First Week at my New School and Whole Brain Training


Absolutely exhausted, but made it through the first week at my new school, with new students, teaching new subjects, and in a new language….but also had a ball, and am fairly pleased with how it went. It was definitely a week of firsts, not just school but also the taster sessions for my baby the ‘Oceans Project’ and being based in two schools with bus trips between the two has been rather hectic and a foreigners nightmare, but most importantly…I’m still alive, and ready to face week two!

Little Kids

The week began with third graders on Monday at the new school, little people who were all eager to learn, and so, with no text books arrived as yet and no formal lessons planned, I decided to spend the first week getting to know the kids. This is culturally difficult for me as a Brit as usually I should have all my lessons for the entire year written, cross referenced with the National Curriculum, and signed off and implemented by my School Director (or as we call them in Britain: Head Master or Head Mistress). In Georgia, it is traditional that the children just spend the first week getting used to being back at school. On a personal level, I always found the first week back at school a weird one. I had new shoes for the only time in the year, with their clean and shiny leather and lovely new smell, had a new school uniform all crisp and fresh, and if I was super lucky, then some new stationary too, which for some reason always smelt of strawberries??? It was like New Year with new resolutions, and I always started off wanting to do everything perfectly, and was at my most eager, yet first week back was always muddled but frustrating and we never learnt anything, so by the time we reached week 2 my enthusiasm had already started to dwindle. Maybe British schools were really just the same as Georgian schools, but I just didn’t realise??? But the basic rule in Georgia is that no one plans anything for week one, because its just a time for the children to get used to being back at school after being free range and in their villages all summer, and now they return to the city and city life. I never fully understood this at first, but having taught at public schools for almost a year now, I have seen just how the children change according to the seasons and school year.

Public Versus Private School

There is also a big difference that I have noticed this week, between the children of the Private and the Public schools. In Public Schools the children are less focused on education, whereas on the whole, the private school students are much more focused and disciplined and even my third graders have a maturity and sense of responsibility about them which even my public school 12th graders never had. It is a bit like the public school children are more untamed, but maybe it has to do with the life styles and expectations of those in the private schools??? Many of the children in my new school are children of EU Delegates, Ministers, or Foreign Embassy workers. Many have lived in different countries and know that they will only be here for a few months before moving country again. Some of them talk about the President of Georgia coming over for dinner and their travels to Paris, or time at school in Sweden or wherever. Quite a world apart from the children of my Public School who have entirely different pressures and expectations on them. Logic would say that the public school children would be the more grown up or responsible of the children, but it is actually the other way around from what I have seen so far, but its early days so we will se if their attitudes and good behaviour lasts.

Least Favourite Class

So far, I really love all of my classes, apart from my 8th graders who are more typical Georgian and are less worldly or experienced about life outside of Georgia. I sense already that they are going to be my troublesome class, made even tougher by the fact that I have them for a double period on a Friday afternoon! I say they are my troublesome class, but they are by no means bad, and there are some really good students in there too, its just that there are two very typical Georgian students who are only interested in very Georgian things like marriage, having kids, and never getting a job and having no aspirations. I don’t mean that Georgians have no aspirations, as many do, but compared to my other students who are destined for great things, I have yet to see any spark of interest from these two particular students. But time will tell, and I hope that somehow I can get their focus onto our studies and find something to unlock their interest in learning.

My third graders are lovely, and they looked very cute in their little uniforms and waving their fluffy haired princess pencils at me, whilst eagerly writing down the five class rules. Most of my classes are a mixed bag, with those who speak Georgian and those who do not, those who speak English, those who can speak English but not write or read it, some are Iranian with English as their second language, and some are absolute little bruisers, who are going to keep me very busy with excellent questions about the subject matter. I’m scared about the teaching side right now, mostly because I am teaching Science and Geography to 7 different grades, and outside of this I am teaching pre school children at another school building, then rushing back to the main school for 5pm to teach the Oceans Project. To make my life doubly hard, this is the first time we are following the British Curriculum in preparation for GCSE, I am teaching it to those whose first language is not English, and I am teaching one key stage above what the British children would be learning. Its an almighty challenge, but if they are as eager and conscientious as they have been this week, then hopefully we will do it with style.

