|Marching to the classrooms for the beginning of the new term|
This week marked the beginning of the third and final trimester of the school year at Stella Maris. I’ll tell you what, it was pretty great to be back in the classroom with all the children. The semester does begin with many changes. For the first time I will have a fellow teacher from America Adam Archer, here for the whole term (and half of next year too) to work with and teach the children. Adam is with our new all-star of a teacher Juliana Kway working hard in P1. He will also be helping in his own expert field of Social Studies. Juliana has been working hard for the past few months to get the P1 students ready for P2, but with 44 students in the classroom, it definitely will help to have someone to co-teach with. Adam taught high school Social Studies in America, so it also makes perfect sense for him to bring some of his skills into that field for our students at Stella Maris, most notably in History and Civics. It is a real blessing to have him with us and I definitely appreciate having another American guy around to work with and talk about football.
As for me I am taking back my original students from years ago now in P3, as well as taking P2 and helping when I can in P1 when I can. Most of my focus for the next few months will be English and Math though. The one class Mama Shayo decided was my highest priority was P2. “They are not good right now” she said to put it nicely. For whatever reason they have been running rough shod over the instructional time and struggling especially in English. Most likely because they were bored in class, lacked structure and were struggling with the language barrier. The first day of the new term I said my piece to the P2 students about my expectations in class and then began to follow through. One of the funniest misconceptions about young children in Africa is that they are perfect little students. They do look forward to school and they are thankful, but they do not sit perfectly and quietly. They are children. Children are children, no matter where they are from. If their friend talks to them, they want to talk and if someone is playing, then they want to play. Of course in a class of 35 this can happen an awful lot. Nevertheless I use the same behavior strategies I do in America; I compliment those who are doing the right thing to remind everyone else of what they should do. I have always found I preferred to be around people who are kind and good hearted, and I don’t think that is unique. I also recognize that I would much rather work hard for someone I cared about and who cares about me. So if a classroom is a happy place, with a teacher who cares, then the children will want to be in the classroom working together. This of course is completely crazy to the teachers here who are taught more “old school” methods of behavior management. Luckily for me after years of being together they just let me do my thing.
After a few days the children were already doing better, they realized that they didn’t want to have to stand outside or sit away from everyone and that my expectations were not changing day to day. Before every lesson I reviewed my expectations “We are going to keep our ears open to listen, our mouths will only talk English, and we will raise our hands when we want to share”. After a few days I realized I left out the most important part of my role in the classroom. I then told my students “I want you all to do well today because I love you and know you can do well.” Love is the reason why I am here, the reason why I teach and most of all it is the reason for this school. They deserve to know I love them no matter what and they should hear it every day. By the end of the week they had mostly figured it out, they sat quietly, raised their hands without talking and were working harder than before. I know there will be lots of hard days. They will test me, talk while I am talking, forget to raise their hands, play while I teach, and not perform as well as I hope on examinations, but it is a start. For two whole lessons on one day I could look at the students and know that we all understood why we were in the classroom together.
I am here to teach them because I love them and they are here to learn. The truth is I didn’t become a teacher because I always wanted to teach, I became a teacher because I wanted to help children who needed me. It just so happens that teaching was the best way for me to do that. I also didn’t plan on teaching in Africa, but I found an extraordinary opportunity and challenge in Tanzania, so here I am again. I was not a good kid in school, I talked all the time, never listened and got into plenty of trouble. I even sat alone starting in first grade because my teacher gave up on me in the first two weeks because I wouldn’t stop talking. It’s the children that talk too much, play too much or just need someone to show them a little more attention that are the ones I relate too. What is most incredible about Stella Maris is that we have 116 students that need someone to be that “little more” for them almost every day. They may have missed a couple meals, had a tough time at home, slept on the ground, been ignored or just need a little bit of love. It is being that person they can count on that brings me so much joy teaching in whether I am in America or Tanzania. Teaching is challenging, draining and motivating all at once especially with 116 high need students. Now with a new semester upon us and a great challenge ahead I can honestly say I could not be more excited. I’m excited because I get to be the example, to be that person they can count on to be loving and caring every day so that these children know how special they are.
Thanks everyone for your tremendous
response to my last post. I really appreciate all the kind words of encouragement. I really do thank all of you who are so positive and supportive of me. You will never know what it means to me, but understand it is your example of love that I am trying to spread. Thank you all and God bless.