Sunday, January 27, 2013

First Week of School

I have been in Onamutai for over a week now, and have successfully completed my first week of school! So much has happened over the past week, I may make it two blog posts...

On Monday, I reported for my second day of school and was anxious to hopefully meet my learners. When I arrived, we had the morning meeting, and I was asked if I would go with my principal, another teacher and 12 learners to the region's Welcome Back Luncheon in Oshakati. This meant that I wouldn't be at the school all day, but since my timetable wasn't ready yet, that didn't really matter. To get to the lunch, the 12 learners crammed in the back of the principles bakkie and the three adults squeezed in the front. I had a mild panic attack when the kids just climbed in the truck- no attendance, no counting, nothing. I couldn't help but think of camp and how that would SO not fly. Well, T.I.A. The lunch turned out to be lots of speeches about the performance of various schools during the previous year. It was pretty long and hot since we were outside, but we were under a tent at least. There were some really cool cultural performances that I enjoyed watching, and I got to see two of the other volunteers who were also attending with their principals. It was also really interesting to listen to the conversations amongst teachers after the speeches. They were virtually identical to conversations amongst teachers in the States: unrealistic expectations from the government,  unfair performance measures, factors out of the teacher's control, etc. I suppose some things are universal.

On Tuesday I finally received my schedule: two sections of 9th grade math, two sections of 8th grade physical science, two sections of 9th grade ICT (Information and Computer Technology) and 4 sections of 8th grade ICT. Woah, definitely not mostly math. Oh well, here we go! I had the first period off, which was nice because I was able to get to my room and have some time to prepare for my first classes. The day was mostly going to be introductions and setting up of expectations. My first class, 9C math, came in and I realized immediately that the first thing I'm going to have to get used to is them all standing until someone tell's them to sit. Then I discovered there weren't enough chairs (school-wide shortage) so several learners had to go and get some from another room. This is something else that will consistently eat into the already short 45 minute periods. Once everyone was seated at a desk, I introduced myself and then went around to record names on a seating chart. This took much longer than expected. First, they speak so quietly that I had to make my way around the crowded room and lean in to each learner just to hear them. Secondly, I couldn't pronounce half their names. I thought Taunton had some interesting names, but those were nothing: here, I have several learners named Ndnilimekwe. It was also hard because they sometimes say their last names first, and many of them have nicknames. Some of the nicknames are American sounding names, but others are clearly made up, like "Gatuzo" (I promise, that's nothing like his actual name, and all the kids laughed when he said it.) I don't have a class list to compare them too either, so it could be a confusing year! After finally getting names, I went over some expectations of class and by that point, class was over. My next class was my other grade 9 math class, and the process went almost the same. Next I had my first section of grade 8 science, and as the learners entered the room, my heart warmed a little and I started beaming. I don't know what it is, but something about middle schoolers just makes me smile, and it was a really nice reassurance that this was true even on the other side of the world. I have definitely chosen the right age group for my career. The rest of the day went pretty much like the first two periods. Lots of introductions and new names. On my off periods, I was running around trying to get some information about how to set up my files, where I will be teaching ICT (since another teacher uses the lab), and where I could get some textbooks. It's all a little overwhelming, and definitely took some patience, but I made it to the end of my first real day and went home to collapse on my bed, exhausted.

At this point, I had a mild panic attack about how on earth I was going to be able to teach science with virtually no materials, a vague syllabus, and not a clue about how to teach science. Luckily, my awesome support system at home came to the rescue and assured me that I could totally handle this, and just needed to breath and take it one day at a time. That helped me to calm down a little and sat down to plan my first lessons.

Wednesday was a mix of another set of introduction classes (with a rotating schedule, every day is different, so I had some new classes) and my first time teaching material. For my two math classes, I started with patterns, the first chapter in their book. This lesson went well, they seemed to be understanding and engaged.  I'm also psyched because I'm planning an Pascal's Triangle investigation for them that I've always wanted to do but haven't gotten a chance in my classes in the States yet. I just hope it goes well. For science, I started with the Scientific Method, which their book seemed to call the Scientific Process. I thought the lesson went well until a learner approached me at the end of class and said I confused everyone (of course no one said anything in class) because it wasn't the same as their notes from last year on the Scientific Process. It turns out, that the process is more like the various types of activities involved in science (measuring, observing, investigating, classifying etc) and not the Method that we learn. Whoops. I made a mental note to change this with my other section, and to fix it first thing when I had this section next. I then went to observe an ICT class, since I didn't really know what one should look like. The other teacher was teaching a 9th grade section during one of my free periods, so I headed over to watch. Basically the class was just a review of the parts of a computer since many of the learners hadn't touched/seen one since their ICT class last year. I instantly realized how basic the beginning lessons will be, because some of my learners, particularly the 8th graders, may literally have never seen a computer before. This is something I'm totally not used to.

For my first ICT lesson, I basically copied the other teacher and just introduced my learners to the parts of a computer. Since I didn't have the lab (we have to figure out how to share it) I just drew a picture of a computer on the board and did various listing/labeling/identifying activities with each class. This went really well, and the learners loved shouting out names of parts that I pointed to. I was super impressed with my 8A class; although most claimed they had never used a computer before, by the end of class each and every one of them was naming the parts like a pro! Maybe this will go faster than I originally thought...

Overall, the lessons go by really fast and half the time is spent trying to gauge understanding from their blank faces. They are really hesitant to answer questions, or speak to me at all really, and I can't tell if they don't understand my English, don't understand the concepts, or just don't want to answer. This will be really hard to get used to and will probably be one of my biggest challenges. However, I'm really excited for this year because the learners do seem eager to learn. I can already tell I have some brilliant kids in my classes and if I can just figure out the system (grading, assignments, lessons etc), I think I will have a pretty successful year!

Well I think that's enough for now. I'm going to put up an entire post of pictures from the past week, and I'll try to get another post up today about my weekend in town, but until then,


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