Finding My Feet

My timetable is still a bit muddled and we are relient on Georgian post for our books to arrive. But I do have a plan, and whilst the first few weeks, as with any new job, will be hard and tiring, I’m confident that things will become easier once I’m into the routine, the crinkles are ironed out, and I’m confident things will be fine as I have the best school director ever, and the teachers I work with are just super. I’m especially in love with Natia and Sopho who deserve a special mention here as they have been looking after me so well, despite being busy and tired themselves. I sense that great things are going to happen at school, and that we will become firm friends over time, and at some stage I’ll hopefully be able to give something back in return for all the support and nice comments I have received so far.

Sense of Britishness and Its Just Not Cricket!

I’m really feeling very British at the moment, and the reason for this is that I am still struggling to accept compliments and I don’t quite know what to do when people are nice to me. I’m just not used to it, as we don’t behave this way in Britain. I’ve spoken about this with several Georgians and even in talking to my children at school, they find it strange that Brits don’t go about the place holding hands or hugging friends and family. They asked me why we don’t do that, and I replied with the question ‘why do you do that’. It knocked me for six to be honest as they had a really good explanation for being that way, and I had no answer at all. They kiss and hug because they love each other, and they pay compliments because they want their friends or family to know how they feel and how much they love them. I couldn’t argue with that. In fact I had absolutely no argument at all. Why don’t British people go around hugging and kissing loved ones???? Because we just don’t, “it just not cricket” as we say. This is a weird idiom, as weird as the fact that we are not tactile and we think its wrong to show affection or emotion in public. I just looked this expression up and this is what I found about this British idiom which we use for such answers:

“Having something that is unjust or just plain wrong done to someone or something.This comes from the game of cricket which is regarded as a gentlemans game where fairplay was paramount.”

And that is the only answer I could come up with for my not being tactile or showing love or affection to my loved ones…..its just not socially acceptable, its not gentlemanly (or ladylike). Kind of backwards when you think about it!!! I’m not able to show affection yet, but I am getting better at receiving it, and also taking a compliment, but its sad to me that I should find this so weird when really it should be the most natural thing in the world. Funny really, how being in another culture can make you learn about and question your own culture!!!

Life Lessons

Some how, I think I am going to learn as much from the kids as they will be learning about science and geography and the world. I like talking to them about things, and hearing their opinions, and I feel like a have a real connection with some of my classes already.

Whole Brain Teaching

So I decided before school started to try something very new and strange for me, which I like in principal but wasn’t entirely sure how it would work in reality since I’ve only seen Americans use it. I began every lesson, from little-uns up to tenth grade by getting them to write their name on paper and taking a photo of each student. This served two purposes, firstly to see how good they were at English, could they follow directions, write English, and how much confrontation would there be. As expected a couple of girls made a fuss about not looking beautiful in their photos, but I think it was more to see how the class responded to them as they seemed quite pleased with their pictures too, and I actually have a fairly compliant bunch so far. I also wanted to suss out their characters a bit, which ones would constantly question me, and which would be task centred, which would give me bravado in order to hide a lack of ability and which were interested in learning.

Next, I introduced myself quickly, but I held back as I want them to earn the right to ask me questions. Its a typical thing in Georgia for people to ask a thousand questions of you but to give nothing back. In Georgia, such knowledge is power, and is currency, as I have learnt over my time here. Its also a cultural difference as in Britain we are brought up not to be so nosey as it is considered rude, but Georgians consider this normal. I think rumour has gotten around about me a little from my housemate and fellow teacher and those who are on the Oceans Project already, so I made quick use of that and took advantage of it to get the most nosey of students focused before I answered any questions.

As expected they were the same standard Georgian questions, although refreshingly, not from my non Georgian students, who also remarked that in some cultures it is considered rude to ask such personal questions, which made me chuckle inside a little and I secretly hope to have allies in them as term progresses. Like everyone in Georgia, the following three questions were asked in this predictable order:

1) how old are you?
2) are you married?
3) whats your name?

followed by total confusion, because at my age I should be married and have children, and how on earth could I possibly have no interest in that?? Its very hard for Georgians to understand this, yet its normal and acceptable in Britain, so it always amuses me, except that this time I have other like minded non Georgian folk in my class!

The Lesson

Introductions over, I taught them the Class-Yes instruction. Basically, when I say class, they have to say yes and face me. How ever I say yes, they have to say it the same. I wish I had used this in my public schools as it really does work a treat with Georgian kids and with all ages too, which surprised me a bit as I thought I might have some trouble with the older kids, but I think it was just a refreshing change for them and a bit of fun.

