My first week of school was a strange twilight zone; not only was everyone convinced I was a new student, but no matter what sort of schedule I though I had worked out, the next day I would arrive to find it changed. There was a lot of sitting in the teacher’s lounge, a lot of being told I look like a Georgian teenager and a lot of having my cheeks pinched and patted. (Hey, at least they think I’m cute!) I was asked if I had a “sweetheart” and told that Georgian men would love me. For the first few days I would enter to all of the older teachers sitting in a row, nodding and smiling at me, just waiting for their cheek-pinching chance. So much for keeping it professional.
The very first day I was geared up to teach, but instead, some of the students presented traditional dances, the little ones said rhymes and everyone fought for the balloons that were dropped out of the window. A lot more fun than first days of school back in my home state of Georgia! The next day classes began, and I was impressed by my co-teachers’ abilities in the classroom. Even my 1st grade co-teacher, who had only ever taught high school students and looked at the five year olds like they were some sort of cute but potentially dangerous animals (baby tigers, maybe) still jumped in with games and activities. In my older classes I passed around photos of my family, home and friends. “People in America must be really happy,” said one of my co-teachers, “they are always smiling in photos!” I tried to explain that it was a cultural norm, just like how in Georgia, no matter how much fun you are having, you take on a serious face for a photograph. (Which makes for some hilarious vacation photos, such as the one of my younger host siblings frowning somberly at the beach.)
It was hard at first to find my place in the classroom, but I have now dubbed myself “Officer of Reading Out loud and Wiggling”. I am made to do most of the reading out loud (and singing out loud), find myself turning regular activities into (sometimes loud) games, and have discovered the best way to control a 1st grade class is frequent wiggle breaks. Those 1st graders, party animals, I tell ya.
One thing I found strange (and still do) is my co-teachers often telling me to “rest”. I sometimes teach only two classes, and by the second I am told “You are tired, sit and rest” or “Phew, class is done, let’s go rest!” Sometimes I can’t believe I once worked thirteen hour days with no rests and certainly no breaks to eat grapes (grapes are everywhere here in Kakheti!). How did I survive?
While the lack of schedule was incredibly frustrating, in all it was a smooth first week – and at least I think by the end most of the students were convinced I was actually a teacher and not an awkwardly silent new student. I love the “hellos!” shouted at me down the hallway and have embraced the stares and giggles. If I can bring some amusement into their lives, so much the better!