I would be the first to admit that I have no experience teaching children anything. I have plenty of experience teaching adults and teens, but that seems to be a whole different game. Adults have reason and logic, children have curiosity, energy and really short attention spans. Especially the younger they get, which was why I never had a problem dealing with teenagers. You can control their attention span with things that follow reason, music or art. For the little children, you have to find the most mind-numblingly hypnotic things like talking sponges that live in toy castles under the sea. What do I know of that sort of thing? All I knew was that it was hugely curious that these restless kids who were sitting before me morning after morning would grow up and be able to sit through hours-long toasts at the traditional Georgian supra table.
Lesson planning with my co-teacher was already a plan in progress. Georgians aren’t big on planning things. It’s against everything that’s been a part of their 5,000 year old culture, why should they start planning things now? They’ve undermined entire empires of invaders, from Tamerlane to Genghis Khan to the Soviet Union by their complete unwillingness to plan things. One facetious teacher from the West wasn’t going to change anyone’s ideas in regards to planning. But to her credit, my co-teacher was willing to work with me and we’d look at the book and talk about a few ideas about what to do during the class. As the first grade is far too young to sing songs like Old McDonald and the Hokey Pokey, our plans mainly revolved around how many different ways to turn, “Good morning, good morning, good morning to you” into different melodies and pointing at colors and cats on a poster. There really couldn’t be too much planned in a class, since most of class was simply focused on classroom management, an aspect I was more than happy to let the far more experienced co-teacher. “It’s just good you’re here so that they can hear a native speaker speak,” she told me, “we speak with such thick accents and don’t know English all that well. So anything you do is a huge help!” Those were encouraging words. And they were true as well – most of these kids have never been exposed to native English, as most have never had the opportunity to go outside of the country. The teachers I was working with readily saw the benefit of being able to work with someone who grew up with the tongue. With as much as Georgians like to tease me about my “ყ” sound, many still need better education and experience to deal with “th,” “w” and “r”, and learning from someone who hasn’t really mastered these sounds can’t be all that beneficial.
Teaching children isn’t that stimulating for me, though in every class I do suffer from a cute explosion, where I find myself getting all sensitive and having my heart get all soft and fuzzy feeling, especially when they’d run up and, in Georgian, shout “I love you, teacher!” There isn’t any way to not love being hugged by a dozen children, except the part where they cling on your feet and you have to drag them down the hallway so you can get to the next class. Teaching older kids and adults I find more interesting – though filled with markedly less hugs and cries of “I love you!” – since you can get constant feedback from them about what they enjoyed and what they didn’t. With children, it’s much harder than that. One moment, you might be carrying them in the bliss of a House of Pain inspired game, “jump up, jump up and get down” and the next moment, they’ve completely forgotten the “get down” part. Which again, isn’t a big deal as long as there’s still the co-teacher around. But what happens when the co-teacher gets sick?
One day I arrived and was informed of my partner’s absence. She was the one who normally brought the class materials, which meant I had no poster, cards or anything to flash at the children and maintain their macro-attentions. And since we were in the habit of planning the lesson on the day of, that too was tossed out the window. But usually I work best under improvisation anyways, so I decided to just wing it. I showed up into class, trying the same modicum that my Georgian counterpart seemed to follow, but without the intricate knowledge of Georgian that could be used to answer the endless questions of the children after attention was finally paid to their constant cries of “Mastavlebelo!”
“Yeah, what already?”
“Blaggadabuli dabuli karadaba kaladabiuaaaa?” they would ask, making any further arrangement of consonants and guttural sounds that compose the Georgian language.
“I don’t know, man,” I’d reply to whoever was asking the question at the time. But it’d never resolve the issue. I’d try to just continue on with the lesson. “Good morning, good morning, good morning to you!”
“Mastavlebelo! Mastavlebelo!” a girl cried out.
“Okay class, you know three words. Let’s draw them on the board,” I said. I was addressing them in part English and part Georgian. “Who wants to draw them?”
The entire class rushed up to the board like a tsunami sweeping in to wipe out a city. “Kids, come on, sit down, one at a time.” The game was over. I found myself letting them draw whatever they wanted and, when the next teacher came in, I just pretended that it was all part of my strange style of teaching a language. One first grade class down, three to go.
[Editors’ note: If this happens to you, keep in mind that you’re under no obligation to teach alone – in fact, TLG strongly discourages it for this very reason! Remember you can always ask for another teacher to accompany you to class – and you can always call the TLG Hotline or your Regional Rep. if you’re having trouble getting the point across!]