It is kind of like reverse psychology and it really works a treat for getting their attention when they are off task or not paying attention, and they like that they know what to do, and its a massive buzz to see their eager faces ready to learn when you say it, and it works in all situations so far.

Hands and Eyes

Next I taught them about hands and eyes, effectively, when I say ‘hands and eyes’ they should as quickly as possible turn in their seats to face me, sit up straight, hands on desks, and eyes looking at me. The quicker they do it the better. This also works well, especially when you explain the reasoning behind it. Only issue is when you have one student who is slightly slower as its hard not to tell them off, as you want them to feel like they have achieved something by doing the task as quickly as they can, and its hard to slip back into my habits of telling off kids who are not as on task as the others, as that just draws negative attention to them, so I’ll have to seek some advice on the best way forward with that. I also started using the ‘hands and eyes’ command with my pre schoolers who don’t yet speak English and therefore I can’t explain the rules to. They don’t fully get it, but those who do are quick and stand up lovely and straight and become quiet and the little ones are following them and catching on, so over time I hope to introduce the technique to them.

The Five Class Rules

Next, I taught them the five class rules:
– Follow directions quickly
– raise your hand for permission to speak
– raise your hand for permission to leave your seat
– make smart choices
– keep your teacher happy

This was great. They all loved the hand gestures, although a few of the older ones were a little shy at first but soon got involved when they saw they had no choice and that it was for a good cause. It was great for them to feel like they knew a sentence in English, and for one of the lessons I ended up getting them to copy the rules from the board in English, and asked one of the teachers to write the Georgian underneath for me, then they decorated their rules. Funnily enough, they all asked for homework so I told them to practice the rules. I plan to use them at the start of each lesson now, and when a student is off task to ask the whole class to remind what one particular rule is.

I then got them to teach each other the rules. I put them in pairs, with number 1s teaching and number 2s listening, then when they got better, I taught them the ‘toot toot switch’ command, with 2s teaching 1s the rules and 1s listening. This was harder to explain due to the language barrier, but they soon caught on. Some students looked a little uncomfortable doing this, but others really loved it and soon the shy ones started to join in. I plan to use this every lesson and I’m sure they will get better at it soon enough. I want to teach them everything in little steps, and for them to get used to teaching each other with hand gestures and things to make sure that they remember the information. I’m really pleased that I decided to use the whole brain training and I think it will work especially well for the Georgian children as they do better when they are more active, and it should help those who are struggling to read or write in English, as that one will take a while to overcome. I only have one issue with the technique though, as I have an electively mute child in one or two of my classes, and I don’t want to force them, although they seemed to be OK with using gestures, so I need to be gentle and find a slightly different approach with them.

Student Leader

Once they got familiar with teaching in pairs, I got their attention again and got one of the students to come to the front and teach the rules to the whole class. This works well for those students who are a little cocky and know it all, as its one thing bragging about how great you are, but another in doing it. I think it is a cultural thing again, as I have noticed that many Georgians who are weak at something or who have a complex, often brag about how good they are in order to get out of doing something. Now I know that, I find that these are actually subtle ways of letting a person know that you don’t understand, and with a little gentle support its a good way to help them overcome this, and to learn what they say they can already do. The children also responded really well to the student teacher, and it somehow seemed to take away a lot of the bravado and silliness and made the whole class more engaged and focused, so I plan to get a student teacher to lead a part of every class, as it will also help them to learn and remember the material.

I stood by the student teacher whilst they taught the class the five class rules, and at the end of it I introduced the ten finger ‘woo’. This was a good way to demonstrate the number ten with the younger or less able students as I showed them ten fingers and we ‘wooed’ the good student for doing such a great job. Somehow being active and moving around seemed to energise the kids and really kept them on target, and was not as cheesy or corny as I had expected it to be. This will definitely be a good little technique for rewarding good behaviour in class. Following nicely on from the ten finger woo, I talked about the score board. A simple drawing of a smiley face which I called a ‘smiley’ and a sad face which I called a ‘saddy’. The aim was for the children to get more smileys than saddys. If they got a smiley they had a ‘1second party’ which basically is just an action and shout of ‘oh yeah’. We practiced that a little until we got the actions and volume level sorted, and then moved on to the saddy. For every saddy the children have to give me a ‘mighty groan’ which involves them lowering their shoulders and making a groan noise and sad face. This works really really well, and it makes sense because its linking the amygdala with memory formation and the actual action of the emotion instils this feeling or sense of achievement. The kids love to get smileys at all the ages, and if you prolong the suspense a little before you let them make the noise, it works doubly well. You just have to remember to be consistent during the lesson, but its a great way of reinforcing both positive and negative behaviour.

