Ready for Work:
The day I met my first class of students, my naivety and inexperience teaching at this level, in this venue, in another culture and language became very apparent. I soon learned that teaching in Russia was quite different than in it was in Canada:
The professor would present the lecture, the students would take their notes, and then go to the library to read and improve their understanding of the lecture materials. The students having very few text books of their own had to take notes and were under any circumstance to not enter into any type of discussion or to challenge the professor about his teaching thesis or conclusions, nor dare to challenge the professor’s suppositions.
Thus the mindset that I had to cope with was that the students would not enter into any discussion or actively respond to my questions. Therefore, trying to conduct an interactive learning workshop, which relied on dialogue and discussion of the material being presented, was totally foreign to them and difficult for them to comprehend or adapt to as a method for teaching. In addition, I had to present the information in English and the translator repeated it in Russian. Having no experience working with an ‘English to Russian to English’ translator who was not knowledgeable of, nor did not fully understand the technical terminology that I was trying to impart to the students. I had to periodically ask questions to make sure the proper information was being translated in the purest form possible. Therefore I was never sure that the students understood what I was telling them. Don’t get me wrong, the translators were very competent and good at their tasks, however, I was not used to this method of teaching.
The Best Laid Plans:
I had planned a three-day session to present the information. As a result of their lack of interaction or participation we finished in two days. This meant that we had to fill a whole day in some way that would help demonstrate the implementation of the theories that I imparted to them.
When we started class on the morning of the third day, I indicated that we had covered most of the teaching material.Then I asked, “Would you be interested in doing an exercise in starting a business of your own as entrepreneurs”. All of their hands shot up. I then asked, “What type of business do you think we could establish?” Again they were slow to respond. Eventually one of them suggested starting a business would not be affordable or appropriate considering the amount of capital and facility that would be required. The others agreed.
I persisted and finally a few students suggested they could knit and market sweaters or other apparel, make and sell bread and baked goods, and more suggestions came forward. Each suggestion was considered and thought not to be practical as no one had the expertise to produce the type of product or that it would require a larger size facility than they could afford. After a short time encouraging some other responses, I pulled my tie out from my sweater and said, “How about making and marketing ties like this one. It will not require a large capital investment, would be easy to manufacture and have a ready market”. There was consensus that this may be a good product.
Much discussion ensued as to what would be required for a working facility. Some suggested they would require a large manufacturing and warehouse facility that would be un-affordable, therefore they could not proceed any further. I asked if they were willing to invest their own money and most agreed they could each possibly come up with a few Rubles. We then set to work determining how many Rubles they needed to raise for capital from their own resources and arrived at a sum of 100,000 Rubles, about $1,000.00 dollars. I then asked, “Do you all have mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts or other family friends at home or in your community?” They all indicated that they did. I followed-up by asking, “Do they own and use a sewing machine to sew clothing for your family?” Most agreed they did. I then asked, “If we raise enough capital to purchase the materials and patterns to make ties, do you think that they would be willing and able to make the ties in their homes?” When everyone concurred that this could possibly happen, I proclaimed, “We have met the criteria for a home based industry. I explained, “This is known in Canada as a Cottage Industry.”
I said, “We will consign the materials and patterns to your mothers, grandmothers, and their community friends that agree to participate as sub-contractors, They will cut the material to the patterns we supply, sew and package the ties, which we will warehouse, market and deliver to the consumer." We decided that we could rent a small office space. With that settled we proceeded to develop a business, financial and marketing plan, determined pricing for the ties, the method for marketing, and distribution of our product. They eagerly put forth ideas like selling them at the flea market every weekend and contacting men's clothing stores. By the end of the day everyone was participating with great enthusiasm and asked if they could could continue tomorrow. Unfortunately that was not an option.
I then learned that there was some difficulty in recruiting students to participate in experimenting with a new method for teaching, but those who participated became so enthusiastic that the Dean and the staff were very pleased with the outcome and had little difficulty recruiting students for three more seminars which were conducted over the next three weeks of my assignment.