Saturday, March 17, 2007

Teacher Molly, again

Oli Otya (How are you in Luganda)

Hmmm, where should I begin? Things are good, although it definitely took a few days to settle in here. I’ve been teaching at my school for two weeks now and it’s great. It’s called the Nalusse Success Primary School and is nursery through P7. And I am Teacher Molly again for the P4 class, ranging in age 9-12ish. Nalusse is a village school with not enough funding so they are unable to afford a P4 teacher. They charge low school fees which allows kids who might otherwise not be able to attend school to get an education. They give housing to the teachers which means they get the best teachers. So, the P4 subjects are split between, me, and a number of other teachers all taking some extra classes to make sure these kids get taught. I teach English, Reading, and Spelling to the P4s which is about 18 kids and they are all great although I definitely have my favorites and am trying to be stealth about it. My schedule is a bit all over the place with a class in the morning from 8:20 to 9:30 then another from 11:20 to 12:10 and then another from 2:40 to 3:40 or another day when I teach from 2 to 4:40. It’s taking some getting used to as it’s hard to do other things as I’m constantly running back and forth to school. They’ve got a pretty clear curriculum that needs to be followed before end-of-term exams which are April 9th, so I’ve just been covering that following the books they have. It’s unbelievable what a great contrast there is between the standard of education here and in Ghana. It is significantly higher here. Their books are better, their English is better, their teachers are better; it’s really quite a drastic difference.

The biggest challenge I’ve been having is teaching them that it’s ok to be wrong. It’s ok to have a wrong answer, to not know. They’ve been so trained to pretend to understand even if they don’t, to memorize if they can’t actually read, to not ask questions even if they have them, to just repeat, that they are now stuck in that mindset. I am taking it as my goal, that if I only teach them one thing, that I teach them that it’s ok to not understand, to ask questions, to get something wrong. And this isn’t a problem only here, it’s a problem anywhere the teaching method is rote learning: teacher writes, students copy or teacher says, students repeat. I’m also trying to slip in a bit of creative writing. Another result of rote learning is that their creativity has been beaten out of them, even by P3. Their goal is to give the teacher what he/she wants and that is success. So you ask for a story and they regurgitate some story they’ve read somewhere else because they think that’s what you want. So in my time here, I hope to at least make it ok for them to be wrong with me. What makes it even more difficult is that the kids are at such different levels that it’s hard to know how to deal with the kids who don’t understand, who don’t even know how to read. They end up just copying other kids work and I’m not here for long enough to teach them how to read, and their parents don’t have enough money to keep them back for a year because that’s another’s year’s worth of tuition money that could be spent on food or other necessities. I’m not sure how I’m going to do this except to keep asking if they understand what I’m saying and pester them until someone admits that they don’t.

I would like to take a moment, before I go into some other aspects of life here, to sincerely thank the teachers at Horace Mann. The fact that I can, without much trouble, teach a class of 9-12 year olds is a tribute to my education. I know that it’s ok not to understand, to ask questions, because we were taught to think for ourselves, taught that there are many sides to every argument. So I wanted to let you all know how much this journey has made me appreciate the education I’ve gotten. It’s often hard to look at something objectively when you’re in it, impossible to understand how much you’ve learned, how much something has shaped you. But I have begun to see how much my education at Horace Mann has shaped who I have become. So I wanted to give an impromptu, although thoroughly inadequate, thank you for teaching me not only that it’s ok to question, but that I must.

And now onto life in Mukono Town, Uganda: I live in a guesthouse with 3 other volunteers. We are all working on different projects and teaching at different schools but live there full time. We have the second floor apartment in a compound in the middle of town. There’s another volunteer who came in July and just never left who lives in a room on the ground level of the compound, and there are roughly 8 other volunteers living and working in surrounding villages. The guesthouse serves as a central meeting point for everyone, as they come to Mukono to use the internet and on their way to or fro Kampala and on the weekends, often before we head out somewhere else. The house itself is nicer than the one in Ghana. We have a nice balcony in the front looking out to the main road and as it’s the 2nd floor, we get a nice breeze throughout the apartment. We have no running water, so it’s still bucket showers. The latrine, which if you haven’t ever experienced takes quite a bit of balance and aim, is on ground level, two floors down from our apartment. I’ve definitely peed on myself a few more times that I’d like to admit but I’m working out a system and it’s definitely getting better, so no worries.

I think that’s really all I’ve got to report. It’s pretty amazing that I’ve only been here two weeks. This very odd thing happens in that I have this mixed feeling partly like I’ve just arrived a week ago and partly that I’ve been here forever, and it never really figures itself out. Absolutely crazy that I’ll be home in less than 3 months, that I have only one more stop left on this trip.

I hope everyone is well, enjoying life and living it to the fullest.

An early Happy 9th Birthday to my brother Solomon James Lister for March 20, 2007

Til next time…

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