Take It From The Top

Several months ago, my director informed us that we would be having what I interpreted as a day where other education officials and teachers from the town can come and observe our classes at our school. At the very same time, he expressed a desire for me to dance in said observation. Now, although I love to dance, I hate doing so upon request. Don’t know why, I’m weird that way. But my director is very persistent and he gave me a student dancer who was to choreograph the dance and privately instruct me. Fine.

Elene was one of the teachers chosen to do a lesson for that day and she was to give a presentation of her last two years of being trained to instruct other teachers on different methods. And because she was chosen that means I, too, was chosen. So for the next several weeks we brainstormed ideas for both.

I remember when I was growing up, watching movies or videos of ‘demonstrations’ in Communist countries; Soviet Union, China. These demonstrations would basically take the form of a huge parade of massive amounts of people in a town square either dancing, singing or marching. I remember thinking then, “They must have practiced for hours to do such synchronized movements…”

When the observation day was announced, one class, my sixth grade, was on a section in the book called, “Old customs in the New World”. And that’s where we stayed for the next several weeks until the observation. The students were drilled back and forth as to how to pronounce and recite several pages of information on Tibetans, Sami peoples, Incas and Bedouins. She expanded the lesson and coached them on how to talk about cultural aspects of Georgia. Now the perplexing part is where one day, she took me aside and said that she HATED when teachers practiced with their kids what to say during an observation. So obviously she saw a difference, but what that difference was is beyond my comprehension.

I started learning the Georgian dance almost immediately. My instructor was a student named Tatia. She was super strict and not friendly AT ALL. Which is good for me, because I just wanted to learn the dance. She had a friend, Ana who came with her, too. Eventually Ana would become my dance partner. We practiced during school, which was weird, but only once a week. Closer to the day of the observations, Tatia started becoming more and more absent. Ana took more and more of a commanding role. Actually we had been practicing without music, but Ana brought in the track we were to dance to. She also changed some of the steps to fit better.

Ana

Ana

 

 

The day before and of the presentations, EVERYONE was cleaning and preparing. Scrubbing the walls, hiding broken equipment, etc. The guests would not arrive until noon, so there was one last dress rehearsal at 10. This is when I found out I would NOT dance with Ana, but with the dance teacher and her daughter. Not only would I dance with new people, but they were going to change the song and choreography. …Okay. So I learned this new choreography as fast as I could, then found out the teacher’s daughter would not dance with us after all, because Ana heard about being cut out and started bawling and she didn’t understand why THIS student could dance with me but she couldn’t. Drama. So it ended up being the dance teacher and myself.

So we performed the open lesson for the other teachers in town, did the presentation of Elene’s experiences then had the mini concert. In addition to my performance there were other singers, dancers and poetry recitals. We have a depth of talent at this school.

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Mariam, prettiest voice in Georgia.

 

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All in all, I would say it was a very successful day. The rehearsing paid off.

 

***

Metamorphosis

When I was growing up, there were certain things I didn’t eat simply on principal. I didn’t eat chicken except for the breast because of fear of biting into a vein or, lord forbid, a fatty gristle. The word gristle still sends cold shivers up my spine. Nor did I eat steak because my father favored the kinds with fat still intact and cooked with the rest of the meat. As I got older my list of acceptable foods expanded. Once in Washington DC, I ate an insect taco. It was delicious and I would do it again.

Here in Georgia, my eating habits are very consistent but can’t be all that healthy. My host mother is very deliberate in making sure I have food on the table. I think she takes slight offense if I eat elsewhere. And for the most part she is a great cook. Unfortunately for us, she has lately started to bake her own bread. It looks and has the consistency of focaccia. But it tastes horrible! I don’t have the heart to tell her, and I think the other family members share my opinion. When she puts the store bought bread on the table in addition to hers, they always take the store bought bread. I think it’s a trick, so I eat two of her pieces of bread for every piece of new bread. But that plan might be backfiring. What if she thinks I LOVE her bread? Otherwise all of her food is great.

But I have learned that ‘good’ isn’t enough to make a meal desirable. She makes a great potato salad. Very comparable to my own mother’s back in the States. My mom is a genuine born and raised southern woman. So saying it’s ‘comparable’ is saying a lot. But the deliciousness evaporates when it’s the ONLY thing served for a meal… with bread… and water. The first helping is great, and I think to myself, ‘you can do this’. Then the monotony overwhelms me and I can’t continue to force myself to overdose on potato salad. I don’t care how good it is.

