The Program

Davachi Travel Blog

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*Note: I wrote this a long time ago, found it on my computer, and realized that it was supposed to be a blog entry.  I'm not sure if the date is correct though


Even when I was a child, I hated school programs.  Those shrill, wretched events that would force otherwise content parents from their evening activities to watch their child wish them a merry Christmas or extol the virtues of Thanksgiving in mass chorus while parents sat there on those hard, doll-sized chairs, uncomfortable and bored.  I hated watching them, singing in them, and I always felt awful for making my mom come to watch me in them.  I’m not sure what made me do it, but believe me when I say that it came as a shock when I suggested to my teachers that we should put together a English themed school program.

Unfortunately for me, my students loved the idea.  I started taking the first 10-15 minutes of every class period to work on a song or to assign students parts in small plays.  Nearly every student wanted something to do so we started assigning small poems to some children and auxiliary parts to others (such as a girl and boy pretending to be Mary and her lamb, etc).  Soon the teacher started taking entire class periods to work on some of the plays, or to have students work on their own to memorize and dictate their poems properly.  It created a new dynamic in class that the students and teachers had never seen before.  I was able to show my counterparts that, within bounds, allowing fun English speaking to be a motivator for working hard on coursework is a powerful classroom tool.

Still, there were political problems with the new methods.  Only half of the English teachers wanted to do it.  The ones who didn’t were afraid that the ministry would get angry with them for not teaching out of the book and that they wouldn’t have time to do the book assignments and prepare their students.  Also, the gossip soon proclaimed me as the “fun and games” guy who wasn’t interested in teaching, just playing.  Fortunately I had the support of my director, some very good teachers, and I enjoy political immunity because I am an outsider (or a man, not sure which one).

After a lot of hard work and a little bit of extra rehearsal, the program day finally came.  Some teachers and an hundred or so students filled the room to beyond capacity.  My immediate Peace Corps supervisor, Flora Palidova and the country director, Meredith Dalton, as well as my friend Chris Polen from Quba came to lend their support.

The room was a bit chaotic with so many students participating and in the audience, but they did well.  The students sung the Azerbaijan national anthem in English and even talked to the audience about what they celebrate during Novruz.  Songs like “If You’re Happy and You Know It!” were instant favorites.  “Weak” students remember lines such as “You naaaauty keetens, vere are your meeetens?”  (You naughty kittens, where are your mittens).  The entire audience laughed when a girl, Mary in this case, was being followed around by a smaller boy who kept on saying “baaaa!”  There were mixups, inaudible riddles and a forgotten accordion.  My students did their best, and a good time was had by all.

I’m not sure if my students will remember hating the singing and dancing programs the way I did, and do now as an adult.  The truth was, they all seemed to LOVE it, and to my surprise, I did too.

Seriously, I loved every second of it.

The day was a success not because it was executed perfectly, but because the next day my students remembered the songs that they sung.  It was successful because all I did was suggest it and the participating teachers did most of the work.  The students loved it and hopefully it is the type of thing that will happen whether I am there or not.

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photo by: cbstevens