Teach for Armenia: Every Day is a Success Story
A little over a year ago, Arsholuys left her home in Beirut to come teach English and French in Berd, a small city in Armenia’s Tavush region. She was, of course, apprehensive about leaving her home, but inspired by a desire to come back to her homeland.
“My friends all knew that I loved Armenia and I wanted to help Armenia,” she told us. “So when one of them found this opportunity, they told me immediately.”
When we met Arsho over the summer, she had finished her first year teaching in Berd, and had fallen in love with the area and its people.
“I can’t imagine what I’ll do when my two years is over,” she said, telling us how she has already started looking for opportunities to stay in Armenia.
We were incredibly fortunate to have Arsholuys as our translator, traveling through many of the villages in Tavush with us. She was also an invaluable guide and friend during our time in Berd, talking about dessert and singing patriotic songs on car rides with me, taking us to her favorite place for pizza, and inviting us to her apartment to meet her roommate and have soup even when we came home at 10pm.
In addition to spending time with Arsho, we were also lucky enough to meet Margarita, who traveled from her home in Yerevan to go with us to Choratan, the school where she had taught English for the past two years. She took us to her school, where we were surprised to be greeted by the entire staff and the principal. The principal and the teachers showed us around the school and told us a multitude of stories about their school’s history, including how the school got its name from a former principal who died protecting the school during the Artsakh War.
The principal was excited to see Margarita again, and couldn’t stop telling us how grateful they were to have her, and how much he and the other teachers had learned from her.
“In the first two weeks that she came, they started shooting,” he told us. “We were so afraid that she would leave, but she stayed with us.”
On our way back to Yerevan from Tavush, Margarita and Arsholuys took us to visit the Teach for Armenia training in Dilijan. We arrived in the middle of a training session, and Margarita translated for me as we watched, telling me that the fellows were were presenting on their different classroom approaches. During the break afterwards, we were able to meet some of the fellows, as well as Nara and Irina, mentors who help to run the Summer Institute training, and many other aspects of the organization.
We were so fortunate to have the opportunity to meet so many people from Teach for Armenia, especially after we met Larisa Hovhannissian, the CEO and founder of Teach for Armenia, last year.
“Seeing what the fellows are doing is inspiring--it’s what makes all of us get up in the morning,” Larisa had told us, and having met some of the fellows, it was easy to see why.
Larisa was a teaching fellow for two years herself, with teaching special ed with Teach for America in Arizona.
“Before I started my fellowship I felt like I was having a midlife crisis,” she said. “But it completely changed my life and I was able to find out who I was. And while I was there I kept thinking of the diaspora, and wondering why we weren’t doing anything like this in Armenia. When I finished, I moved to Armenia with just a piece of paper, and got in contact with Teach for all, which helped me start up.”
Larisa founded Teach for Armenia only 4 years ago. “We were the first country in the region, so we had nothing to model it off of,” she said.
Teach for Armenia started with 13 fellows, and in their first year scored 13% above the Teach for All average. In their first year, Larisa remembers the founder of Teach for All saying to her “I’ve done this for twenty seven years and I’m really impressed with your fellows.”
The Teach for Armenia fellows have no easy task ahead of them. Most of the teachers don’t have toilets in their homes, and face similar issues, like lack of toilets and heating in their schools. But their job is essential because they act as role models for their students and the communities. In Armenia it’s not legally required to go to high school, so the teachers are working with middle schoolers, many of whom are deciding whether or not to stay in school. But with fellows and administrators, who are passionate about what they do, Teach for Armenia has been able to have success in their schools.
Now they have 28 fellows in 21 different schools. And the fellows are passionate about what they do, with many of them working hard outside of the school, and others looking to start more fellowships in different clusters of villages.
“Every day is a success story,” said Larisa. She told us about one fellow who was a computer science in Martuni village. Upon arriving, he discovered that his school had no computers, and there was no way for him to get them. So he got laptop donations and made the first computer lab in that school, and, in addition started a coding club and taught computer literacy to parents in the village.
Larisa is excited about what her fellows are doing today, and what they will continue to do in the future. She has many ideas, such as having some fellowships for more than two years, and starting a Teach for Artsakh group.
“I’m a grounded idealist,” Larisa told us, describing the philosophy that has lead her through her journey with Teach For Armenia.