An interview with Zanati Public School’s school director and literature teacher, Manana Tediashvili.
Georgia is a land of local flavouring, from its villages dotting the sweeping hillsides and rugged mountains right on up to its administrative and governing styles. As an English teacher attached to a tiny village school, I’ve been repeatedly impressed by how much village life seems to revolve around its local school. For instance, that is where elections are held, where all special guests to the village are met, and where the routine functions of civic life are played out almost daily.
This in turn means that the precise focal point of the entire village invariably tends to be its school principal, or Director, as they are more properly called here. I’d venture to guess that behind every village, whether successful or failing, the personal character traits of its school director are busy tapping out an invisible rhythm that guides and shapes the soul and character of that village. This is the secret to Georgia’s defiant administrative sprawl no matter where you go, despite recent attempts by the West to transform it into a technocrat-friendly, well-oiled bureaucracy.
Take my case, for example. As one of the original teachers placed within a government sponsored program, I’ve often been a bit surprised by the claims made by fellow foreigner teachers that Georgia is a highly patriarchal and chauvinist state. This isn’t because the view is in-and-of-itself false (far from it, in fact!), but because my particular corner of Georgia in the province of Samegrelo happens to be run from port to stern by a strong matriarchal figure.
This calm and erudite elderly woman holds the respectful attention of every visiting male functionary, no matter how powerfully self-important they may see themselves elsewhere, and is shown the utmost deference in all matters. This matriarch happens to be my school director, Ms. Manana Tediashvili.
In person, the stocky, perpetually black-clad Ms. Tediashvili has an impish smile, offset by deeply intelligent green eyes. In the past two and a half years, I’ve been through thick and thin with her and the school, and I’m continually grateful to have learned so much from such a cultured and kind-hearted woman. At 65 years of age, a flair for poise and the poetic comes through in everything she does.
In connection to what I mentioned earlier, my deep suspicion is that the successful tenure I’ve had with the village itself is in large measure due to her personal qualities permeating outwards and invisibly over the villagers, regulating them with a calm, wizened energy, rather like a candlelight flickering amongst kindling might cast its soft imprints upon the backdrop.
(*Note, I was unable to conduct this interview live and in-person because of the formidable language barrier and because of her scheduling demands, but she was kind enough to write out her responses to my questions over a weekend not too long ago, and I’m grateful for that.)
To start, tell me a bit about yourself.
I was born in 1948, in a little village named Zanati, located in the Abasha region of the province of Samegrelo. In addition to being Georgian, I would also be considered a Megreli. [Editor’s note: The Megreli people are a subculture within Georgia who speak their own language and have historically always held themselves slightly separate from the rest of Georgia.]
Where did you go to university, and what did you study there?
After high school, I continued my studies at the South-Ossetia State University, at the faculty of Philology. There I took a special interest in linguistics, foreign literature, and psychology.
What made you decide to become a teacher originally? [Manana was, and still is, the Georgian literature teacher at the school].
I’ll be honest and say that I loved to learn, and the people who taught me were my role-models. This influenced my attitudes when it came time to making my career choice, which turned out to be the field of education.
What do you see as the main differences between teaching styles in the old Soviet days and now?
The times are changing, as are teaching methods, but I want to note that despite great changes nowadays, I still fondly remember my schooling days. I learned more than just my subjects required; I learned moral lessons as well that have been my guide in life and the way I view my community, both professionally and personally. There were great lessons pertaining to the duty and responsibilities that are owed to society that have served me well, as I now look back on them.
As for today’s teaching methods, I think they are too refined and tailored to individual students’ inner lives and interests, and this makes it nearly impossible for a teacher to honorably serve the function of his or her role as an educator of both minds and morals.
What are most important qualities of a teacher?
In my opinion, the most important feature of a teacher is his or her spirit and attitude to the world of education, so that he or she is in a sense able to see into the soul of the child and impart to the child understanding, motivation, ability within the subject being taught, and also an awareness of responsibilities in life. Only the best teachers can perform this, almost as though it were a special power gifted to them.
What became some of your daily duties, once you became the school director?
Every day I must come prepared with action plans, whether in writing or even just in mental notes. The main thing is that I am an active participant in all the activities that are being implemented at the school. There ought to be no barriers between myself and the best interests of the students. I pride myself on being aware of all the daily needs of my students and teaching staff.
Can you give me a sense of how you view today’s young people?
Today’s young people are much more educated. They have a high sense of tolerance and are not easily given over to hatreds. They look out for one another, and respect the cultures of the world.
What can the world learn from Georgia?
If any people can be said to have an abundance of good qualities in them, it’s the Georgian people. We are blessed with love, friendship, humanism, tolerance, hospitality, commitment and selflessness. Anyone who comes here feels themselves to be as welcomed as though they were citizens themselves.
What does Georgia’s long and varied history tell us about the Georgian people?
It tells us that although we have been faced with many hard and harsh moments in the past, we have never fallen down nor abandoned our history and traditions.
And what do you hope for the future of Georgia?
I would like to see the territorial integrity of Georgia restored and strengthened. I would also like to see the economy developed and bettered for the good of all Georgians.
Okay, now I’d like to ask you about some of your favourite things. What are some of your favourite writers in Georgian literature?
My favourite writer is the poet Vazha Pshavela, because his writings are a hymn to “kai katsoba”. [Editor’s note: This is a difficult phrase to translate from the Georgian language, but I would render it as ‘True Manhood’. I think her reference is to the championing of traditional values by Pshavela in his rugged poems on what it means to be Georgian.]
From modern literature, I like the writings of Aka Morchiladze, Besik Kharanauli, and Tariel Chanturia best.
Moving on to everyone’s favourite topic, what’s your favourite Georgian dish or meal?
That’s easy! It’s ghomi [ed. a kind of grits, made from corn] and satsivi [ed. a chilled white curry often served with meats such as turkey or chicken].
And finally, why do you think foreigners love to visit Georgia?
It’s impossible not to like Georgia, because we are known for our special brand of hospitality. Additionally our ancient churches, monasteries, beautiful landscapes and natural features are some of the best in the whole world.
It is my hope that this interview catches some essential characteristics of a strong woman at the centre of her world, even as she is shaped by the push and pull of rural life. I want to interview a rather interesting Orthodox priest at the nearby church next (about 4 kilometres away from where I live, as the crow flies) as I continue a series of interviews designed to highlight the most essential characteristics of rural Georgian culture, as I have known it.
Droebit, as they say! (“See you soon”)