On Sept. 24th last year, I flew from Minneapolis to Philadelphia to join 60 others headed to the Central Asian country of Azerbaijan to serve in the Peace Corps. That day seems long ago because I’m feeling acclimated to life here in Masalli teaching English at Digah school. My Azeri language skills are still not the best, but I noticed recently that I use many Azeri words and phrases when I go to the market for groceries.
All schools begin on the same day September 15th , as they did when when this country was part of the soviet system. This day is a holiday with parents and students gathering in front of the school for a program before entering. The school director thanked the 10 teachers at our school who are retiring with a modest pension. These retirements were announced last Spring by the Minister of Education for all government employees reaching the age of 65. For me this means I will no longer co-teach with an English teacher who is 68 years old. Fortunately, there are 5 other English teachers I will continue to work with.
For the first few days of school, no class schedules are posted and textbooks are not yet distributed to the students. I had prepared a simple poster, “What is the Weather Today?” as a way to help each English class get off to a good start. Below that question I drew 9 different weather scenes (sunny, rainy, cloudy, foggy, smoggy, etc) for the students to choose. I covered the poster in clear vinyl so that a student can circle the correct scene with a dry marker. It is easily wiped off for the next day’s use.
With all the commotion of first day back, I decided to stand in the hall with my poster and ask, “What is the Weather Today?” It turned out to be a fun way to meet up with my English students from last year. On the second day of classes, I went into 3 English classrooms and had the students draw those weather scenes in their copy books. Drawing the vocabulary is a great way to learn plus they have something to study at home. Best of all, the students said “thank you” – they were excited to learn. It felt so good to have them ask if I would be their teacher next week.
But my real task as a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) is not just about teaching students. It is about teaching new methods – like drawing or miming vocabulary words – to English language teachers. That will make my work and the work of the Peace Corps sustainable. Keep in mind that many are still serving as the Peace Corps celebrates it’s 50th anniversary this month.
I plan to come back next year and celebrate at some of my favorite places including Common Roots Cafe, Isles Buns and Coffee, and that trendy new cocktail bar downtown, Marvel Bar.
Peggy (Margaret) Reinhardt is a Minneapolis Wedge resident and retiree serving in the US Peace Corps. She maintains a blog about her experience at www.inspiredtoretire.blogspot.com.