I have mentioned this next part before, but want to revisit it. Our meals are like clockwork. Within 15 minutes of waking up, breakfast is ready and served. A basket of bread, jam, something that reminds me of cream cheese, and tea. Everyday. But to be fair, occasionally on the weekends, Natia bakes some Khatchapuri or pancake looking things. And once in a while hot cacao.

3 p.m. everyday, we eat lunch regardless of who is home. Even if I am the only one home, I am expected to eat at 3. Natia calls to remind me and give instructions for what to eat specifically. Our lunch meals are fortunately hot most days. But even the cold dishes are appetizing and at least filling.

And at 8 p.m., we eat ‘dinner’. A basket of bread, jam, something that reminds me of cream cheese, and tea. Everyday. But to be fair, occasionally on the weekends, Natia bakes some Khatchapuri or pancake looking things. And once in a while hot cacao. (Notice the repetition there?)

Now-a-days I’m starting to question the impact my eating schedule will have on my overall health. Am I getting all the nutrients I need? Am I eating enough, or slowly starving myself? I try to supplement the rarity of meat by eating lots of it at our weekly happy hour.

Which brings me back to meat with fat.

The other day I was eating lunch at home. Natia had prepared one of my favorites- a meaty stew is the best way to describe it. She doesn’t discriminate with the meat. She cuts it up in descent portions and plunges the pieces into the stew. So it’s basically hit or miss as to what you will retrieve with the ladle. I try to cheat sometimes and go fishing when they aren’t looking, but usually, I have to deal with what I get. This last meal, there seemed to be a shortage of ‘all meat’ pieces. When I dipped the ladle, it was either bones with some meat and fat, or chunks of fat with meat. I chose some of both and surprised even myself. The fatty stuff was…. tasty.

Who am I?

***

“I cannot make you understand. I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside me. I cannot even explain it to myself.”

Metamorphosis, Frank Kafka

All I Wanna Do Is Sing

Georgia is known for it’s singing. These are two moments I was able to catch on video. Not the best filming, but it does the job.

Video from:

 

 

Video from:

 

***

Sing it for the boys
Sing it for the girls
Every time that you lose it sing it for the world
Sing it from the heart
Sing it till you’re nuts
Sing it out for the ones that’ll hate your guts
Sing it for the deaf
Sing it for the blind
Sing about everyone that you left behind
Sing it for the world
Sing it for the world

Got to see what tomorrow brings
Sing it for the world
Sing it for the world
Girl, you’ve got to be what tomorrow needs
Sing it for the world
Sing it for the world

Sing, My Chemical Romance

Stay Thirsty, My Friends

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Took a quick trip over to Batumi this weekend to show the new EVS volunteers around. Once in Batumi, I remembered again the monument called the Cha Cha Tower. Every visit to Batumi, I mean to find it, see it, or go to it, but was never successful. So this trip, we purposed to see it.

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The Cha Cha tower has four water fountains. But the reason its called Cha Cha tower is that once a week for 10-15 minutes the water is replaced by Cha Cha. Cha Cha is an alcohol that is best described as Georgian moonshine.  Every home in Georgia makes their own wine, and therefore also their own Cha Cha. Although they love it, it tastes like and reminds me of jet fuel.

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***

To the right
To the left
Take it back now y’all
One hop this time, one hop this time
Right foot two stomps
Left foot two stomps
Slide to the left
Slide to the right
Criss cross, criss cross
Cha cha real smooth

Cha Cha Slide, DJ Casper

A Change Is Gonna Come

** Full Disclosure- This post is long and no photos**

Assessment is a huge pillar in the institution of Education. Informal, formal, verbal, written, quizzes, chapter tests, field tests, and exams. The lightening rod in American education right now is Standardized Testing. The ideology being ‘if we establish benchmarks of where students should be academically by a certain grade level, then we can better assess where the weak points are and adjust accordingly.’ This statement is quickly followed (most times in the same breathe) by the promise that standardized testing by no means is a tool to assess teachers.  Now in theory, all that sounds idealistic and well intentioned. But in reality surely no one with the authority to demand standardized tests believes that this plan has a chance to stay wholesome and achieve its motive. Human nature dictates otherwise.

