There is a strong wind raging through Tbilisi today and the weather is decidedly cooler. I am definitely the only person still wearing shorts! Why, because I have yet to go shopping, and my other clothes are in the wash, so the cooler weather will hopefully encourage me to overcome my hatred of clothes shopping, especially once I’ve been paid! Autumn has definitely arrived though, and its hard to believe that not so long ago I couldn’t even bear to sleep with sheets on my bed and was walking around the house pretty much starkers! Now, I have four blankets on my bed and even that is not enough, and its going to get colder as we approach winter. We are awaiting new windows on the apartment, but first we have to complete some paperwork and get permission since its an old house, then hopefully we will have new windows and can then install heating in time for winter and the snow. I’m looking forward to the snow. Being indoors with my cup of tea, all toasty warm and cosy with my cats and Isla, and going off skiing at the weekends just outside of the city.
Its been another hectic week here in Georgia, it started off really exhausting and tough, but by the end of the week, it had much improved and I was starting to feel like a proper teacher and with a sense of knowing what I was doing.
One of the biggest issues, was that I was starting to feel as if I had 4 full time jobs and I wasn’t entirely sure how I had ended up in that position. I had a sense of foreboding, and a sense that I was only doing half a job and was failing at everything. I was teaching science in the primary school, geography in the secondary school, English to the pre-schoolers, and also running my baby, the Oceans Project. A few tweaks here and there and also a little more normality with settling in at home too, meant that the week improved so much. Things were pretty tense, not just at school, but also at home as we were all exhausted and establishing routine at home, living and working together. As if teaching four different age groups and subjects was not difficult enough, I was also teaching people whose first language was not English, and trying to combat those typical cultural differences when it came to child rearing, expectations, school discipline and so forth. Thankfully, all seems well in the world again now, and I feel closer to all involved now that the issues (which were trivial) have been resolved.
One of the reasons for being so exhausted was that I had never actually agreed to teach science, and I was a bit confused when I started school, only to find that ‘by the way you are teaching science too’. I had nothing planned and no books and no idea where to begin really, and it all just felt very Georgian! I’m still also paranoid about not being paid and being left in the gutter again, just as I was with the Ministry when they decided not to pay me for my work, basically because they had run out of money. It is one of the disadvantages of living in a country undergoing so much change, and with no infrastructure in place. But, I since discovered the reason for my teaching science. It seems that, in Georgia, science is the same subject as Geography, i.e. it is incorporated into Science. However, since we are following the British curriculum (which no one here is really familiar with, and this is the first time GCSEs have been studied or even offered in Georgia), I was freaking out at teaching such a vast array of different key stages, for different numbers of hours per week, at a level way higher than they were capable of, and I felt that we were all destined for failure, and it would all somehow be my fault.
Thankfully, I also have the nicest and loveliest School Principal in the world, and she is very accommodating and open to discussion. So, by mid-week I spoke to her about how difficult all this new stuff and expectation was, and having sorted out some cultural differences in terms of the curriculum and whatever, we decided that I would instead teach geography in all of my classes and no more science. This has made life soooooo much better now, and I am back to being passionate about geography and teaching. Since the children have a mixed ability in English, I have decided to now teach key stage two to everyone in the primary school, and to allow them to work at their own pace, building up as and when they are ready. This is the first time that many of them have learnt a subject in English, and also that they have studied Geography. They are not used to answering questions in a British way, and if they don’t conform to this expectation, then they will never pass a British exam. We are also still at the point where many of them don’t bring a pen or notebook to school, so the first half of the fourty minute lesson is wasted on pen hunting. They will get it eventually, and those who can’t even speak, read, or write in English will hopefully catch up at their own pace. Progress has been slow in some classes, and super fast in others, but the fact that we are making progress in spite of these factors is fantastic news for me.
I am sooo excited about teaching them Geography, and to start at the lowest key stage. This means that I will teach them every year, from the age of 4 years old up to 18 years old, and is something I would never have the opportunity of if I were in the UK. Many of the students are really involved and enthusiastic, and many of them are also involved in the Oceans Project, so this is also exciting as I will hopefully have the opportunity to point out real geography when we are on our expeditions with Earthwatch Institute next year.
I really love my school and I have no regrets in taking up a position there. The staff are friendly, and I have a good relationship with my School Director. I have a freedom that I would never have if teaching in the UK, and I love that I can fuse together a little bit of Britain and a little bit of Georgian, whilst also kind of creating my own style and methodology. I was lucky in my own schooling, as I attended both state school and Steiner/Waldorf School. I hated state school and the way it pushed you into boxes, but I loved the creativity and human feel of the Steiner school, and I lost touch with that side of me and somehow being in Georgia I have found it again.
Its funny as I actually forgot that I used to do a lot of eurythmy at my Steiner school and that I really loved it. We once performed a story about creation, and I played Eve, and had to eat an apple, I can still taste it now, it was delicious. Reflecting back, I remember how calm I felt to be on that stage with all my friends, I loved how we were encouraged to be creative, having the same teacher and calling them by their first name and them knowing each student really well. I loved Michelmas, and so many smells take me back to those happy times. Weirdly, I left Steiner School when I was about 10 years old and went to State School in Ferndown. That was a huge culture shock! This video is from my state school but some ten years on, same school uniform and everything!
