Monday, January 21, 2008

welcome to Fezeka.

A siren wails indicating the beginning of the day.

It’s hot. The forecast today called for 31 degrees, and as the clock strikes 8, the thermometer that somehow made its way into my bag is already approaching 27.

Undeterred, students are dressed in full wool kit – longs, shirts, ties and sweaters, and even occasionally, blazers. When I ask another teacher why no one wears shorts, she explains that for many Black South Africans, there is a strong aversion to shorts because of their connection to white Afrikaners, and therefore they are seen as a symbol of White oppression.

Chatting noisily, students gather in the school yard for assembly, held on every Monday and Friday morning.

Leading off, the vice-principal speaks eloquently to the crowd. Touching on the importance of staying focused during the term, he offers students words of encouragement and inspiration.

Latecomers trickle in, and so steady is the stream that by the end of the assembly the size of the group of students has tripled.

The headmaster speaks next, reiterating a similar message as the VP, then introduces the days’ special guest.

The delegate from the office of the regional Member of the Executive Council for Education speaks very highly of Fezeka, telling students that they are a shining example, and so important is the school in its surrounding community, that “when Fezeka sneezes, the entire Western Cape catches a cold.”

Back in the staffroom, I am surrounded by a hubbub of activity and raucous laughter. Teachers chat amongst themselves and prepare for the start of the day.

While sitting in a busy room where I understand not one word of the click-filled language being spoken by every other person is indeed disorienting – as I scan the area, warm faces and wide smiles meet my eyes and I instantly feel welcome and a part of the teacher culture, despite the significant language barrier.

Just then, the siren sounds once more and it is time to go. My 52-student strong grade 10 English class awaits, and I need to find some chalk.

As the layout of the classrooms is still unfamiliar to me, one of the other English teachers offers to show me to my grade ten English class. My first class! She introduces me to the students and leaves me be.

Eyeing me up and down curiously, the students are almost silent as I introduce myself, explain where im from, and why I am here. I lay the ground rules – namely, when I speak, they listen, when they would like to speak, they must raise their hand and I will listen, everyone listens to each other, and as this is English class, we speak English. And were off.

Going on the pacesetter that I had been given by the head of the department, I begin a lesson on the format of an essay, tying it into what they did over the summer break and what they would like to accomplish by this time next year. It is only when I make mention of the fact that since they are in grade ten and new to this campus, that I am made aware of an interesting fact – I am in the wrong class. This is a grade 11 english class, not grade ten. Not wanting to stop mid steam, I regroup. Now we improvise.

Made it through the lesson unscathed, and returned to the staffroom. A couple teachers ask me ‘how was it?.’ ‘well,' I reply, 'it was great until about ten minutes into the lesson they let me know that they were grade 11 and not grade 10, meaning that I was teaching the wrong class.’ Explosion of laughter.

When the teacher who misdirected me returns to the staffroom, she is immediately roasted. ‘you took her to the wrong class!’ she is mortified and beyond apologetic. And very sweet.

By 2:50, the end-of-day staff meeting that was to take place at 2pm has yet to start. At 3pm they let us know that it has been cancelled because of a power failure. No one is surprised and we head home.

Back in obs, auntie anne and I do some groceries and get a takeaway dinner from spar. Am completely shattered and sleep early.

Day one is over. And despite going to the wrong class, at least I got my feet wet. Tomorrow is a new day.

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