Cygnets and Alphabets

Posted on March 29, 2012 by


If you are a teacher for any amount of time in Georgia, you will quickly become aware that various levels of English exist within one classroom of students. In a class of 28, I have 8 students who do not know the alphabet, 12 who are indifferent, 5 who know how to yell “Hello!” when I walk into class, and 3 who have studied the day’s lesson. (Those numbers may not be exactly accurate.) Typically, these 8 students are also the ones who disrupt the rest of the class as they have no hope of understanding; without knowing the alphabet, they can only get so far.

After a particularly frustrating day in 4th grade last week during which my co-teacher told a particularly disruptive student to work on other homework in class since he could not read English, I confronted her with a proposition. Instead of trying to continue teaching the whole class concepts that only a few can understand, I suggested removing the students who do not know the alphabet and teaching them separately. I was unsure of how she would react, but she was very supportive and assured me she would find a place for me to teach the students. Sure enough, the next day during the 4th grade’s English lesson, I sat in the secondary teacher’s lounge with seven 9-year-olds and went through the first 9 letters of the alphabet.

Although we had a few problems, the class went fairly well, and most of the students seemed excited to finally understand something of the English language. I met up with my teacher after class, and she asked if I would like to do the same with the 6th grade. I consented, and she picked out 8 students to go with me. Again, the class went well, and the usually overactive and disruptive students listened attentively and wrote down the letters we practiced.

Having now gone through two weeks of these lessons, I have run into a few minor problems; however, overall, it has been exceptionally positive. If you are in the same position and are thinking about trying this idea (for which I cannot take any credit), I would like to present a few suggestions.

  • Location: Typically, there’s at least one classroom that is empty as students are at computer or sports lessons. Make a note of what rooms are open on what days and try to conduct lessons in there; there’s a blackboard, usually, and a warm pechi. If all else fails, as it did today, meet in the school guard’s room (which I did not know existed) where the bed presents a few spatial problems.
  • Learning styles: In my experience here in Georgia, very little awareness exists of different learning styles or particular learning disabilities. Coming from a background in working with individuals with disabilities, I am aware of the necessity for adaptations in lesson plans and teaching technique to ensure students understand. I would bet that most of the students in my classes who do not know the alphabet find it difficult to learn through memorization and reading. When working with this separate class, I have tried to vary the things I do so that concepts are presented in as many ways as possible.
  • Behavior: Without a Georgian teacher in the classroom, students are likely to push the limits in terms of their behavior. I have started holding my activities and games until the end of class so that I can use them as a bargaining chip. I’m not too proud to say that my mom gave me the idea for a new perspective of the class; it’s a privilege. Students don’t have to be in the class; they can easily be sent back to their original class. If they want to learn, their behavior has to reflect that. If they don’t care to be there, I have other students that truly want to understand and are working very hard, and it’s not fair to them to have constant disruptions.
  • Language: I realize that if you’re new in Georgia, your language skills have not yet had a chance to build up, and teaching without your co-teacher may be a difficult process. I’ve been here since September, and while I’m not fluent, I have enough basic words that I can simplify what I want to say to at least get the point across to my students. I may not know how to say, “Stop hitting that child in the back of the head with your book,” but I can give a pretty strong, “Stop!” in Georgian. If nothing else, you can always explain something to your teacher and have her come in before she starts class and tell the students, or she could write it down in Georgian so that your students can read it as directions.

I’m still working the kinks out, and I know there will be problems that pop up along the way.I haven’t even decided my ultimate goal for this project. I’m teaching students how to recognize and read the alphabet while their classmates learn about cygnets and the life of American pioneers. They’re not going to catch up in three months, but I can at least provide them with a strong foundation.

This post is available in Georgian!