Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What's Teaching in Congo like?

Now that I've been teaching here for about 6 month I would like to share a bit of what it's like.

First, I'll start with a few general observances:

1) Children start learning French in primary school (except for the rich ones who can go to the nursery school). By the end of secondary school, the students’ French is good, but not all that good. I often ran into vocabulary words in English that my students did not understand even when translated into French. Also, I found it challenging to teach certain aspects of grammar, such as the Conditional when neither me nor my students know how to use the conditional tense in French.  

2) Corporal punishment is okay. Students coming to school late are forced to kneel outside school for an undetermined amount of time and the principal's office can often be found full of naughty, kneeling children for long periods of time. I have also witnessed actual spanking by the principal with a wooden rod. One day when my 1st form students were particularly rowdy, one of them offered me a similar wooden rod to which I said "no thanks."

3) High school seniors all around the work hate going to class. I remember this well from my own high school, as the end drew nearer less students managed to make it to class. Here it is no different. I didn't see several of my 6th form students for months. Until they all showed up for the final exam!  

4) This is Sr. Daniela speaking with my principal at Aiti:

Now, I will attempt to describe my classroom. Imagine the classroom you had in high school. Now take away all the supplies, the glass windows, the little thingy that holds the chalk, the teachers desk and chair, and the lights. Now add holes in the floor and a giant termite mound under the chalkboard. That is my classroom.  This is what it looks like:

And I have come to really like my classrooms. It’s a real challenge to teach with absolutely nothing. I have done some research on ESL teaching on-line and they all suggest things like visual aids, overheads, videos, worksheets, etc. But what I have is a chalkboard, a bit of paper, and me, so I have to be creative to make it work (although most of the time my lesson comes out boring rather than creative).  

Now that you have an idea of the general school and what it looks like I will describe what a day in the classroom is like.  I come into the classroom and all the students stand up and greet me with “Good afternoon, teacher.” It’s very polite and makes me feel quite welcome. Somewhere along the way the students started to figure out that I don’t really care if they all stand up, so by now it’s kind of a half-hearted effort on their part. So anyway, I come in and decide where to put my bag down; my first choice is on the front desk in the middle or the left side if no one is sitting there. But sometimes I’m stuck with the “teacher’s desk” which is a student’s desk turned around. But it’s covered in chalk dust and kind of rickety so I try to avoid it. In one of my classrooms the “teacher’s desk” is in a giant hole that I’m scared of tripping over and hurting myself, so I never go near it if I don’t have to. Once my bag is safely stocked somewhere I take out my book…the one and only book for the class. Then I hunt around for chalk. If I’m lucky there is some nicely waiting for me on one of the desks. Sometimes, I have to look around on the floor and find some. If there isn’t any visible, one of the students will magically come up with a piece from on top of the windows, or go to the office to fetch some for me. While I’m doing all this the students are usually finishing copying for the previous lesson and then they erase the chalkboard for me. So now I have chalk, I open my book and I’m ready to teach. Well, first I have to copy the lesson on the blackboard (reading, grammar, exercise, etc.) I have the only student’s book, so anything I want to teach from a book I must copy onto the chalkboard. This can take form 5-30 minutes, and then I have to wait for the students to copy which can take from 10-60 minutes.  When I’ve finished copying I turn around and finally begin teaching. My lessons are 45 minutes or 1 ½ hours when I have a double period. I am quite pleased that I have learned very well exactly how much I can teach in this time, plus budgeting for chalkboard writing and copy time and sometimes I even have time for review and extra speaking practice.  

Every few weeks I have a quiz, which I have learned is terribly boring for the teacher. I write everything on the board then walk and around and wait for them to finish. No matter how long the quiz is it always takes them the entire period. A short quiz will take 45 minutes if they have 45 minutes or 90 minutes is they have 90 minutes. A long quiz will take 45 minutes if they have 45 minutes or 90 minutes is they have 90 minutes. The worst part of quiz day is that there is just nothing for me to do while they take the quiz. I usually walk around and sit on a desk in the back on the left side, then a desk in the back on the right, and then I walk to the front and lean against the door and look wistfully outside. Here is my view:

Then I lean on the window on the opposite side and look wistfully outside (but this window has a view of the toilets so I prefer to look wistfully out the door). Then I sit on a front desk, but I have to sit turned around so I can watch the students and it’s terribly uncomfortable to sit like that. So then I walk to the back and start over. Every once in awhile they will ask me a question and that breaks up the routine and brings some excitement to quiz day. But then everyone asks me the same question 10 times and it gets boring again.  

That, in a nutshell, is teaching in Congo.  

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