Thursday, February 28, 2008

Roles and respon[sible]ilities?

Today I was given another class to pick up some of the void that is being left by a departing teacher. It is a year 10 Life Orientation class, which is basically the South African equivalent to Social Studies/Citizenship/Civics/etc. Having taught this subject in both Canada and the UK, I was more than happy to take it on. Rocked up to second period and to meet my new class of, oh you know, 54 students. 54. holy moly.

After an introduction and some ground rules, we were underway. Picking up where the other teacher had left off, we were on a unit that looked at changing roles and responsibilities throughout life. According to the textbook (which I have been instructed to teach from), life is divided into the following sections (have summarized hectically):

0-4: birth, complete dependence on others for basic needs
5-12: beginning of independence, friends, able to do some things for self but otherwise still dependant on others for basic needs
13-18: when identity is developed, peers become more important influence, awareness of self as sexual being, high school
19-25: tertiary education, moving out of house, making place in world
26-40: adulthood, birth of own kids, influx of new responsibilities, own family becomes most important factor in life
41-65: late adulthood, likely will have to cope with death of a (or both) parents, own children grow up
65: old age.

Okay fine, right? As a guideline, I suppose these are more or less the ages at which the life changes mentioned above take place. Except that we are in a township. Where traditional (Western? First world?) expectations and realities are far different.

Case in point. When I asked for a show of hands of how many students in the class were 15 (the average age at home for a tenth grader), only one hand went up. For 16, a few more, 17 even more, 18, a whole bunch, 19, a fair amount, and the list went on. I have students as old as 23 in my year ten class. Which to me is amazing because at least they are in school. Whatever their age may be, they are recognizing the importance of education and doing what they can, despite what hand life may have dealt them before coming to Fezeka.

While the textbook theorizes that it is after the age of 26 that people start to have their own children, some of my students have kids as old as 6. Coping with the death of a parent after the age of 41? Again, such has already been a reality for many of my students.

It causes me to wonder about the choosing of textbooks for the established curriculum. Who makes this decision? Where are these books published and when? And are they aware of the entire scope of the demographic that will be using them?

After realising the range of the age of the students, (which I am ashamed to say I had not anticipated) I assessed and regrouped my thoughts and made sure to let them know that the ages and according responsibilities that were staring back at them from their textbooks were only guidelines, and not rigid. As best as I could, I reassured them that if they had already experienced any of the life changes and/or roles and responsibilities that the textbook anticipated would not occur until later life that it was okay. Somehow I get the feeling that this won’t be the last time that I will do this sort of damage control.

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