First off, there are so many variables to student achievement, it would make your head spin. When I was a teacher, I had all kinds of classes. I had classes that were segregated according to academic ability by the students (and presumably their families) themselves and other classes that were by fate simply a great mix or a toxic mix of students. They come to use as a package of individuals with different levels of intelligence, different buttons for being motivated and different personal backgrounds affecting their behaviors and abilities. One year I was highly commended for being an ‘effective’ teacher as evidenced by my Standardized Test scores for that class. the very next year, I was asked why my Test scores were so low in a similar class. I was the same teacher with the EXACT same methods and lesson plans. I would even say I was a slightly better teacher who had learned how to improve from the previous year.

Secondly, testing intrinsically makes people want to do better. Especially if there is any significance attached to the test. The teacher wants their students to do well and they, too, professionally want to perform well. So with the nature of people pushing in that direction, it is only a matter of time before the theory turns into the practice of “teaching to the test”. Even if the teacher has the most uncorrupt and pure intentions, the inertia of competitiveness and performance will pull them into compromising actions. I am not saying teachers will straight up cheat and break the rules for good scores, but more and more will adhere to ‘the ends justify the means’.

Back to Georgia…

For some reason, my co-teachers have been testing their students more than normal (normal being never). But the process is a work-in-progress. This post will be a challenge to my skills of descriptive writing, which will be needed to fully demonstrate the assessment status of my school specifically and what I can only imagine to be widespread in Georgian education in general.

My school is recently renovated. That means that we have amenities that a lot of schools don’t, especially village schools. We have computers printers in various states of disrepair. We have wireless Internet with ebbs and flows of effectiveness. I deduce that is because the school is build of concrete and the router itself is in a concrete walled room. So we are doing pretty well, comparatively. But we don’t have other things like chalk in every classroom. We tend to always have to scramble for ¼ inch fragments of chalk left by the other teacher. And we have what I would call a shortage of paper. But my assessment is biases from teaching in the States in a school that rained paper. I know that the director usually has a secret stash of paper literally in his office safe. But the teachers have to beg for it or produce their own. I witnessed the Director tell a teacher to collect money from the students to purchase a pack of paper. Although that seems to be the norm, the practice obviously left a bad taste in the teacher’s mouth.

Students commonly have notebooks for their individual classes. These notebooks are reminiscent of the ‘blue books’ from college days. The kids take notes in these notebooks. And if needed, they tear out pages for purposes of turning in work, i.e. spelling tests. But teachers don’t take up work as often as in the States. Usually the teacher walks around and spot checks the work or they simply have the students hold up the notebooks in the air.

Three weeks ago, my lead English teacher discovered that there were tests already prepared on the CD’s in the back of the teacher’s manual. She had me to help her open them on the computer and choose an appropriate one for her class. Then she had me print them for her.

** Aside** Printer companies operate an authorized racket. Insurance companies command my top spot for sheer repulsiveness as a legal business model. But printer company’s accessories run a close second. Printer ink cartridges are criminally overpriced, even for the States. Printing large quantities of documents on a printer is equivalent to burning money.

She asked me to print twenty-five 6- page tests for this one class. Even with my shrinking/ multiple paging skills, it still ended up being a 3-page test. I cringed through the whole process. Other teachers looked at me with detached animosity, as page after page after page churned out of the determined computer. To add insult to injury, I recommended that the students not write answers on the test, so they can be reused. That piece of advice wasn’t understood or heeded.

I hate grading papers. It is the WORST part of teaching, in my opinion. Apparently my co teacher had not experienced correcting a lengthy test (50 questions plus a writing assignment) of this kind.  Four days later, she still hadn’t graded them. She asked for me to read the students response as she checked them. Even that was taking a LONG time. So I took the tests and used my method of grading perfected and sharpened after years of repetition. Although she was impressed, I think she was secretly questioning the accuracy of my process.

She had me help in choosing more tests for her other three classes. But the Director said that we absolutely could not print classroom sets. My co teacher was distraught. “What to do?”, she asked?  My solution was to project the test on the wall with a projector and have the students answer the questions on their own paper. You would have thought I discovered the Philosopher’s Stone. Hugs and kisses!  The only part of the plan that she deviated was, she supplied the paper for the students.

It baffles me that there is not a precedent for taking tests at my school (presumably all of Georgia).  Two issues come to mind. First is the blatant cheating. Its not only rampant and common practice, the teachers seem to turn a blind eye by “Oh, I wonder what’s outside the window today? Or, this paper I’m looking at is the most interesting I have ever seen!” So, there’s that.

