Friday, September 7, 2012

Off The Beaten Track: Teaching in Georgia

TaChalla Ferris served in Georgia from 2009 to 2011 where she taught English to primary and secondary school students as a team teacher with Georgian counterpart (CP) teachers. Currently, she works in a public library in DC and is studying to get her master’s in library science.

When I was on the soccer team in high school, I wasn’t the MVP. I was picked to be on the team because I never stopped trying. I can be very persistent, which can be a weakness as much as a strength.

In Peace Corps, one mistake I made was comparing my school with the schools of other volunteers. Big mistake, I know. But when I listened to the other volunteers’ experiences, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was doing all that I should and could do as a Peace Corps volunteer.

So I tried some of the activities other volunteers were doing, and one (but not just one) failed completely. I thought it would be great if I bought the seniors notebooks and once a week they would get a writing topic (some I made up, some chosen from the national exam they have to take) and we would spend class time correcting their essays (if you can call one paragraph an essay).

With students in Georgia
It worked in the beginning, but after a while they just did not like it. Attendance was very low because as seniors they were spending a lot of their time with their tutors during and after school hours. This was frustrating for me because here I was (a volunteer) willing to stay after school to help them, but they chose a different path. I was a little hurt. I thought there must be something wrong with me.

Later on, I learned that some of their tutors were also their teachers during school. So the students would play during the day, but in the afternoon they would go to their teacher’s house for private lessons (lessons they should have been learning during school, not after). Also, I think there was an issue of loyalty. The students were comfortable and familiar with their teachers.

So, it could have been me or it could have been a question of respect and loyalty. I suppose I will never know. However, I did not let this stop me! I still gave writing topics to my seniors every week because even if they weren’t doing the work at least they were giving the topic some consideration. The topics I chose were topics that demanded the use of their critical thinking skills. Maybe they didn’t think about it that day or the next, but the idea was planted in the back of their minds. Or at least I like to think so….

With students and counterpart teacher in Georgia
About 85% of my time in Peace Corps, I felt like a failure. I couldn’t get my students or my counterpart (CP) teachers motivated. Even my host siblings did not seem to care. Many times, I just wanted to fling my arms up in the air, call it quits, and go home. But I didn’t. I stuck it out. During those moments of frustration I wondered why I stayed, but deep down, I knew the answer. I couldn’t quit. I was afraid to. In the villages, the schools were in poor condition with outdated resources. Teachers were poorly paid, often with little training. If there was a chance I could help even one person, I was going to take it. 

And not every day was a bad day. There were many wonderful, rewarding moments as well. Such as a getting my class of 25 fourth graders to pay attention in class and do their homework (thanks to great teamwork with my CP), convincing one of my CPs to attend a teachers’ training conference in the capital by herself (she was really glad she went, in the end), and taking the female seniors to the Peace Corps office to meet the female staff for a chance to get advice on going to a university and choosing a career (they really enjoyed it). 

In short, school drove me crazy, but it never failed to do what a school always does: educate. I learned a lot! I hope the students and teachers did too.


  1. Thanks for sharing, TaChalla. I come from a family of teachers and know that's a tough job pretty much everywhere.

  2. I agree with Edith, teaching isn't easy even when you don't have cultural differences to deal with. Thanks for sharing your story with us.