As I am continually reminded in small ways, Georgia is a world apart from Cumberland, Maine. When I was a kid, I hardly knew any of my teachers. Maybe it’s presumptuous of me, but I get the feeling that most kids in America have a fairly professional relationship with their teachers. Teachers aren’t people; they transcend the ordinary and take on a sort of mythic persona in the minds of young kids. I remember thinking that my teacher never ever used the bathroom and countless children’s books featuring teachers who live at school attest to this popular kids’ legend about their unknowable, unfathomable teachers.
I come from a family of teachers, and even so I still did not think of teachers as ordinary people. My grandmother, Nana, taught 1st grade for 50 years and only just retired this year. My Aunt was a 5th grade teacher at my elementary school and is now a principal elsewhere and my cousin is a teacher these days too. Heck! Suddenly I’ve found myself teaching! Who’d’ve thought?
Because Auntie taught at my school, I felt like I had a rare view into the secret world of teachers. I knew my aunt outside of school and knew that she was a real person. She was good friends with my 3rd grade teacher which meant that the weirdest possible thing that could happen to a 3rd grader happened: I had dinner with my 3rd grade teacher a bunch of times. Ms. Ceanfaglione was a great teacher and a funny lady, I recall. Knowing her outside of the classroom gave me some strange new insight into life in the classroom, something I couldn’t have put my finger on at the time. I knew she had friends and that she ate dinner, just like the rest of us. I knew she had a sense of humor and enjoyed her weekends at least as much as us kids did (and as a teacher now I can say she probably enjoyed them even more than we did!).
Student-teacher relationships are absolutely different here in Georgia.
And as a general disclaimer, let me throw it out there that I am completely drawing on my own personal experiences at schools in the States and in Georgia and that while I am drawing grand conclusions from these experiences I fully expect that everyone has a different experience and exceptions abound all over the world.
Here in Georgia, students and teachers share a much closer relationship. Teachers are always petting or hugging their students (the little ones, of course) and the students are always giving their teachers hugs and kisses in return. It’s strange to me and there’s a part of me that cringes every time I hear a teacher tell a student that she loves her or vice versa. But, on the other hand, it also seems so sweet and natural! Let me illustrate the point with a few pertinent examples from my own experiences.
The first graders at my school are little hellions. They don’t know enough English for me to successfully lead them in English and I don’t know enough Georgian to effectively rein them in. This means that they often run wild through the classroom. Why, just this week the director came into our class because the kids were being so loud. They immediately quieted down and sang our song for her. Not two minutes after she left they were out of their seats punching, kicking, acting like zombies, and throwing pencil sharpeners. By the time the bell rang, I was gnashing my teeth and rending my hair.
And then came the hug pile.
Despite all my frustration with them and their blatant disobedience, how could I help but be charmed when they ran up to me and suffocated me with hugs. One boy in particular, let’s call him Giorgi, will hug me every time he sees me. The kids will be playing in the hall and I pop out of the office to discover a gaggle of children playing volleyball with a heart balloon. Little Nino will run up to me and wrap her arms as far around my legs as they will go. Then she runs off to get Giorgi. “Gio!” she shouts, “Rali movida!” (Raughley came!) Gio immediately drops everything and bolts over to hug me. Sometimes he buries his face into my side and other times he just looks up and says, “Mas, miyvarxar!” (Teacher, I love you!)
Two weeks back I saw two third graders running full-tilt down the hallway, screaming as they went. In an effort to get them to slow things down, I crouched and extended one palm in a combination STOP sign and High-Five Target. Instead of stopping or high-fiving me, both girls jumped up and threw their arms around my neck. Startled, I began to stand, but I could feel them pulling me back to their level. They each planted a kiss on my cheek and continued on their way to the cafeteria. Not only had I accomplished my mission, but I’d gotten a couple of loving kisses along the way!
It surprises me to no end that I still find myself getting bits of culture shock now and again, but that’s the thing about living in Georgia. There will always be more surprises around the corner!