Thursday, October 20, 2011

Professional Development in Almaty

On Friday & Saturday, 14 & 15 October, all the Central Asian schools in my school's organization came together in Almaty for professional development. They do this every other year. All together, 7 schools were represented. We were flown in and provided homestays (staying with a teacher from the Almaty school, which is large, with 500 students.)

Teachers from my school flew in Thursday night, and we had the option of staying on Sunday and going up to the mountains. Although my previous attempts at going into the mountains in Almaty have failed, I knew I'd rather get home Saturday night and have Sunday to relax before school started again on Monday.

So I didn't get to see much of Almaty. But I have been to Almaty twice before and plan on returning in a week for Fall Break, so missing out on a day of mountain sight-seeing wasn't really a big loss to me.

Sophia & I stayed in the house of one of the vice principals at the Almaty school. Almaty is an interesting city; the main downtown area is only about 2 or 3 km long and 1 km wide, very walkable. But it's a huge city, very spread out, with really bad traffic. So it took us over an hour to get from the airport to our home. And the school is about 30 - 40 minutes drive from downtown, possibly more.

A few of the teachers are housed in nice houses in the nice neighborhood surrounding the school; the rest are housed downtown, I heard that this is because there aren't that many available near the school. I also heard that first year teachers have to stay further away, and then I don't know what the system is for determining who lives closer.

Those that live near the school aren't very close to much else besides the school, the lovely neighborhood, and a store (which I never saw, so I can't comment on it). So the teachers that live near the school have cars, and the teachers that live far from the school either have cars or take taxis every day. So this made me happy that I'm only a 15 minute walk from my school (much less, if I choose to cross the busy 8-line highway, which I don't) and the mall and supermarket are on my way to school.

The vice principal who I stayed with lives in a nice two-story house near the school. He has a front and back yard, beautiful now that it's autumn and the leaves are changing colors and starting to fall. He has a swing set in his backyard, too (and an adorable 16-month old baby).

Sophia got to walk around the neighborhood some (with a babysitter and a few teachers' kids, toddlers) and she said it was very nice. There are a few play areas in the neighborhood.

There were 8 sessions, taught by different teachers on different topics on which they knew a lot. Some were better than others, of course, and I especially enjoyed a session on teaching English-Language Learners, by someone who'd gone through a program to become certified. I'm just certified in Elementary Education, not ESOL. This session was nice, because it confirmed that pretty much everything I'm currently doing is, according to current research, the best way to teach ESOL. It's nice to know that what I'm doing is correct.

I also got to meet and talk with other teachers. I met a nice lady who teaches in a very small school in Aktau, by the Caspian Sea, and she loves it. She says that Aktau is very multi-cultural, lots of different ethnicities, and the city is very quiet and peaceful, very safe to walk around in. Plus there's the beach and a few hours away are necropolises and underground mosques and white mountains and other interesting sites.

The teachers in Atyrau, also near the Caspian Sea, but further north than Aktau and about 20 km from the sea, said that it's a nice place, but not interesting for visiting.

A teacher in Dushanbe (Tajikistan) liked it, but I think she would rather be somewhere else. She has three young kids, and she said that city doesn't have a lot of options (clubs, activities, English-speaking children) for older children. Plus, the city is very dusty (dust from Afghanistan, she said) and she thought the smog-filled air in Almaty was cleaner than the air in Dushanbe (another Dushanbe teacher disagreed, though, and said that Almaty air was dirtier.)

Also, she said that policemen are everywhere, and often are closing down the main roads for important people or whatnot, so then they have to take the back roads to school, driving through dirt roads by shacks.

It was interesting to talk to different teachers about their experiences! And, really, the more I talk to others, the more I want to travel in Central Asia.

Friday evening a school van drove us to Mega Mall, a mall that compares to American malls (large). We ate at a Pizza Hut, and, yes, it was yummy. Some teachers ate at a Hardee's.

Everybody ran into the huge supermarket Ramstore, looking for Western products (more readily available in Almaty than Astana), but by the time I went in, looking for Cheerios, another teacher had beat me and bought the last two boxes.

Saturday I just went to the 4 sessions and then we left immediately after for the airport to go home.

It was a good experience, and I look forward to returning to Almaty to go to the mountains.

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