Monday, January 28, 2008

Week two.

Clear blue sky. Almost stifling heat were it not for the warm breeze. The din of learners’ voices fills the courtyard outside the staffroom window.

To my left and directly in front, teachers have their heads down, catching a quick kip before the start of next period.

A teacher offers me a piece of the meat that he is holding in his hand, telling me that its ‘skap hop’. In English: Sheep’s head. I politely decline.

After one week of school, I am slowly but surely beginning to understand more about this school and teacher culture. Am unsure if it is to be attributed solely to Fezeka or if it is part of a wider scope, but the most glaring difference I have noticed between here and western schools is the attention and emphasis put on punctuality and attendance – including that of the teachers.

On numerous occasions, classrooms sit full of students but devoid of any teacher. While it is possible that this is a timetabling issue that is still being worked out, it is frequently the result of teacher absenteeism, either from school entirely, or just that lesson. Where they may be at that time is anyones’ guess. Sometimes when there are management meetings that run overtime (this happens frequently), the classes of those teachers sit empty while the meeting continues – the agenda taking precedence over the learners’ education.

Adjusting to the attitude of the school towards punctuality of the students (or rather, lack thereof), is perhaps the most noticeable difference.

When the siren rings at the beginning of the day, there may be 8 students in class. The rest slowly roll in through the course of the lesson. Because this happens in such high numbers, there is no real predetermined method for dealing with tardiness. I have been instructed to just continue with the lessons and teach those who are there. I suppose it is a question of choosing ones battles.

My students are warming up to me, and I am even beginning to learn a few of there names, emphasis on ‘few’. Aside from one or two, I have never heard any of these names before, let alone tried to pronounce them. Am constantly reminding them that it is not nice to laugh at someone when they are learning, since my frequent fumbles and difficulty with the names (particularly those that contain clicks), inevitably and understandably elicit giggles from them. Am learning though. Slowly but surely.

The level of English competency varies from student for student. For every one of them, Xhosa is their first language, making English their second. Fully aware of how difficult of a language it is to learn, am impressed at the level of comprehension they have. That said, they are shy. Very, very shy. It could be that it is because I am new and a novelty, and they feel intimidated speaking in front of me, or the fact that the do not feel confident in their English speaking abilities. Likely it is a combination of both.

At times, I must be standing directly in front of them while straining to listen, in order to hear them speak. Some have very strong accents which makes it even more difficult to understand. Like I tell them though, I am learning just like they are. There are no stupid questions, bonus points for trying.

Currently am teaching two classes, both English, one grade 10 and one grade 11. large groups both of them. Am getting a third class at some point this week. Grade 10 life orientation, which is like a combination of the citizenship and social science courses I taught in the UK. I have also been asked to join the IT team (teaching, not technical, obv.) and help with some of the IT classes. When I arrived I made it clear that my basic IT skills are indeed just that, but would be interested in starting an after school basic digital literacy group for students that may be interested. The response from the head of IT was a resounding yes!

With the grade 11 English class, today we started reading Animal Farm. Trying to explain the context for this story, what with the Russian revolution, WWII, communism among them is no easy feat, especially with so many of the terms and concepts unfamiliar to them. Reading as a class, we got about a third of the way through the first chapter by the end of today’s class.

With my grade 10s we are going to be starting the abridged version of Long Walk to Freedom. To segueway into it, last class I asked them to write a one-page essay on who their hero was. Nelson Mandela came out on top as the most popular choice, followed closely by mom. Awwww :)

Was interesting to see examples of their writing. While for the most part, their spoken English and reading is quite strong, however their grammar is definitely the weakest of the bunch. Spent today going over some of their most frequent errors, while reminding them that they mustn’t get discouraged, as English is one of the most difficult languages to learn, and that the mistakes they make are common to any new learner of the language.

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