The look on my students’ faces when the director enters through our classroom door and states my name is one of curiosity. As Jamal, the director, doesn’t speak a single English word, it is rare to see the two of us conversing. Perhaps even more rare is Jamal’s frequency in pulling teachers from class. The children glance at me with a little apprehension, and seem to be sending good thoughts my way. I’m sure they’re thinking this can’t be good.
I too admit that I am a bit concerned, and as I cross the classroom, I cannot imagine what it is he could need me for. As soon as we step into the hall, however, my fears are set at ease as he tells me that a package has arrived for me. Recalling that my mother had sent the letters, I clasp my hands together and start to speak quickly and excitedly, explaining to him the plan I have for my students.
When I reenter my fifth grade class, my students glance up from their tests, waiting for me to give them some sort of a clue with my body language and facial expressions. As I’m beaming from ear to ear, they look interestedly at one another, seeing if I’ll speak. Before Manana, my co teacher, can ask me what’s up, I thrust the large manila envelope into her arms. “They’re letters,” I tell her, “from American 3rd and 5th graders, for our students.”
After class, we open the envelope in the teachers lounge and pore over the letters. Other teachers come to admire them, everyone expressing elation and excitement, even though they can’t read them. We divide the letters into piles, deciding which ones will go to which class. And over the next couple days, we carry out our letter-writing project:
I have never seen such joy among my students when Manana and I explain the project. The first thing that they do is to start talking animatedly about how they’re going to write the letters, and competing with each other over what they’re going to draw. Flags, flowers, and hearts all make the top of the list. When we finally get everyone settled down, we pass out the letters, one for each student. Thankfully, the content is simple enough that the students are able to understand most of it, and the things they can’t, Manana and I can translate. In order to speed up the process, I write a template on the board covering the basic things: My name is…, I am 10 years old, I live in Tskhmorisi, I am in the 5th grade, I like…., My favorite color is….I have got….
The students write their first drafts in their notebooks, the classroom filled with chaotic joy as students yell out words in Georgian, asking me to write them on the board in English. By the end of the lesson, our blackboard is covered with words from dumplings (the substitute for khinkali) to brother to yellow, and Manana and I are covered with chalk. Manana and I correct the drafts, and give the go-ahead for the real deal.
Over the couple days the letters start pouring in, many accompanied by detailed pictures, a few with pens or pencils as gifts.
I can’t hide my joy. For, as beneficial as this project is for my students’ reading, comprehension, vocabulary, and writing skills, I think it’s important for another reason, too. Not only has it inspired learning, but it has given my kids an insight as to what America is like, and an understanding that people aren’t that different on the other side of the world. Both groups of students like football. Both have families they love. Both like school and books. I am excited for our letters here to be received in America, and eager to hear the reactions as told by their teachers. I hope that it is a similar experience for them, and that through this project, we have come a little closer to bridging the gap between cultures.