Friday, January 23, 2009

happy new year!

At Fezeka we spent the first few days of this week preparing for a new school year. Monday and Tuesday were dedicated to planning, timetabling and analysis of last year’s (rather discouraging as failure rates were quite high) student reports.

In these meetings I learned that I would not be teaching my 2008 Grade 11 English students, despite what I had been previously advised and what I had subsequently told my students. The reason for this decision was explained as follows. Grade 12 is the Matriculation (exams students must pass in order to graduate high school) year for students and as such is a very important milestone in their education. Those who teach Grade 12 are subject to rigorous and continuous evaluation and monitoring by the Western Cape Education Department (WCED). When Fazeka’s Senior Management Team (SMT) met after the close of school last year, they decided that my students should be taught by a teacher who is actually registered with the WCED (versus myself, who since I am not, am not technically qualified to teach in a Western Cape school), to avoid any issues with departmental officials.

While I was disappointed to not be spending another year with this group of students, I understood the reasoning behind their decision. On the plus side, I am still teaching 2 of the classes I had from last year – those from my grade 10 English classes who were promoted to grade 11 (sadly, only about 60% of them), and those from my grade 10 Life Orientation class in the same situation (a slightly better average with about a 68% pass rate). I am also teaching a new grade 10 class – a mixture of new students from our [feeder school that teaches grade 8 and 9] Songeze campus and repeater students from Fezeka who did not pass grade 10 last year. Further, fortunately the teacher who will be teaching my Grade 11s from last year is my closest colleague and we have since discussed ways that we can share the teaching of this group of students.

Although I know teachers are not supposed to have favorites, I must admit that I was particularly saddened to find one of my brightest pupils from grade 10 last year had not made the grade to pass on to grade 11. On the first day of classes one of the class teachers (Fezeka’s equivalent of a homeroom teacher) was absent. As I am not a class teacher, I was asked to mind the class for the day. I won’t get into the chaos that reigned supreme on day one of the 2009 school year, but suffice to say that things could have been far better organized. When the dust settled, the group I had herded into my classroom was composed of about 48 students who had chosen this classroom based on a sign I had held up during morning assembly that listed the subjects students who chose this classroom would be taking. (At least most of them did. Once inside my classroom I informed them that I wouldn’t actually be teaching them and that I was just filling in for their actual class teacher who was absent, 4 students asked to be excused and never came back). Other teachers also held up signs with course lists on them, and students grouped accordingly. In this class I spotted about 10 students who had been in my English class last year. I was surprised to find this particular student among them as I had assumed based on his performance in my class last year that he would have breezed into the next year.

I could tell as soon as I saw him that he was embarrassed to be there. He didn’t speak once during class, even when his colleagues were chatting away noisily while I distributed their school-issued stationary and books for the year. When it was his turn to collect his allocation, I quietly asked him what had happened.

“Maths, Miss,” he immediately replied without looking up, as if he had known I would ask and was too shy to make eye contact. “Math is not my thing,” he continued.

I asked him what else he had failed, for as far as I knew if students failed one subject but attained at least a level 4 (40% and above) in all other subjects, they were promoted to the next grade. He said only Maths. This both confused and surprised me, and as he shuffled back to his seat I made a mental note to explore this further.

After school I went to speak to relevant department Head (incidentally, the same person who is responsible for students’ social welfare is also the year head for grade 10), to ask her what had gone on. We looked up his report card from last year and found that not only had he failed Maths, but History and IT as well. I also noticed that the mark he had received in my class was the highest of the lot, and that he had only passed [Home Language] Xhosa by the skin of his teeth (Home Language is often one of the highest marks students receive). Hm.

The next day I found him in the schoolyard during lunch and asked him to come to my classroom. When we were inside I asked him why he had told me that he had only failed Maths. Though his skin is quite dark, I could still notice a reddening in his cheeks.

“Because Miss, I was embarrassed. I didn’t want to be the one to tell you. I wanted you to find out for yourself.”

We then spoke about the year ahead and what he could do differently to ensure that the same mistake doesn’t happen. He said he was going to be more focused this year and try harder. I asked him about his Xhosa mark. He said that before Fezeka he had been at an English school (which explains his strength in English), and that when he was put into Xhosa class here at Fezeka it had been difficult for him because it had been some time since he had studied the language.

Before we parted I told him that I would be keeping an eye on him this year and checking in with him every once in a while to see how he was doing on his studies. He thanked me for this and said he would not let me down. I reminded him that it was himself more than anyone that he should be worrying about letting down but whatever works as the motivating factor works for me, so long as he tries his best.

And so, we start the New Year. At the beginning of the second week of school, things are beginning to calm down somewhat, as students are moved around to best accommodate their desired areas of study as well as class sizes, and timetabling kinks are ironed out.

Over the next stretch some of the initiatives that Education without Borders, has been the catalyst for in a variety of ways will begin to take flight. After school photography workshops with a fantastic local photographer and a chess cum life skills program (Chess 4 Hope, a community project being offered by Ikamva Labantu are due to get going in mid-Feb. The procurement and distribution of English dictionaries to all students at Fezeka (something I am extremely excited about and have been advocating for some time), will hopefully come to fruition in the next few weeks. We are continuing with the very successful dance workshops that began last year with ikapa Dance Theatre, and once school has settled into a more stable routine, I will resume my after school computer classes, meet with the students who had expressed an interest in starting a school magazine, and check in with the Drama Club to see how things are going.

Despite the fact that this year has only just begun and I have said that my time at Fezeka will likely come to an end at the conclusion of this school year, people (students, staff, family and friends both here and at home), have already asked me about where next year (2010) will find me. Although it is indeed far too early to tell, the warmth that I felt from staff and students who welcomed me back and eagerly shared their summer holiday stories with me while asking about mine, coupled with the familiar high I experienced during a terrific class last week give me the impression that I may not be going anywhere fast…


Liz said...

Great to read your blog - get the students to enrol in the Saturday school sessions -
I was sad to read about the failure of the boy! We need to get the students math up to speed in Elementary school though - This may help teachers - Go to our website and they can download free teacher manuals from Gr 1- 6 - 7 and 8 will be published by September 09
I am a South African now living in Canada and working with JUMP MATH = a Non profit society created by John Mighton in an attempt to help teachers create a numerate society

Carnita said...

your experiences sound amazing and i know that both Fezeka and Cape Town will welcome you back in 2010 with open arms!