Upon coming to Georgia, I was under the impression that I, like my colleagues, would be teaching at a public school. The group of TLGers I arrived with, however, was offered the opportunity a few days into our orientation to apply for a position to teach police officers. I, along with a dozen or so others, sent our resumes to the Police Academy and two of us were selected from the group to teach at police stations in Zugdidi.
I was excited for the opportunity. After 4 years of teaching grades 1-6 internationally, it was time for a change. I was greeted warmly upon arriving in Zugdidi and was given the chance to create my own schedule. I chose to teach the same schedule that teachers prior to me have taught: Monday, Wednesday, Friday. I had two groups of students and was supposed to have about 14 people in each group. I soon realized the complications that accompany the task of teaching police officers; the classes are not mandatory because they are insanely busy. In the beginning of teaching, I had between 4-8 students show up for each of my two hour classes, three times a week.
As a teacher, I have had to remain incredibly flexible and respectful of the fact that my students are busy. When they have time, they are able to come to the classes. When they don’t have time, they can’t come. It’s as easy as that. Of course I wish there was more regular attendance, but I understand why there isn’t. The frustration one member of the police station feels for her colleagues is that an English class in town would usually cost between 50-100 GEL a month, whereas the police officers are receiving the opportunity to learn English for free. In light of this realization, we both wish the police officers could put more time into the class.
Having taught in five different countries, I have found that Georgia has presented a different aspect of education than I have seen previously: the concept of “help” in the classroom. We were warned about the presence of “helping,” but I wasn’t aware of the extent of it until I started teaching. In the beginning, a colleague was translating my classes, and we both decided that for better language acquisition, she couldn’t be in the classroom anymore. In addition, I knew she would feel obligated to “help” the police officers if she remained in the room during tests. The idea of “help” is what we equate to cheating in many parts of the world. In this culture, it is disrespectful not to help someone if one is asked.
I currently find myself caught between two cultures of education. We, as teachers, have been brought here to not only teach English but to represent our culture. Do I force my way of teaching upon my students as I am the teacher, or do I adapt to their culture of education? My job is important to me, and I want them to learn as much as I can possibly teach them, but how do I do that in a culture of “helping?” There is a happy medium I have yet to find but I will continue trying until I do.
I have also attempted to reconfigure the classes as I have noticed a vast difference in language abilities. I divided the classes into beginner, intermediate, and advanced groups and changed the classes to 4 days a week instead of 3. After doing this, I quickly noticed a decline in the number of students per class. At the point where I ended up with 2 students coming to each class, I decided to switch back to 2 levels of classes, 3 times a week. I know my students are busy; I have to continue reminding myself of this instead of taking it personally.
Despite the difficulties presented by teaching police officers in Georgia, it has been a fantastic experience. I feel very grateful for such a unique opportunity. English is becoming ever more important in Georgia, and I have the chance to be a part of it. Georgia is a beautiful, rapidly developing country, and because of this, it will become an increasingly popular destination. Personally, the first people I look to with questions while traveling are police officers. To have English-speaking police officers will be a great asset to Georgia in order to promote better tourism.
Also, it has been fun getting to know the police officers I teach. In general, they have amazing personalities and senses of humor. We are able to interact on a different level, and I am able to have actual conversations with them about life and culture. I have a few particular characters in my class who make me laugh on a daily basis. Regardless of the issues I have faced in teaching within the Georgian culture, I look forward to going to work each day – which is an amazing feeling.