Saturday, January 14, 2012

Back to School!

So it’s been about a month since I posted last so I’m not going to try to summarize everything that has happened since then, but rather pick up from where I’m at now. The holidays came and went and were fun, but definitely hard to be away from family. Celebrating Christmas in Africa definitely put the craze and hype that’s created around Christmas back in the states in perspective though. Also, I got a kitten! She was living in the thatched roof of the outdoor kitchen on my compound and so I started to feed her and now she lives with me and certainly brightens my day. I think my landlord and her family think I’m crazy for keeping a pet inside as they kept giving me confused looks and asking, “but where is the cat?” and “You really like the cat?”, but oh well, she’s helped keep me happy!
 Anyway, school has finally reopened, which means my village has started to re-populate. After the New Year, the teachers came back and started to plan for the school year. It’s still been a slow start with getting any of my projects off the ground, but I’m sure we’ll get there eventually. The first day of school was nothing like what I expected and certainly nothing like the first day of school in the US. First of all, most of the kids weren’t even there even though they were supposed to have been picked up the day before. As I think I’ve mentioned before, the kids who board often hide from the trucks that come to pick them up because they don’t want to leave their families to come back to school. After the morning assembly with the kids that were there, the students were all instructed to start cleaning. Some swept out classrooms, but most of them were down on their hands and knees pulling weeds from the school yard. Almost no teaching was done. There weren’t any fun first-day-of-school activities, no one sat down and went over a colorful poster of classroom rules, there weren’t any nametags on the desks (especially since most students don’t have desks), and no books were handed out. It was a stark reminder of the reality of the situation here. The second day of school was an even bigger dose of reality. I sat in on the second grade class for the day which was actually 2 classes worth of kids crammed into one classroom. The teacher did some teaching—the kids counted to 50 a few times, recited some English phrases (which I’m pretty sure they didn’t understand), and played a little game which helped them learn verbs. At one point the teacher was asking students to come up and answer the question, “What is your name?” and when one girl couldn’t answer she got a very hard smack on the head. After these few lessons the kids were left to their own devices, which meant that they beat each other up or played hand games while the teachers did some work at their desks, and this went on for almost 2 hours. I was floored. When I asked the teacher if I should do anything she said no and that I should just sit down. It was very frustrating especially since the teachers had just been discussing the poor test results that the students were receiving. The entire system seems to be flawed to me. Starting in standard 2, students are expected to speak and learn exclusively in English, yet they have just come from standard 1 in which they were taught exclusively in Setswana. They clearly do not understand what the teachers are saying yet are probably afraid to ask questions since they risk being smacked. This is not to say that the teachers here don’t care and aren’t good people. The teachers I work with are very kind and they do care about their students’ success, but they are up against impossible odds and live in a culture where children’s needs are secondary at best, and corporal punishment is the norm. Today I sat in on the second grade class again and a little more teaching went on. Students also had a chance to try to apply what they learned by writing a few sentences about themselves (while kneeling on the ground and using their chairs as desks) in English. I helped out by calling the kids up one by one to read to me what they had written. Almost all the students had no idea what they had written; they had simply copied down the sentences from the board. It was a very eye-opening experience. How are these kids expected to take tests in English when they can barely even read the word “am” or “my” let alone understand what it means? I honestly feel overwhelmed because I’m not even sure where to start to tackle these issues, especially since a lot of the issues I have found in the school come from the style of instruction. At 22 years old and with barely any teaching experience, I don’t feel that it is my place to start telling these veteran teachers how to do their jobs, nor do I think that that is a constructive way of changing anything. However, I am having a hard time figuring out just what I should do and what my role should be in helping these kids succeed. Luckily, I have time on my side, and hopefully the answers will become clearer as time goes on. I did get the chance to meet with the guidance and counseling committee to discuss plans for the year and gave my input about topics as well as choose which topic I would like to teach. This semester I will be talking to the kids about study skills because I think that they are severely lacking. Anyway, it’s been an interesting couple of days. In about a week and a half we go to In Service Training for a week where we’ll get a chance to plan for the year and be reunited as a group after 2.5 months on lockdown which will be great. I’m hoping when I get back I can hit the ground running with some projects, but since this is Africa I will probably only be able to hit the ground at a slow stroll, but hey, I’ll take what I can get! 


  1. I guess even though one kind of expects issues with the education system, reality can come as a surprise. it must be really perplexing to not know what and how to do. I wouldn't belittle your age and experience though...with your experience in the USA and education and all your other experiences in many parts of the world you probably have a lot to offer to even the 'veteran' teachers there so go for whatever you think is needed and don't be afraid to rock the boat if the boat needs rocking. Rock on girl!

  2. You seem to have the cards stacked against you at the moment. Perhaps, there will come a time when it is just you and your students without other adults getting in your way in terms of really teaching the kids. It appears that you could make great strides if that were to occur. Don't give up hope. Just keep being yourself and you'll never be far from the right path.

    I love the fact that you have a cat, of course, a dog would be nice too. It is amazing the way that pets, especially cats and dogs, can bring an inner-calm an inner-peace to humans. This fact is not so amazing when you read about it but when you experience and live it it is really wonderful.

    Best of luck when your return from your Service Training.