Michelmas is the celebration of the archangel St Michael and the feast takes place on the 29th September, near the equinox, and it marks the start of Autumn and shorter nights. St Michael is the most prominent archangel because he was a warrior and he defeated Lucifer as well as slaying a dragon. He is the symbol of courage and strength Traditionally, goose is eaten on this day, as is a special cake called St Michael’s bannock. But I remember it for the day when we covered the classroom in wreaths which smelt of nature, wearing white gowns with little silver halos and carrying candles made from bees wax…a smell that I have loved ever since. They were always stuck into red apples so that the wax wouldn’t drip onto our fingers, and the aroma of the two together was very festive. It was a really cosy day, with a little hint of magic about it. We would also play a tune on our little wooden recorders, and sang in a ’round’, the song was beautiful when we all sang it together and all else was silent. I can’t find the tune anywhere, but the song went something like this:
“Michaelmas, Michaelmas, time to show both courage and strength, look well around, inside you must wait, trees may shake, I can stand the storm”.
So, I really hope to bring a little bit of my Steiner background into my teaching, and even without realising, I think it is happening already, as well as a little of my initial primary school teacher training from Charlotte Mason College, in Ambleside way back when!!!
But, I think aside from a few teething problems, school went OK this week. The first half was tough, but the second half left me buzzing and I felt that both myself and the children learnt a lot. Teaching just Geography is far easier and less preparation will be needed than if I was teaching Geography, Science, and pre school. Its also a little less pressure now that I understand that my main goal is teaching English first, but with the geography as a medium for doing this, especially in terms of the primary school children. The secondary school children generally have very good English and are also hungry to learn and are smart, and I have especially enjoyed teaching them this week. I’ve managed to use a little of the Whole Brain Training methodology, but mostly with my primary school kids, but its been a really useful tool discipline and behaviour wise, and is perfect for Georgian children who are socially and culturally more free range and have less boundaries than equivalent children from the UK or USA or wherever. A couple of children in my primary school classes have psychological problems or cannot speak English, and I am not 100% sure how to tackle that as yet, but for now, the focus is on establishing boundaries and routines in terms of our lessons.
I am a massive fan of the CGP books, in part because they are from Kirkby-in-Furness in Cumbria, not so far from Charlotte Mason College where I studied Environmental Science and Outdoor Studies back in the 1990s. They offer books for the whole of the British curriculum and they use bright colours and illustrations and don’t have a lot of the waffle and fillers that most text books have. These books were not around when I took my GCSE Geography exams over twenty years ago (God I am feeling old!!), but I did use them when I was preparing to take my medical school entrance exams. Wow, seems like an age ago that I took my GAMSAT exams in London, crikey!! For those of you who haven’t heard of the GAMSAT, here is a taster:
There were no such study packs or aids when I took my GAMSAT, but I’m glad to see that there are now, as its really hard to get into med school in the UK. Most med schools have admissions tests (GAMSAT, BMAT, MSAT, UKCAT), on top of A grades at GCSE and A’Level. As a graduate entrant onto a fast track course, I also needed a first degree with a minimum of a 2:1 and a GAMSAT score in the top 5% of the candidate population just to get an interview, plus I then had to find the funding myself, so it was no mean feat.
Bit of a random blog today, just reflecting really on how I got here and what kind of teacher I might be, as I am still really finding my identity as a teacher and am moving on from my medic identity, but I much prefer the teacher one, and I love working with Georgian kids. Despite their lack of boundaries, they are wonderful receptacles of information. I just hope that I can learn to communicate with them more effectively and to find our balance and level.
The Black Board/White Board
School is so much cooler than my own school in the UK was, and is totally different and better equipped than my public school here in Georgia. I love having the white board to work on, and I hope that I can develop some board skills at some point. My writing is pretty awful, and I’m like some kind of nutty professor in the way that I scribble and scrawl things as and when they occur to me, but the kids don’t seem to mind too much. As a medic I was conditioned to have appalling handwriting, but now I have to try and learn to write properly again so that the children, whose first language and alphabet is totally different to the English alphabet and writing have at least some chance of deciphering it. To be honest, it is a little the same for me, as the Georgian handwriting and scrawl looks nothing like the lovely clear letters I was learning from text. I’ll give you a couple of examples of this week’s boards:
Video Notes for my Geography Classes
So, I’m a little too lazy to write a proper blog today, but I am going to start trying to write a little every day, especially since life has become so hectic recently. But in the meantime, I will leave you with some pics of my worksheets and the videos that I have so far uploaded onto youtube. Internet is being really slow today, but hopefully I can add it once its uploaded.
Until tomorrow, enjoy laughing at me ‘umming’ and ‘ok-ing’!!!!!
For my primary school classes we were learning about the 7 continents:
For the secondary school, we studied plate tectonics from Key Stage 3 and GCSE level: