Friday, September 17, 2010
Teaching in Armenia is definitely not anything like teaching in America would be. First of all the classrooms are in poor shape, schools were built during the soviet era and often have not been upgraded since. There is no such thing as technology in the class room, which includes heat. When it’s cold we freeze and just have to deal with it. Yesterday I found myself teaching with a beanie on and it’s only September! Secondly there are no such things as visual aids in Armenian schools. They teach orally and kids are expected to memorize everything they hear, they often do not even take notes, which explain why they never remember anything. When I want to explain the colors to my third graders I rely on my box of crayons and the flash cards my mother sent to me from America. When I want to teach about professions I rely on my Armenian skills and my tiny computer screen, that often runs out of battery before my presentation is over because we do not have power. Thirdly there is no such thing as positive reinforcement. I never hear Armenian teachers telling students good job. They never give students incentives to do anything other than if they don’t they will be yelled at. Today I brought stickers for my students and gave them to the students who completed their project without any mistakes. The students were amazed. They don’t even get handouts in class, let alone stickers that they can show their parents when they do a good job.
It’s hard to have grown up in American schools and to see this approach to education. I am not saying the American way is better, or that Americans are smarter. I realize that tough love is the Armenian school systems way. In a lot of ways, I think it’s a good thing, but at the same time it’s hard for me to stomach a child working so hard and not receiving praise.
My first week of teaching, I had a particularly bad class. They talked the whole time and didn’t listen, until finally I had to discipline them. My counterpart seeing that I was being stern felt that she must step in and be even sterner, the headmaster was called in and a shouting match ensued. I felt horrible. I only wanted the two students to stop talking, but I didn’t want them to be yelled at or hit. I went home feeling so defeated. Later that evening the student that had been the cause of my problems came over to my house to apologize. He told me that he didn’t mean to disrespect me, but that ever since he was little he hated school because he was called stupid and was hit. He can’t stand to be in my class because if he tries and fails he will be punished so it’s not worth trying. I felt horrible. I told him that I am trying to change things and trying to teach teacher’s new methods and that when he talks he hurts other student’s abilities to learn. I explained that I came all the way from America to teach him so even if he hates English he should be quiet in my class. Well I have to tell you he turned my worst class into my best class. They are so well-behaved ever since he and I had that talk. They mostly all try to participate and if they don’t want to they are at least quiet now. They are so good that I am going to make them my last batch of chocolate chip cookies to reward them.
I really want to make a difference here. I love to teach, and I love my students, even the ones that don’t speak a word of English. I have so many ideas to get them excited about school, from having a student of the month American movie and snack night, to awarding my best class each month with some kind of treat. I want to introduce Armenian teachers to the joys of positive reinforcement instead of negative. I want to get punch cards and when a student participates in class I will punch their cards and when everyone’s card in a class is full we will watch a movie. I have so many ideas to change things here, but it’s hard with such a limited amount of supplies. I brought in a weather chart for my tenth grade class today, and the kids were amazed that they had a visual to teach them. I am really new to teaching, so if you are a teacher and have some advice on ways that I can encourage my students or methods I can use, or materials I can make, please share with me. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. I would really appreciate any advice you can give me, especially when it comes to making visuals with almost no resources. I know I have a lot of super crafty friends so please share with me!