The Georgian Boy

In one class, I have a typical Georgian boy, who is a bit of a know it all and talks all the time and questions and disrupts everything. He is in a brilliant class so its a little frustrating that he holds up everyone’s learning, but with the pressure of smileys and saddys the class actually ends up kind of training him. He is a bright little kid with very good English, but has probably grown up in the kind of family where he is the centre of attention and he gets everything he wants and lots of compliments. I like that Georgian kids are so confident, and its a far cry from the lack of self esteem of many British kids, including myself at his age, but there is also a line of respect and knowing when to stop and shut the feck up. He’ll be a brilliant student once he learns to curb this, but until then its going to be a bit of a challenge methinks! Most of my students are very cool, but there are one or two who are just plain odd, and as a psychologist that really interests me, and I can’t wait to find out more about them and to come up with ways to get them into learning what we need to learn, and finding out more about what really makes them tick.

On the whole, I think my classes were a success this week, especially given how new everything was and finding out my classes at the last minute and not having text books yet, and I’m excited about teaching them in this new way and seeing how it goes. The only class I didn’t like was the 8th grade, and I hope that most of that was due to my just being really tired, and that they were also really tired at the end of the week.

Pre School Reflection

Pre school also went OK, although I didn’t feel very organised and the travelling between schools is quite tricky. I’m starting to learn the names now, and its nice to see that bond developing with the children. I love the idea of working with them at this really young age, and then moving up through school with them over time too. And slowly we are getting into quit a routine and they are already starting to know the songs and some words in English. I feel like I am doing half a job with them at times as I don’t have time to plan anything more formal, but the important thing is that they seem to enjoy the classes and I’m sure we will both get better over time. One of the students is still terrified of me because I am foreign, and will walk as far away from me as possible which is kind of funny to watch. This week some of the other children seemed to lose their fear of me and have started to take my hand and talk to me. I have two favourite little boys, one is a total chatter box and I don’t understand a word he tells me because he speaks in Georgian and the other little boy is a proper naughty little boy who isn’t really naughty, he is just misunderstood as he doesn’t speak any Georgian and can’t communicate with anyone. It is funny to watch them all, and to notice how the cultural traditions and social rules kick in from such an early age. The sense of space is funny and its sweet to see the boys put their arms around each other, they do things very differently to British children of the same age, and it fascinates me how early on the social skills kick in. It is especially funny with the non Georgian children, who like me, are aliens in this foreign land and are not understood properly. Their culture is more similar to my own and so their behaviour is more appropriate and acceptable to me, but is strage for the Georgian adults, likewise they also have their own cultural behaviours too and it is really interesting to watch. Like me, they also do not get so excited about Georgian foods, and it is amusing to see how the Georgian staff find this odd, and they just don’t understand how people could not like Georgian food, but it is so different to foods that other cultures are used to. Like me, the children only like the cake, as its the most familiar thing to us, and is therefore edible and predictable.

Georgians and Meals

Meal times at the pre school are also quite an eye opener, and good training for me if I plan to adopt a Georgian child. Georgian children are used to eating at a table and with family so they sit far better than British children of their age. What I do find funny is how much attention they receive and how they are babied. In Britain, we don’t interfere with people who are eating, we let them just get on with it, even if they are little children, and we encourage them to be independent. Georgians don’t do this, instead they like to spoon feed even the four or five year olds and tell them to eat, eat, eat, and give them lots of instructions for eating, constantly fussing over them and wiping them. Seeing how adults are with children, has really helped me to understand the whole supra meals now, as I found them really invasive and forceful when I first ate with Georgians. I am not used to people trying to force feed me, piling things on my plate, or telling me to eat, eat. In my culture this is considered pushy and rude and is an awful experience, but I see now that is just the Georgian way, and it isn’t considered as being dictated to or bossed around, but is actually meant with love and kindness as they want you to grow up big and strong and not be hungry. I guess this is why there are so any skinny but solid children around! The other difference with eating socially in Georgia is that people don’t wait to start eating, you just eat when your food arrives. In a restaurant, food never arrives at the same time, and if you waited for your friend to get served then your food would already be stone cold, and there is just no concept of food arriving at once. Many times when out with friends, they have finished their meal before mine has even arrived, and this is considered the norm for Georgians, probably because they are happy to share until the food arrives. In Britain we are told to eat with our mouths closed and not to eat whist we are talking, but this is not so in Georgia, maybe for adults, but not so for children, and Georgian adults seem to be happy to see children with their mouths full because it means they are happy and have food to eat. I kind of like this approach, and the lack of formality that I am used to in British dining is quite refreshing and takes a away a lot of that social pressure, although it does still feel quite invasive when eating and people are focusing on your eating. I used to feel so rude about not clearing up my plates and things afterwards, but I am slowly becoming accustomed to Georgians generally wanting to do this for me if I am a guest, it was weird at first, and I still feel guilty but it is getting easier.

Oceans Project

This week was the taster week for the Oceans Project, and I think it went pretty well, although I hope we have more participants at the actual project. It was stunning to see the BBC Oceans series on the large screen in the library, with super speakers, and it really felt like I was scuba diving again and I could almost feel the water as they dived into it. I felt very proud to have got this far, and to have the support of my friends who will teach on the project was also great. The greatest thing for me is not the number of children on the project, but the incredible enthusiasm of the students. One of my students from my previous school who is just amazing, a PhD student, and a little 8 year old too young to be on the project, but who came with her sister. They were the absolute highlight of my week, and those are the kind of children that I designed this project for, those are the children of the future Georgia who have great futures ahead of them, they are the reason that I want to teach and give up my time and invest my energy into them. I also had an email from a lady who would like me to run the project for a group of younger students, and that is pretty cool. I already extended the upper limit to accommodate some older students who were interested and to extend the age limit lower is also a great sign as I am mostly interested in working with those who are enthusiastic.

So, this week should be a pretty exciting one project wise. I have a lot of expedition brochures from Earthwatch and also a box of fantastic books from Darien Book Aid in the USA who kindly donated books for the project. They are the most amazing books, like new and perfect topics for the course, so I hope to take some pictures of the project and books for them as a way of saying thanks.

New Addition

This week also saw the addition of a new member of the family zoo, although probably temporary. I was out walking Isla and am usually pretty good when it comes to stray animals. But the sight of a tiny little kitten under the bins, covered in petrol and oil and making the most incredible noise, was just a little too much, and when it was also friendly and came up to me, that was it. I don’t know what I was thinking really. But I took it back home and washed and washed it, fed it, watered it, and let it stay for a bit. It really took a shine to Isla and I’m pretty sure she will look after it. I’m not sure how thrilled my housemates were and I have no intention of taking on any more pets when I already have two elderly cats and a dog, but equally I knew it probably would die if it was left as it was, and it reminded me too much of both of my cats, and looked to me a lovely little character. Once it was cleaned up, it settled really nicely and just slept. Every time it was left alone it started crying, and it is the noisiest cat I have ever met, probably why it has survived as long as it has. I put up a message on facebook and sent messages to a few friends in the hopes that someone wants it, I don’t know what will happen, but I really hope it will find a good home, and I’m happy to pay for its upkeep if anyone wants it.

The next morning I took it out for a walk when I walked Isla and the kitten from across the road seemed to take a little interest in it. ALl three of her kittens died, and I had hoped that maybe she would take it under her wing as she has been looking for her babies since they died. I left it all day, and it sat outside all day and cried. Eventually I gave up, and brought it back home. Now its sat curled up on my shoulder, and I’m excited at the fact that it learnt straight away how to use a litter tray. Isla thinks it is great too, and if it survives then its going to make someone a really nice cat. Even my cats have not been bothered by it, which I’m really surprised about. So we will see what happens. The interesting bit will be leaving it home alone whilst I am at school!!!


About Sarah Rows Solo

British YouTuber and Founder of Environmental and STEM education charity Oceans Project, preparing for a solo row around the coast of Great Britain.
This entry was posted in Autobiographical Things, Teaching and Geography, Uncategorized, Whole Brain Training. Bookmark the permalink.

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