Saturday, July 30, 2011

Exam Week

The school Term II is almost over. The pupils had exams this week and will finish up exams next week. I spent the whole week testing and marking exam papers for the Grade 5 Class (Teachers are moved around so that they don’t test their own classes). It was fun to be with the Grade 5’s and definitely interesting as some of them only understand basic commands in English (i.e. sit down, be quiet, etc.). Anything else I wanted to try to say or tell them got mixed results of understanding and total confusion… but a lot can be said with facial expressions and body movements (it helps with my background of Special Education as I am used to having communication issues with students :-). By Friday, they were even comfortable enough with me that I attempted to teach them some American School culture and was having them “catch a bubble in their mouth” (they fill their mouth and cheeks with air and hold it- thus keeping them quiet and from talking). Then we randomly ended up playing a game where I was naming animals and having them make the sounds, finally ending on “Fish”, where I explained that fish don’t make sounds, and we circled back to having a bubble in our mouths. They were very amused and happy to have a Mukuwa teaching and playing with them all week. Unfortunately, marking the test papers is a little more depressing. Depending on the subject, the average grades were between 20-50%, with only a very small number getting anywhere above 50%, and maybe only one or two making it above 80%. And it was not shocking to find some getting 7%, 10%, 13%, etc. But, when you consider that these are the same children who understand only very basic English commands, that are then expected to read and answer test questions written entirely in English, it’s not too surprising. They are basically just “Christmas Treeing” their way through their entire Education.
Next week, when school ends, I will be going on “Holiday”. First I am planning to go to Choma for the weekend to hang out at the PC House and with Meredith. Then, we will travel together to Lusaka, where we will meet up with all the others in our RED training group for 2 weeks of workshops. When that is finished, some of us will go to Livingstone for a few days of vacation. Finally, towards the end of August I will return back to the village and get ready for school to open back up.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sometimes it’s hard to stay positive…

But, I’ll start with the positives, then get to the negatives. Since my last post, I’ve just been in the village continuing to settle into everyday life. I selected a teacher to co-teach with, and I started teaching Grade 8 and Grade 9 English classes. I was super scared about starting to teach, but it went way better than I expected. The Grade 8’s in particular are usually a pretty troublesome class, so I was afraid to teach them. But, I gave them a very strict warning that they better listen and behave when I teach…and they are actually following and listening to that! They have been great for me so far! The Grade 9’s (who I had been more friendly with all along) are actually the ones that are a little bit more troublesome now when I’m teaching. All in all, both classes are going well, and I’m looking forward to continuing teaching them, and hopefully improving their learning in some small ways.
My administration is still excited about me painting things on the school, and they bought some of the white paint needed. But, I told the staff that they need to be the ones to come up with the ideas of exactly what should be painted and where; my Head agreed and told each department that they should bring their ideas to me; but, so far nothing has happened. I’ve also come to a bit of a stand still with the resource room. We have some more resource books that came from the Head’s closet, but I don’t have anything to make additional shelves with right now. I was also granted 1,000 free story books from a certain NGO that need to be picked up in Lusaka and brought to the school…so then we will actually have the start of a small library.
I spent last Saturday- Tuesday at the Zone-wide sports tournament for my school. We took 65 pupils and 8 teachers to camp the 4 days at the host school. Girls and female teachers camped inside classrooms, and boys/male teachers camped outside in temporary grass shelters (with no roofs). Each school had to plan and bring food for their own meals. There were 9 schools attending, and sports being played included athletics (track & field), soccer boy’s, soccer girl’s, volleyball boy’s, volleyball girl’s, and netball girl’s. At the end of the competition, my school came in number 2 overall. For the individual sports, this is how we placed:
- Athletics- #3
- Soccer Boy’s- #1
- Soccer Girl’s- #2
- Netball Girl’s- #1
- Volleyball Boy’s- didn’t place
- Volleyball Girl’s- didn’t place
My team that I’ve been coaching this term is Soccer Girl’s, so I was very happy and proud for my girls to come in number 2. Unfortunately no one really cares about girls soccer, and none of the other teachers cared to congratulate us, because they only cared about boys soccer and netball getting number 1. Also unfortunately, no one focused on volleyball, and I later found out that our school didn’t even show up (and therefore forfeited) most of the volleyball games. Next time, I think I will have to focus on helping volleyball more.
So, although I had fun camping for the sports games, it was also quite stressful. I struggled to stay positive throughout, and also when we returned home. I’ve been thinking about the best way I can explain it… and this is what I can come up with: Every single thing that happens in a day here is strange and different, and therefore difficult, for me. Things that seem totally typical and normal for Zambians are completely different than the way things are in America…and this becomes overwhelming.
For example, at a sports tournament in America there would be a strict and organized time schedule; a happy, yet disciplined crowd; chaperones for camping; organized duties, schedules, and menus for cooking; professional umpires/referees/judges; clear and for the most part undisputed results, etc. But, at a sports tournament in Zambia there is an extremely flexible and inefficient time schedule; an out of control, on the field, drunk, and disorderly crowd (and even a few drunk teachers); lack of supervision of pupils camping; no set duty, schedule, or menu for meals (and lots of disputes about food, and very hungry children); umpires and referees with no training; fighting, arguing, and complaining (between referees, coaches, pupils, and villagers) over every single result announced. In short, everything seemed extremely chaotic and unorganized… and quite overwhelming.
Then came the return to school- which occurred by packing 65+ people and their luggage into the back of an open canter truck, driving at night down dirt paths, with a driver that was clearly drunk…again, not something you would ever see in America- but to Zambians, totally normal. Anyways, the next day in America, teachers and students would return to school and work to get back to the normal routine at school. But, in Zambia, I showed up to school and found that the other teachers from the trip were “tired” and decided to just not show up for school. For the pupils who had returned from the trip, about half came to school, half stayed home. I stayed at school and watched and waited for a couple hours. No teachers for upper basic came, and no classes occurred. It was a free for all- the students had nothing to do, and were left to play around in the classroom or wander around the grounds. To make things worse, a man showed up to sell fish- and those teachers that were around (teaching the lower grades) left their classes and stood outside bargaining for 45 minutes (I timed it) with the fish man- meanwhile the entire school’s worth of children were running around and not learning! I became quite frustrated by that time, and became unable to force myself to be positive about any of it anymore. Luckily some of my pupils could see that I was upset and came over to comfort me. We took a walk and bought some oranges to eat, then we eventually decided to go home, since there was obviously not going to be any classes taking place. I went home and took a 3.5 hour nap- not out of tiredness, but out of pure disappointment.