Today, I donned my teacher hat and shared Mr. Henry’s 5th period class presentation and my own presentation about Chicago. Turtle shared her presentation about her school and the Navajo Indians. All presentations were met with eager eyes and constant attention. Clearly, these students wanted to learn what America is like for kids.
Now I will say that Turtle and I built some “street cred” with our antics on Saturday. Apparently, so much so that parents were calling Asmat and saying how thankful they were the Americans were there because the kids had so much fun.
Another indicator of our semi-celebrity was attendance. We taught 1st, 2nd, and 3rd periods and by 3rd period, the room was almost spilling over. There were even a few teachers in attendance that wanted to learn about Al Capone! I’m joking about Al Capone, but my Tomas’ Ad Hoc Georgian Cantina fiasco was still ringing in my ears.
I’m honestly challenged to find a way to describe the setting. In all honesty, there is no real difference other than Shorena translating on occasion. Kids are kids and this trip makes me think there’s not a whole lot of differences amongst teenagers across cultures. They are a bit squirmy and excitable and silly and fun loving and boundary pushing; but all the same. An older boy in the back was trying to be too cool for school, by leaning way back but he laughed with everyone else, clearly paying attention. There was the shy kid with head slightly bent down, looking at my presentation through his eyebrows. There was the smarty pants kid who asked a few questions and wasn’t afraid to use his English. There was the girl who asked me what my dream was, anxious to participate in the conversation but was caught between being too cool and being too shy-her undivided attention and shooing a friend away gave her interest away. There was of course the class clown who was doing very random things with the Reavis lanyard I gave him.
So the cast of characters that exist in any classroom was evident. Shorena had worked very hard with Peace Corps volunteers to paint her room, fix the furniture, and write grants for her classroom so it was cheery even within the post Soviet, dilapidated and dark enclosure. It really felt like I was teaching in America.
So what sticks out, for me, was the sheer joy and intensity in learning something new. Here were a group of kids who did not have to be there (after 9th grade, school is voluntary) yet they followed me the way a predator might follow prey-looking for any opening, any way to learn more to generate a plan of attack. I suppose predator and prey is an unusual analogy but I think fitting. Not because they were ready to pounce, or were angry or hungry but because it felt like they wanted nothing to escape them. Students seemed to track Everything I said, showed a picture of, or gestured about as if they were cataloging data. Students were all smiling, laughing, and it seemed having fun, but following me as I paced like a crowd at Wimbledon.
I do recognize this is already a romanticized version of today’s events. While students were interested, I was keenly aware I was doing something more than teaching. I felt as if I were representing America and South Siders ( yes, I appropriately bashed the Cubs) so perhaps I was more the predator. Reading students faces and body language as I spoke, hoping they would laugh at my jokes, hoping they would think Chicago is great, trying to find that in so I could make a lasting connection.
And you know what’s the real truth? They’re kids who didn’t have to do the normal routine that day finding out about “stuff” they wanted to learn about from two strange people they’ve met before and had a connection with. That’s it.
But for me, it felt different, like something more. I felt a part of a family for a day. The intensity I felt from the kids-made up or otherwise-made me feel different as I spoke. The warm greetings before class to the cacophony of good byes, “nak-vahm-dis” , thank yous, and see you laters made me beam. I truly enjoyed myself and felt privileged to have such a day with such wonderful young people.
In true Georgian fashion, the day was not over. We attended a dance practice with middle schoolers. It was so fun! The dancing looks so hard-it’s fast, furious, of the toes, jumping and slamming knees into the ground, heart pounding action! The ladies spend the entire time on their toes like ballerinas, twirling, and stepping almost like Irish dancers. They were so happy we were there watching them and nervousness too. What kept making me laugh in my head were the coaches. There were about 40 kids and 4 Russian teachers. Am old man and old woman and a young man and young woman. They were clapping and barking orders and I kept thinking how Khrushchev would be so proud, whipping the young comrades into promising representatives of communist education. But as I watch more, there was a lot of tenderness to the barking-subtle arm corrections, broad smiles when done well, gentle pushes at the hips. Clearly, these 4 instructors loved dance, loved teaching, and more importantly loved the kids. It was really wonderful to watch.
And then…yes, the day is not over…and then we went to a 6th century monetary, on a stone pedestal 120 feet a above the ground. We then got a personal tour by the lone monk living on top.
Oh, one more thing. I learned how to dance traditional Georgian. Pictures of me dancing coming soon…