Teaching in the Trenches, Shooting from the Hip

Since October of last fall, my ten students in the Professional Development program (PDP) have enjoyed listening to many qualified speakers (besides those on Ted.com).  I am thankful to all those professionals who took time out of their busy schedules to respectfully answer my invitation to talk to my students.  In two cases we only had a very short time due to scheduling limitations, but even so all these speakers need to be recognized.  I want to thank the following people who impacted and influenced my PDP students who are actually busy teachers themselves.  They are the following:

1) Marinka Franulovic, author of “Two Kyrgyz Women”

2) Anne Lonsdale, from Cambridge University

3) Harold Samuels, Regional English Language Officer, U.S. embassy

4) Alan Ruby, from University of Pennsylvania

5) Glen Tosaya, Toastmasters – public speaking issues

6) Hanaa Singer, UNICEF representative – KZ statistics related to youth

7) Jon Larsen, U.S. embassy – language and reading issues

8 ) Chad Harris, UCL teacher – Kazakh language issues

9) Josh Lange, UCL teacher – multiple intelligences

10) David Kemme, economist from University of Tennessee – writing issues

11) Annemarie Bechert, Goethe Institute – teacher and KZ culture issues

The following thoughts are taken from my rough notes concerning Annemarie’s visit to our classroom.  My PDP students clamored to have her come back because of her very astute contributions when she came last week with other expats to watch my students’ Powerpoint presentations.  She delivered more salient points for my teachers to think about because we are ALL in the trenches trying to figure out how to do our job more efficiently in Kazakhstan.

Many obstacles are put in the path of truly dedicated teachers in Kazakhstan who are not respected for their profession and are paid so low in salary.  (No wonder Kazakh teachers moonlight with extra English lessons or in some cases accept bribes from their students).  Small wonder, the younger teachers are often asked to do so much translation work for their sometimes older, clueless or inept administrators because of the three language policy in Kazakhstan.  Who has time to come up with creative lesson plans that are stimulating to the students if the teachers are required to know three languages PLUS their subject matter?  Okay, I’m shooting from the hip now, on to what Annemarie discussed with my students.

Annemarie is German but has impeccable English, a kind of British English. She has lived in many countries besides German, Canada, U.S., Ukraine and other places in the world.  She is well travelled.  She started off by saying what was obvious to all of us educators in the room, “Tremendous challenges await us as teachers to pick up the latest in methods of teaching because we live in a globalized world.” She asked, “What are the teachers’ roles besides being the meta teacher?”  That means being above and knowing all across the curriculum.  The relationship of teacher and student is shifting where Kazakhstan is on the road to becoming more like Europe, not in a geographical sense but taking on what is known as “enlightened society.”  Teachers in Kazakhstan need to cope with globalization and modernization and becoming more “student-centered.”

The Germans, as early as the 14th century, had merchants and free citizens and were independent from any czar, king or ruler.  (Economics and education go hand in hand and that is an important point to keep in mind.) The same cannot be said about Kazakhstan’s past.  The Germans had a strong understanding of self-government, roles and responsibilities of governance.

Annemarie admitted that she knew more about Kazakhstan with its recent Soviet past and didn’t know as much about it as a country, as a Kazakh civilization before Russian intervention of the tsars.  She boldly stated there was no real Kazakh government that ruled over this massive territory yet it functioned as a civilized society during nomadic times.  Therefore, what we know as “civilization” from a western approach is completely different from a Kazakh perspective.

Her strongest point was “Astana is not Kazakhstan.” I would wholeheartedly agree with that because of what I witnessed in a village school just 30 minutes outside of Astana.  Her concern is about carrying the knowledge that is in the “elite” schools of Astana out to those places in the rural areas of Kazakhstan.  This country is the ninth largest in the world.  Landscape and geography does matter and greatly influences the kind of people who grow up and are educated.  How can education be evenly distributed to ALL the people who live in Kazakhstan? That is one of the questions that Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Education is grappling with now along with the many issues attached to the three languages that are required to be taught to the young people.

Pity the poor Kazakh teachers who are in the trenches yet need to know all three languages (Russian, Kazakh and English) PLUS their specific subject!  Where are the programs to give them a leg up to do this impossible task?  We have money from the Kazakh government being poured into the youth with our elite schools, but I believe if you invest in the young teachers (who are too busy kowtowing to the older Kazakh administrators) then the ripple effect would be even better for the young people in the classroom.  Can the money be more evenly distributed throughout this vast land, to the rural areas?  Where are the incentives for qualified teachers to go out to the outbacks of this great nation?

(to be continued)

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