An English Teacher, I am

Teaching in an Armenian school is an interesting experience. I started late last week because the first day of school is always September 1st (Wednesday) and classes actually began on Thursday. My counterpart has been in Yerevan taking some exams, so I’ve been teaching by myself, though my host mother (also a teacher) introduced me to the new classes. The classes sizes are small compared to most of the schools in Armenia, which I really enjoy. The biggest classes have about 8 students (9th, 10th, 11th grades) and the younger classes have about 4 (5th and 6th are combined for a total of 4 kids). It’s great as far as maintaining discipline and order, but I’ve been told I will need to prepare more because we’ll go through material quickly.

One of the biggest difficulties is the textbooks. Because the students have English classes only twice a week for 45 minutes, I can’t really expect them to retain a whole lot, but the authors of the textbooks do. They are generally at much too high a level, which makes lesson-planning difficult. My counterpart actually came back today (I was unaware she would be here – she’s leaving Thursday again), and this makes using the book a little easier because she can translate and give instructions they actually understand. Otherwise, teaching a lesson solo means I have to create my own lesson, sometimes improvising, and hope it is at their level and that they will understand the instructions. Being by myself is also difficult because I am not supposed to speak any Armenian in the classroom, even if I know the phrase I want to use. It’s generally a good rule to follow, but can make things difficult when the students’ comprehension is low.

Last Saturday (I normally won’t work Saturdays), I taught 5 classes that went pretty well. I think I will average about 3 to 4 classes per day.

I am getting along very well with the other teachers, who are basically all women except for the PE teacher. We might also have a computer teacher and military-instructor-guy, but I don’t know for sure what they do.  I’m not sure if I said this before, but my host mother is also the vice principal and our neighbor is the principal, or “school directer/master.”

Everyday I have to dress business casual, usually wearing slacks/khakis, dress shoes, and my dress shirts. It alright, and it is definitely better than wearing the high-heels that just about all the other teachers sport.

Since starting my TEFL training and getting some actual experience, I feel like I’ve learned a lot about language teaching, how to manage a classroom, and about education in general. But I also started with no knowledge or experience, so I still have a long way to go. I am trying to imagine teaching a social studies class in America to teenagers… I’m curious as to how many of the skills I’ve learned here would transfer to something like that. It would certainly give me more confidence to speak the native language of the students.

Outside of the classroom, life in my little village is quite pleasant. I’ve been going on hikes and runs to stay healthy, something I’m trying to keep up until the winter hits. There are bushes/trees along the side of the only road that have some delicious blackberries, another fun/tasty activity that will cease in just a few months.

Reading takes up a fair amount of time. I just finished Let The Bastards Go, a first-hand account of the Mariel boat-lift from a priest that organized one of the ships, as well as The Indispensable Chomsky, an amazing collection of Chomsky’s thoughts taken from various talks and discussions he has given. And, of course, I have the internet, so I can easily spend hours  just checking the news and various websites.

Because I have the internet, I also found out that a Peace Corps volunteer in Lesotho, where my cousin just finished his PC service, was killed last Friday. Unfortunate, indeed.


3 thoughts on “An English Teacher, I am

  1. Lots of interesting news, Joel…I love reading your posts. Stunning news at the end. I’m so sorry to hear that. Any details on how/why/motivation?

  2. I’m glad you’re teaching is going well, Joel. Sounds like you’ve got a full plate for the early going. I still don’t have a counterpart, so if there is anything I can do to support you in the classroom – resources, questions, etc – let me know. Please.
    Is that Chomsky book yours? Is it Mike’s? Can I borrow it when I see you in Tsakhadzor?
    I enjoy your blog, friend. Take care

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