Saturday, December 02, 2006

Teacher or Miss Molly, Please

Bye! (Kids always wave and yell bye instead of hi and I just find it absolutely delightful so I thought I’d start doing it too lol!)

Let me paint you a little picture…A space, measuring 15 feet by 24 feet, 75 children, no electricity, 3 rows of 8 desks, each desk seating at least 3 kids but up to 5 normally. 3 cutouts with metal shutter-type things constantly being pushed in from the outside by kids from other grades; cracked glass above the metal with kids peering in (also serving as the source of light), a metal door which needs to be physically repositioned in order to be latched and if left open also allows for another crowd of kids to congregate, 75 kids ranging from age 10 to 17, and finally little old me up at the chalkboard trying to actually teach English. (Speaking of which, that is probably the longest sentence I’ve ever written in my entire life and I am absolutely not confidence that it is completely grammatically correct.) That should give a bit of an idea.

Tuesday: my first day at a new school. I arrived at the school with Gabe a few minutes before class was to begin, had a little chat with the director to clarify that I would be teaching 2 back-to-back 8th grade classes and then walked into the classroom. Now, for some unexplainable reason, I went in with what one could call a “romantic” vision of what my teaching experience would be like—small class setting, 20 girls, made for one-on-one teaching and individual attention. Where I came up with this vision I honestly will never know (and had I thought about it for more than 10 seconds I would have realized how ridiculous it was as the school is co-ed and has 1008 students). But, you can imagine my shock as I walked into the situation described above. Luckily Gabe was there to soften the blow and stayed for the first few minutes while I adjusted to the situation. I began by allowing them to ask me questions about myself. I figured this would help give me a sense of where they were at in terms of their English. In the first class the questions were pretty straight forward: where do you come from, how old are you, what’s your mother’s/father’s name, and so on. This was over pretty quickly and I moved on to the next thing, which in hindsight could never have really worked. I had them say their names, none of which I understood enough to even be able to repeat on the spot, and something about themselves using full sentences. I was envisioning them speaking loud enough so that everyone could hear and more specifically, so that I would be able to hear standing at the front of the room, correcting mistakes. This was not so. Not only were they so shy that they spoke so softly I had to literally be within a foot of their heads to even be able to hear words leaving their mouths but they thought they should try to answer as many of the questions as they had asked me as they could. So basically I spent 30 of the 40 minutes walking around the classroom pretending to understand the information the kids were sharing with me. The second class was quite a bit more interesting. Louder and more confident, they took up the entire 40 minutes with questions. What’s the difference between Ethiopia and Iraq? What’s it like in America? Who do you admire? They have not heard of Oprah, to my obvious chagrin. Can you tell us something about HIV/AIDS? Gabe rescued me here. Are you single or married? No proposals yet, but I’ll keep you up to date on any further developments. And it went on until the end of the class. It was pretty fabulous. Tough at times due to the language barrier and class size and my total and utter inexperience teaching anything, but at the same time, somehow completely manageable and totally enjoyable.

When I left the school, it was decided that I would teach either Wednesday or Thursday, depending on when we were going to get the first bunch of kids. Well, turns out we went on Friday so somehow I ended up teaching both days. I walked to school both days, about 25 minutes each way, which ended up being rather comical. The path is also walked by some of the students and other kids fetching water from the river, so as I approached or intersected with a kid, they would follow me. Then there were more students sitting on a wall outside who joined as well, so I ended up walking onto school grounds leading a parade of at least 50 kids. The actual classes are a lot of fun. I find that I’m always nervous right before I start and then as soon as I get in there, it’s almost like I’ve been doing it for ages. I think I might actually sound like I know what I’m talking about which I should considering I’ve been speaking English for 19 years but actually teaching it as a foreign language is definitely a bit more complicated. My main goal is trying to get them to speak it more. They have been taking it in school since grade 1 but that is the only time they use it and the only time they see it because they speak and read Tigrinya and Amharic. They are also very shy and embarrassed in terms of making mistakes in grammar and pronunciation. I had a great experience Thursday with one class where I needed to use kids as examples in explaining the comparative so I pulled 3 kids up to the front of the room and had kids try to make up sentences. The problem was that I then needed to correct those sentences and I, of course, have no idea what these kids’ names are so I had to ask them in front of everyone. Then I couldn’t pronounce any of them so I had to get them to write it on the board for me which was minimally helpful. In the end I just kept repeating it until it was close enough. Everyone got a kick out of it, though, and I was able to use it as an example not to be ashamed to get something wrong which was extremely necessary. One of the things that’s most confusing is that who’s in which class changes every day. And then, on top of that, there are some kids who manage to go to both classes, meaning that they must sneak in when no one is looking because it’s definitely not what’s supposed to be happening.

Oh, and we have kids! Four of them, 2 girls and 2 boys, but too much to tell right now so I'll save it for the next entry.

Hope is life.

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