Saturday, April 6, 2013


This morning, my grade 8s took their Physical Science End of Term Exam. I just took a look at them. They're awful. Terrible. Absolutely abysmal. And that's my good class. Sure, one or two students got maybe an 80%, but those are the kids that would have done just as well with no teacher at all. I don't even want to look at the other class's exams. I feel like a complete and utter failure.

It's not a complete surprise-- their grades were none too stellar even before the exam, but after our review session yesterday where kids were shouting out (correct) answers, I had hope that they might pull some decent marks. Guess not. I'm wonder how the scores would be different if they had had the test read aloud to them. I have a feeling (or at least a hope) that the marks would be significantly higher. But alas, that's not how it works.

I feel terrible. I am sad and dejected beyond belief. I am no longer sure that I am really serving a purpose here. Clearly my kids aren't learning anything from me, so wouldn't they be better off with a teacher they can at least understand? We found out earlier this week that our school has 5 more teachers than we should have based on student population, which from what I can tell, means that 5 teachers will have to be transferred  Part of WorldTeach's deal with the Ministry is that a volunteer should not be taking a position away from another teacher, we are supposed to be placed in schools where there is a position that cannot be filled. With five teachers having to be transferred  in my mind, that means that one teacher that should be staying here will not be, because of me. A teacher who can't reach her students. So again I ask, why am I here?

Now I know you all will say that they *are* learning from me, that just the exposure to more English is helping more than I can tell, that being part of a more student-centered classroom is extremely beneficial to them, and that I shouldn't expect miracles overnight. You may be right. But that doesn't change the fact that two thirds of my learners will fail term one-- and that's by Namibian standards, where failing means getting less than 30%. It doesn't change the fact that I feel awful.

I am tired. I am tired of giving my all to these learners and having them blatantly disrespect me in return. They do not listen, they do not pay attention, and they have told me they don't respect me like other teachers because they know I won't beat them. well they're right, so what do I do with that? Although I have never seen another teacher use corporal punishment, they do assign mis-behaving learners to do physical labor that I am not comfortable using as punishment  I was bad enough at discipline when a fair, school-wide system was in place, now, I'm at a loss. I don't even know who to talk to about it because I don't know how to tell other teachers that I refuse to make a learner sit with holding a chair over their head as punishment for not standing when giving an answer (yes, this is a real example). I don't have any ideas.

I am frustrated because I know that although I still am far from being considered a good teacher,I know that my approach is much more beneficial than the traditional Namibian style of covering a chalkboard with the summary, having the learners copy it down, and calling it a day, I am seeing that because the learners aren't used to my style, they are having a hard time learning from it, or at least retaining the information for very long. I haven't had to defend my teaching style yet, but I fee like I do have to, and wouldn't be able to, because it's not really working very well.

Ok. Well, the preceding paragraphs were written literally moments after looking at the exams, while still at school. Obviously those emotions are pretty raw. I've calmed down a bit. I emailed my Field Director, who told me those results are TOTALLY normal for first term, particularly for volunteers. He reminded me that I'm still figuring out the system and the kids are still figuring me out. They will improve, but it's a slow process. He also reminded me that it's not my job to work miracles.

I am glad that we have a break coming up, I need some time to get refreshed and re-energized  I'm planning on spending these next few weeks of exams brainstorming new ideas for next semester and trying find some classroom structure/routine that will be a bit of a common ground between the learners and me. Upon reflection, I was definitely pretty unorganized coming into this year. I didn't really know what to expect, so I don't think my expectations for them were as clear as they needed to be. Students need clear expectations, and this is multiplied ten-fold when you add in a language barrier and a completely new teaching style. I know that for the most part, my students like me, so I think that once I figure out what I want the class to look like, they will meet those expectations. (Particularly if they have the incentive of an end-of-term movie night!)

While I am still disappointed in myself for not having a more successful first term (anyone who knows me knows that I was secretly expecting near-miracles of myself), I am feeling a little bit more optimistic about the remainder of the year. I am still happy hear and loving what I am doing, despite all the challenges. I am placed at a great school, with a great living situation, and have made great friends. So the teaching is hard. Duh. Teaching is always hard, but it's what I've dedicated my life to and I still can't imagine doing anything else.

Break is coming up soon, I will be reunited with the fellow volunteers for mid-service training where I am fully expecting some rant sessions, followed by some team brainstorming to help conquer our various challenges. Then I will have a few weeks of traveling Southern Africa with my friends, and then I will be meeting my mom who is coming to visit for a couple of weeks. I CANNOT wait.

Much love to you all, especially if you stuck through and read this whole post. I really hate writing things like this where I admit I'm having a hard time, especially if it seems like I'm complaining, so thanks for listening. Getting it out into the world helped a lot. =)

1 comment:

  1. My school is not having the English exams until Tuesday. I am terrified because I know that most of the students will fail as well. I definitely dread the reality check that will come with marking these exams...