I got a package yesterday!!! It was from my wonderful parents and it was filled with stickers, balloons, candy, magazines and… Christmas cards. Of course I loved reading them and hearing what all the family friends are up to, seeing everyone growing up, etc… And then I got to my own family’s Christmas card and even got to learn something new about MY OWN LIFE. See, despite the fact that I speak to my mother at least once a week and have mentioned more than once that it rains every day, she seems to believe that I live in the “middle of the desert”; And then she broadcasted it to her entire contact list via our Christmas card. So – more for my own mother’s benefit than anyone else – I took this picture when I went on a walk at 6:30 this morning. Maybe it’ll clear things up?
I’m literally KICKING myself for not taking pictures of this, but today my school had a track meet.
Middle schools/high school sports in Namibia only last from January to February every year, and then they end abruptly until the next year. There’s not much training but still everyone takes it really seriously (some schools don’t even start teaching until after the “season” is over). The three sports are soccer, netball, and track (3,000, 1,500, 800, 200 and 100 meter races) – which we did today. I went as as a supportive “parent”, but then of course was appointed by the teachers to be a judge. It was really entertaining to compare a village track meet with my cross country races in the States.
- We had a judges table with a tent (very official)
- And a standard sized track
- Everyone was cheering in the normal fashion
- They also compete with other schools, both locally and throughout the country.
- The meet started 2 hours late
- The track was a made by week-wackers and some determined students last week. Its just a mud circle in a field, still effective though!
- Runners were wearing skirts and jeans. And were barefoot. I don’t think that slowed them down though 🙂
Then after a long day of running, the kids abruptly left to go plow their fields. No rest for the weary, right?
As I’m grading my students’ first essays and learning more about their lives, I’m reminded of my fortune to work with kids that have overcome so many barriers and are still waking up every morning, determined to get themselves an education. I’m not putting this out there so that you will feel sorry for these kids. I know that a lot of people who witness poverty feel a genuine and heartfelt pity for the kids’ living situation but that’s really not me. Instead of feeling sorry for them, I’m just constantly impressed with their strength and joyful attitude despite some obvious challenges.
I thought I’d share a couple quotes with you (the grammar is edited so you can understand). I just picked three essays randomly, and they’re pretty much all like this.
“I was born in Windhoek in 1993. In the year I was born, I got sick and they took me to the hospital where I stayed for one year. In that year my mother also died. When I came home, they killed a cow to celebrate. After that I lived with my grandmother until we moved to Kehemu. After that my grandmother died, so then I just moved around to look for my family. I got one person who said he was my brother. That brother of mine did not take care of me, so I told myself. ‘Now me I am an orphan. When will I start school? No one will pay for my school fees.’ I started to look for help. Someone in the Kehemu community asked me, ‘Where are you going?’ I said, ‘I’m going to look for food.’ That woman offered to take care of me and put me in Grade 1. After that my real brother found me and told me he would pay for my school fees. Now I am in Grade 9 and I live with my brother. That’s how my life was run, look at the help I found. That is all about my life.”
“I was born 5 May 1996, that is the day I was born. That year many people died from hunger and some from sickness. People died from hunger because they were not having enough food to eat… By now I have seen that life is difficult if you are not successful in school.”
“So in detail I survived with both parents. My parents struggle for food in order for them to feed me until I grew up to know about our struggle. When I was still young I was always suffering from different sickness until now when I’m grown up I am not getting sick. That is my short story about my life.”
And this one is just kind of funny…
“In 2004 when I was born I didn’t even know how to write my name or even when somebody was speaking English, just looking at him with eyes without understanding what he’s saying just saw him like a picture. But this time even a white person I can speak to her if I want something from her. This time my life is changed. I know how to write my name and why my parents send me to school, and how to clean my body. I changed my behavior to be in a good mind.”
The last three weeks have been a total whirlwind of getting my feet on the ground as a newbie teacher, trying to keep my bedroom free of sand (an impossible feat), and taking much needed breaks to Tsumeb and Ndiyona on the weekend.
Nothing too crazy has happened teaching-wise, though I did stun the other teachers when I made a “Class Rules” poster. They acted as though it was the most revolutionary idea they’d ever encountered. Actually I do have to say that even though I’m far from earning the prestigious title of “Good Teacher”, I think my upbringing in the American school system puts me at an advantage. There are so many teaching approaches that are natural to me that just are unheard of here… Like the importance of instilling confidence in students, for example. Or bringing color into a classroom. Making flashcards. Arriving on time to class. Learning students’ names. Not yelling. Privacy. Actually that last one has taken a lot of getting used to; at the end of last year, final grades of each student were posted outside the grocery store and then announced on the radio. What?
One teaching hurdle that I’m attempting to overcome is my absence half the week. Having my own class for only two days creates an atmosphere of inconsistency, making it way harder for the kids (and other teachers) to adapt to my foreign teaching style. And remember to do their homework. Here’s the perfect example.
Last Thursday we were trying to finish up their first speaking assignment; 40 students meant 40 speeches so of course everyone started getting a little impatient (talking while classmates were presenting, reading newspapers, laughing at presenters, the usual). I knew it was a REALLY crucial moment in my teaching career… Every class has to test new teachers to learn their discipline style and determine their breaking point. This was my first test, and I decided to take the most mysterious approach possible. I just walked up to the board and wrote, “I’m disappointed in the disrespect you’re showing to your classmates.” And then I left without saying a word. Fine, I know it was an unorthodox plan, but it kinda worked! They immediately got quiet and several of them came to me later to talk about it.
The bad part came when the other teachers found out that I was disappointed, and took the matter into their own hands. The next day when I wasn’t there they proceeded to “beat” (in this case it was whack with a chalkboard eraser) all of the students that didn’t finish their speeches. …What was supposed to be demonstration of an alternative to corporal punishment ended up being a catalyst for it. Oops? And on top of that, it made me seem incapable of controlling my own class, choosing instead to run to other teachers to do my dirty work. Double ugh.
So I have quickly learned that I had way less control over my own class than I would have liked. That has to change, obviously – so I formed a plan. I realized I needed a class system that centers around a topic and a predictable homework and discipline pattern. That way the kids know what to expect when I come into class. But first,
Step 1: Discuss matter with the teachers. Check!
Step 2: Talk to the class in a stern-yet-approachable voice. Check!
Step 3: Implement Plan Consistency. A class theme, perhaps?
Seeing as it’s ME, the obvious choice is Harry Potter. First I’m going to divide each class up into the four houses – Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Slytherin and Ravenclaw. I’m thinking about creating a discipline plan centered around the Hogwarts system – aka awarding and deducting points according to overall “house” behavior and giving the winning team a reward at the end of the term. Then of course we’re going to read the first book together, and focus the majority of our grammar, reading, writing and spelling activities on the story. Thoughts? It’s a work in progress but I’ll keep you updated.
So, rainy season is really putting a damper (ha) on my life. I haven’t showered in a week because the roof of my shower is the sky and how am I supposed to shower when I’m getting rained on? Also I haven’t washed my clothes in who-knows-how-long. I’m on my last pair of underwear because I can’t hang them to dry outside. hahahah ugh. Good thing I’m up for going commando…
And speaking of commando, I was just informed by Matt that a random village man came into one of their classrooms last night and pooped on the floor. Meanwhile the teachers are calmly drinking their morning coffee. #village