious questions. I think morale is higher now than it was at any time last year. I think it has become clear to everyone who has stuck around for a while that TLG is an organization that is responsive, supportive, and interested in constant self-improvement. Maybe I’m misreading things, but the atmosphere overall seemed more positive than it did at last year’s meetings and volunteers who I speak to seem in general happier than volunteers did last year.

If you were at these meetings, we’d love to hear your thoughts as well; if not, I’d be happy to answer questions about what was said. Feel free to leave a comment!

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