Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a Peace Corps volunteer? We did, too, so we interviewed recent Bridge graduate (and photo contest winner!), Jacob Huggins, who is currently teaching English as a Peace Corps volunteer in Georgia, located in Eastern Europe on the Black Sea.
Jacob, tell us about yourself. How did you end up joining the Peace Corps and teaching in Georgia?
გამარჯობა! Hello! I am an American and graduated in 2013 from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia with a degree in International Business. Up until my current job, I had worked a couple of years as a banker. I decided that my next endeavor would be a Peace Corps Volunteer. I applied and was accepted to teach English in the country of Georgia (also known as Saqartvelo).
Which TEFL certification course did you take and why?
Prior to starting my current position as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I received my IDELTOnline certificate through Bridge TEFL to help gain more knowledge of English teaching beforehand, as well as to make myself a more competitive candidate.
How long have you been teaching?
Technically, I had my first taste of teaching at the age of 16. I went to China for three weeks with an organization called Bridging the World. I helped teach English at a summer camp in the city of Xi’an. I hadn’t been in a classroom educator position since then until I came to Georgia with the Peace Corps. With Peace Corps, I have been teaching since July 2018, and have been teaching with Georgian co-teachers for 4 months.
Taking a selfie outside of school after classes ended.
Tell us about your current teaching job.
The Peace Corps is a US government organization that provides professionals to help educate and train people of other countries who have requested the US government for volunteers. The Georgian government requests English Education volunteers each year, and I am one of the 2018 volunteers to be in Georgia. After 3 months of intense Georgian language training and additional English Education technical training, I moved to my permanent location in the Samegrelo Region of Georgia, where I will be spending two years of my life (until July 2020). I work at a local school with about 200 students and work as an English Language Co-Teacher alongside two Georgian nationals. I teach all grade levels in multi-level classes, which can be pretty tricky at times.
What’s a typical workday like as a Peace Corps volunteer in Georgia?
For me, a typical workday is to get up and have breakfast with my host family. I work at a school where classes begin at 9 am. I teach anywhere between 3 to 6 classes a day, for a total of 18 hours a week. After school ends around 2 pm, I meet with my co-teachers and lesson plan for the next workday. By about 3:30 pm I go back home and eat, then work on any additional Georgian language study/homework I may have, any side projects, American Culture Club lesson plans, or even a soon-to-be project that involves USAID Grant Writing. Apart from that, there is downtime where I continually integrate with my community and host family.
Jacob’s birthday celebration that his school hosted for him
Can you share a classroom or teaching tip that you’ve learned along the way as a teacher?
I have learned and used a good technique for classroom management. I have noticed that for any student that constantly likes to not pay attention to the lesson, likes to talk, or to stand up and roam the classroom, a good way to get them to stop is through physical contact. When a ‘trouble student’ is constantly having these attention issues I have found that going up to them and putting a hand on their shoulder and looking at their work with them instantly changes their focus. The students go from finding ways to act out to looking at their work with a teacher’s hand on their shoulder.
Whether it’s a hand sitting on their shoulder while they are seated, an arm around their shoulder, or if it’s a hand on top of the head to catch their attention in the moment, it works just about every time. Using the physical touch gets a different response from the student and working with them closely completely changes the student’s attitude and attention to where it should be. This is especially useful in my classrooms since I have a co-teacher. One of us is able to use this technique while walking the classroom at the same time that the other teacher is up front teaching their part of the lesson.
Has there been a time so far when you felt like you made a difference in a student’s life?
I’ve come across many small differences that I’ve noticed. I’ve known to pay attention to the small things, not to expect huge changes. One specific example would be when I did something I’ve come to do pretty often now. When there is a time my co-teacher is teaching, she is able to teach and engage the higher-level students pretty well. I take this time as I walk the class to focus on weaker students who may be a good 5 grades behind in level, as we teach multi-level classes.
One day closer to the beginning of the school year I took extra time with one low-level student in the back of the classroom, while my co-teacher was teaching. I was able to spend good time with him during the lesson to help him understand the exercises we were working on. By the end of the lesson, he was willing to continue on and was asking me for help when he got stuck. I find this as a “win.” He went from not even wanting his book out, to focusing on the next exercises and wanting to dig deeper than usual for him at his English language level.
What are your future career goals?
My future career goals are currently evolving for me day to day. Right now, I think that after I finish Peace Corps service I would like to stay and live in in the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi. My hope is to continue to improve in my Georgian language skills and to work on a professional level. I am hoping I can work on incorporating English teaching along with my business background education, perhaps working on an administrative level at an educational center.
View of the Borjomi Valley from Petre Fortress
What recommendation do you have for someone who wants to teach English in Georgia?
Work on incorporating into the local way of living. Show that you are also willing to learn their language. Eating their food will completely change the way that the people approach you.
Also, be aware that the classes are multi-level. Work on finding ways to have good multi-level lessons. Think outside of the box and outside of the book. Georgians are extremely hospitable people and have a wonderful culture, history, and beautiful traditions. Enjoy it!