Compared to the other teachers at my school I have a very light schedule – on my longest day I still only have 5 out of 7 periods – but it really takes it out of you to be "on" (energetic, organized, calm, prepared…) for several classes in a row. On the other hand, the school day goes way faster when you’re teaching instead of sitting around!
I teach two subjects – English and ICT (computers). For English I have three of the seven 8th grade classes and for ICT I have the entire 8th grade. I started out working with my English classes on basics – parts of speech, simple tenses, punctuation/capitalization – and believe it or not, that’s gotten me this far in the term. Actually I just checked a calendar and realized I’ve only been teaching for 2 full weeks. What?! I feel like it’s been at least a month… Well, now that I know that I feel better about only having covered the basics. I have to say most of the kids really needed the review. I still have learners who don’t know when to capitalize words even though we’ve covered proper nouns at least three times.
Unfortunately, another teacher pointed out to me that we only have about 6 weeks of school left this term (the last 3-4 weeks are taken up by exams, which, yes, is ridiculous) so I can’t continue my grammar campaign indefinitely. Each class has to have eight (EIGHT??) continuing assessment marks per term which consist of two listening comprehensions, two reading comprehensions, a reading/writing task, a prepared speech, and two writing assignments. So there’s a decent chance I’ll spend the rest of the term just trying to get through those. I see each class 4 times in a seven day cycle so…about 4 cycles left in the term equals 16 lessons with each class. Yikes.
For ICT, I only see each class once per cycle so I’m only on lesson two now. Fortunately, ICT is not a promotional subject so they don’t have an exam at the end and it doesn’t really matter how much we cover. This is really great because I can only take half a class to the lab at a time (11 working computers for 40 kids?) so it takes twice as long to get through the whole grade. So far I’ve taken 5 classes to the lab and taught them how to turn the computer on and off and how to open Microsoft Word. There’s usually 2 or 3 kids in a class who already know that stuff, but most of them have never really used a computer before and need to be shown how to hold the mouse, how to click on something, etc. I’ve actually enjoyed those classes more than I thought I would because the kids are so clearly excited to get to use the computers!
I’ve mostly enjoyed English classes too. It’s really nice to grade a spelling test and see five or six perfect scores. Honestly, I’ve always been a good student so I can relate best to the learners who are always raising their hand because they know the answer. They’re fun to teach. On the other hand, it’s really hard to draw in the learners who are struggling. It’s not that they’re goofing off or not paying attention, it’s that they were left behind years ago when they failed 5th grade and got moved up to 6th grade anyway. And then 7th and then 8th. I never feel frustrated with those kids (so far) because I feel like it’s not their fault, but I also don’t know how best to help them. There is no time built into the schedule for individual help or even small group lessons, and in a crowded classroom with 36 kids it’s hard to single out a few people for extra help. Hopefully I’ll figure this out more as time goes on, maybe get it right in the second term?
By far the hardest thing about teaching here has been dealing with typical Peace Corps frustrations – African time (the class bells ring 5-10 minutes early or late, depending on when the secretary remembers to push the button), lack of resources (in some of my classes the learners have to share chairs, none of the classes have enough desks, and I am constantly trying to find an empty room to teach in since I don’t have one of my own), and general inefficiency (we’re not organized enough to have a meeting this week, so we’ll have to push it to next week, and that thing that was supposed to happen next week will have to be postponed to the week after that OR yes, we were planning to do that today but we randomly changed our minds and it’s going to be tomorrow instead). It’s really wearing to put up with all that all the time, even harder to accept that that’s just the norm and nobody else is frustrated with it like you are! Ack! The injustice of it all! (Tearing hair out…)
Anyway, the weekend is like the best thing that ever happened and I make it a rule not to get out of bed before 8 on Saturdays. (Usually we get up for school at 5:45.) We have to do planning and grading on the weekend, but we can do it from the comfort of our room with music or a movie playing in the background (thank goodness for laptops!). I’m usually still not ready when Monday rolls around, but I don’t know what I’d do without the little breaks the weekends provide.
Some good news/highlights so far:
Dylan’s been drilling his kids on multiplication since day one of school (most of them never learned their multiplication tables) and he’s really seen a lot of improvement. They have a hard time with mental math here and if they can get this down it’ll help them a lot.
Dylan has also enjoyed being able to get to know some of the learners better. He does have his own classroom so he sits in there most of the day and learners come in to chat with him during break time or right after school.
I’ve started meeting with a small group of girls a couple times a week who want to learn French! I quickly realized that my French is a little dusty, but it was drilled into me for so many years that I can still teach a beginner’s course. They’re a fun group and seem really eager to learn.
I’ve also been working with one of the older teachers at my school who wants to learn how to use a computer. She’s made a lot of progress and is really committed to continuing to learn.
We both feel a little more like we belong now – we run into people from church or school in town and say hi, we have rides home from church and to things like Bible study or afternoon athletics. It’s nice.
Some things to pray for:
UNENDING patience and flexibility
Opportunities to reach out to kids who are struggling academically or personally
Energy and motivation to keep up a high standard for ourselves
Chances to share with other teachers at our school about teaching ideas or materials