Then there is the issue of how it is apparent they have not taken tests to any degree of frequency. I am used to, although still bewildered when students forget to put their names on their papers. But these students have to have classroom instruction on how to answer the questions. Verbatim:

“First is section 1.”

“On your paper, write ‘Ex. 1’ and beside it #1.”

“Beside #1, your choices for answers are A, B or C. Choose one and write either A, B or C.”

“Do this for all of the choices in section one.”

“Next write ‘Ex 2’ on your paper and beside it #1”

“Chose the correct word that make the sentence correct and ONLY write that word (or fragment) beside #1”…

(Most still did it incorrectly)

But I must say, by the fourth test, my co-teacher was much better in explaining the directions to the kids. So the silver lining in all this is things are progressing. The downside is my co teacher is resistant to learn how to operate the computer herself. So although I am helping her construct PowerPoint with video and audio, she doesn’t really want to learn how to create it herself… yet.

The other downside is I think they are testing for the sake of testing. I’m pretty sure the grades are not going to be used for seeing where the students are weak or looking for ways to improve instruction.

One step at a time.

***

There were times when I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gone come, oh yes it will

A Change Is Gonna Come, Sam Cooke

In Which Sanchezi Goes To Visit The Neighbors

I came downstairs yesterday and ran into Giorgi. He was coming to say that they were going to a neighbor’s house for a “small dinner”, aka supra. They asked if I wanted to join.   …Of course!!

Before we could leave though, Gurami had apparently broken the washing machine and needed to find a repairman to come out. Natia was NOT happy. Once that was set up, we walked two houses down.

Standing in the doorway was my favorite Bebia!

*Since I walk to and from school and town, I see a lot of my neighbors out and about. One in particular is very animated in saying hello and kissing me profusely whenever she sees me, “CHEEEMIII SAAAANCCCHEZI!!!’, which only makes me excited to see her! Every time it’s like we haven’t seen each other for years. She speaks to me in rapid Gurian Georgian, and I spit out as many Georgian words as I can. She introduces me to anyone she happens to be walking with. She’s my buddy.

My favorite Bebia!!

My favorite Bebia!!

So I was super excited to find out that this was her house AND her birthday supra!!! She skitted around here and there only as old ladies can do. Finally we sat down to the table. In this house lived the grandma, a husband and wife and their two kids. The mom was away working in Turkey.

Natia joined us later after tutoring her student. Natia and Gurami are soo cute together out in public. She has a sharp wit about her and can make anyone laugh on any occasion, but she also tends to be reserved and ultra polite. Gurami gives off the vibe if a ‘good ol’ boy’. He is funny, too, but in a different way. Out of his crew of friends, he is the quiet one.

After we kicked back a couple of toasts of wine, our hosts demonstrated that they were also singers. They sang some amazing sounding songs with multi part harmonies. Then we found some songs on YouTube and started dancing. Since I have a current Georgian dance routine under my belt, I showed them a thing or two. As soon as I stood up, the video cameras on phones and cameras were whipped out. (No wonder everything is able to be shown on those television shows; earthquakes, people falling down stairs, car crashes,  singing babies, hailstorms, etc.  Little did I know, there are scores of people who are ALWAYS ready to videotape something. They are like gunslingers of the Wild, Wild, West.  One lady was video taping on her phone in one hand and taking pictures from her camera in the other….  a two shooter.)

This house was the first I had been to with an outhouse. Whenever I am at a supra with Gurami, he always escorts me to the bathroom. Which makes it hard for me to ‘puke and rally’. (I think that’s what he is secretly monitoring.) I was at first confused that I was walking soo far in the dark and rain, then it dawned on me. I stepped into the outhouse and took mental notes, “So, this is an outhouse…” It was an wasn’t what I expected. I WAS in that it had the hole in the ground. But the ground was also tiled.  And there was an ash bucket against the back wall. I deduced that this was for bringing in hot coals with you in the winter. That’s what I would do. But thinking on it again, it could be a giant incense jar…

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There are only so many toasts of wine I can do. Even after sipping for a while, I foresaw things going downhill fast for me soon. The tamada was just getting into a rhythm with the toasts, but I had to get home before I started being ‘that guy’. So I gave Gurami the signal and we walked safely home.

***

Now, they’ve got catfish on the table
They’ve got gospel in the air
And Reverend Green, be glad to see you
When you haven’t got a prayer
But boy you got a prayer in Memphis

Walking In Memphis, Marc Cohn