YEREVAN—On the occasion of its tenth anniversary serving Armenia through volunteerism, the Armenian Volunteer Corps has launched Teach, its most ambitious program to date, helping to improve the quality of education in Armenia through English language learning.
Teach provides native English-speaking volunteer teachers to middle and high school students to complement the existing curriculum with a concentration in conversation, creative and academic writing skills, and creating a globally aware and active community.
Teaching English is not new to AVC. Over the last decade many of AVC’s 339 alumni have taught English as the primary or secondary focus of their volunteer service. English language teaching occurred in both formal and informal settings, in public school and university classrooms, in English language “clubs” for adults and children, at NGOs for staff, and during after school and summer programs.
Sheila Terjanian was a retired economist when she took one year off in 2002 to volunteer through AVC. She had spent 30 years in public policy with the Canadian federal government. After she retired, she received a diploma in teaching English as a Foreign/Second Language, and prior to volunteering in Armenia she taught English as a volunteer in her community, working mostly with refugee women.
“As with every volunteer commitment, you always get back many times over what you give,” says Terjanian. “What I remember most about our classes was the laughter we shared together. It took students a long time to get used to a classroom so unlike the traditional approaches to language learning they grew up with, but the students who stuck with it, all got it, and with enthusiasm.”
Not all volunteer teachers come to Armenia with a background in teaching. Therefore the AVC Teach program provides necessary training covering a range of topics including an introduction to the local curriculum, teaching theory, as well as practical skills such as classroom management and lesson planning.
“The training was really useful because prior to coming to Armenia I had no teaching experience,” said Talin Aghanian, from the United Kingdom. Aghanian, a graduate of Durham University, is currently serving for one full year teaching English to students in grades 6 through 11. “I think they [the students] like talking with me because not only am I a native speaker but I’ve brought with me a whole different culture that they ask a lot of questions about. My main focus is on getting students to talk more comfortably rather than focusing exclusively on writing or grammar,” she explains.
The program will also provide professional development for local English language teachers, focusing on thematic and cross curricular lesson planning, use of media in the classroom, cooperative teaching (including using volunteers in the classroom), and the periodic use of native English speakers.
Joseph Hakoopian, a Cornell University graduate in English Literature, is teaching English to middle and high school students at the Yerevan Lyceum named after Anania Shirakaty. When asked why he chose to volunteer to teach English, Hakoopian says, “I wanted to volunteer in Armenia so I could work with students who are leaning English as a language and as a subject matter. Before coming to Armenia, I had taught literature to students in Brooklyn and I had helped international teaching assistants improve their English speaking skills on Cornell University’s campus. I had not, however, been able to work with students who were interested in improving their speaking skills while learning about something new. The Armenian classroom provided this challenge.”
Hakoopian also added that learning from native speakers provides a valuable benefit. “Students in Armenia have a different language learning experience than students in the United States. I don’t think you can find many American teachers of foreign languages who haven’t spent time abroad in the countries where the languages they teach are spoken. Unfortunately, most English teachers in Armenia have not had the chance to study English abroad. The presence of a native English speaker encourages a fluidity of speech to which most Armenian students have not yet been exposed. Of course, they’ve heard some English on the Internet and in movies, but they’ve never interacted with a native speaker.”
Hakoopian came to Armenia with experiencing teaching SAT preparation classes and is also putting that experience to good use teaching some of his and other students prepare to take the SAT exam in May.
Teach utilizes the invaluable resource of volunteers to provide a much needed complement to the existing curriculum while providing professional development for existing English language teachers. In addition, Teach brings the outside world closer to students’ reality, helping to broaden students’ experiences and understanding of the world and region in which they live.
“Talin provides our students with conversational experiences enhancing our own vigorous language curriculum,” says Anush Sedrakyan, principal of the Mascedan school where Aghanian serves. “Our students have long benefited from AVC volunteers through the practical, meaningful, and often times fun use of the English language. The fruitful cooperation with AVC also provides us with the opportunity to efficiently exchange information, keep in touch with students from different countries, and enhance our knowledge on different cultural and educational issues.”
To apply to participate in the AVC’s Teach program individuals must be native English speakers, at least 21 years of age, and have a college degree. Prior teaching experience is not necessary as training is provided.
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AVC was founded in 2000 to serve Armenia through volunteerism. Since its inception, over 300 volunteers have served in over 200 organizations throughout Armenia.