Twenty-three teachers from eight Armenian Saturday schools of New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago, as well as interested individuals, came together on Saturday, August 23 for a one-day seminar organized by the Armenian National Education Committee (ANEC) at the Prelacy headquarters in Manhattan. The program, introduced by executive director Dr. Vartan Matiossian, was very well-received by the audience.Rev. Mesrob Lakissian, pastor of St. Illuminator’s Cathedral in Manhattan and a member of ANEC, greeted the audience on behalf of His Eminence Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, Prelate. Der Mesrob acknowledged the presence of teachers from St. Illuminator’s Armenian Saturday School (New York), Nareg Saturday School (New Jersey), Haigazian School (Philadelphia), St. Stephens Armenian Saturday School (Boston), and Taniel Varoujan Armenian Saturday School (Chicago), all under ANEC jurisdiction, as well as from St. Vartan Saturday School, Armenian School of Brooklyn (New York), and St. Leon’s Armenian School (New Jersey), which are under the jurisdiction of the Diocese. Also attending the seminar was Ms. Gilda Buchakjian, Armenian Studies Coordinator at the Eastern Diocese.
The lecturer in the morning was Ms. Sossi Essajanian, teaching assistant at the United Nations International School and member of ANEC, who spoke on best practices of Early Childhood teaching and their application to Armenian schools. She first introduced the different theories about child development and then focused on literacy development, the main concern of our schools. Afterwards, she introduced various helpful ideas about reading development, where fluency is crucial, she noted. The rest of the presentation was devoted to discuss practical ideas and suggestions to the teachers for listening and speaking teaching, classroom layout, scheduled planning, and learning of Armenian as a second language. These ideas were adapted to the needs and the limitations of Armenian one-day schools.
Ms. Essajanian spoke in English, complemented with a Power Point presentation in Armenian, which is already available on the ANEC section of the Armenian Prelacy website (www.armenianprelacy.org).
After the lunch break, the afternoon lecturer was Ms. Anahid Garmiryan, long-time principal of the Hovnanian School in New Jersey, who has been recently designated as the Senior Program Officer for Western Armenian Language Support at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, Portugal. Ms. Garmiryan’s presentation, in Armenian, bore a thought-provoking title, “To Be or Not to be a Teacher: The Challenges of Bilingualism.” She started by challenging the traditional idea of the teacher as someone who knows everything or knows something better, and maintained that teachers are actually learners, whose mission is not to teach to their students, but to have them acquire knowledge, in our case, the knowledge of the Armenian language. To be a “no teacher,” she said, is to put oneself in the situation of a language learner and turn language learning into a healthy experience. Teaching Armenian as a second language, as is our case, implies to know what to do in order to provide the learner with all the means for language acquisition. Textbooks help put knowledge in order, but we are confronted with the challenge of learners who may see things differently when it comes to the process of acquisition. Our task is to create the appropriate conditions to make the language audible and turn it into a means of communication. This entails motivation to learn the language, demand to do so, and generation of interest on the part of the student.
Ms. Garmiryan was particularly adamant about the need to understand that language learning is a process of participation where no one has the monopoly of language, and we should work under the premise that everyone can learn. An appropriate environment should be assured for creative means to acquire language, such as language games, theater, painting, and many others, instead of focusing on the preparation of “hantes,” she said.
The final item of the agenda was a discussion about successful and unsuccessful experiences, coordinated by ANEC member Dr. Asbed Vassilian, where each school made short presentations that led to an interesting exchange of opinions.
ANEC is under the joint sponsorship of the Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America and the Armenian Relief Society.