Teaching the Individual

With all the changes at the hotel we have been extra busy lately, but in a very good way.  This past week we had a whole staff meeting where you could really sense that everyone was really feeling re-energized about the changes at the hotel.  We talked about training and new job descriptions (both of which we had basically been without for the last 10 months) which were met with some actual excitement.   The staff has really been re-energized and excited about the new changes.  Also Teddy (our interim manager) Adam and I went on sales calls which resulted in a few immediate commitments from some tour companies for the coming months.  They too were excited to hear about the changes we were making and felt a renewed confidence in our hotel!  So although we are entering the “off” season for tourism we can still count on some visitors staying with us over the coming months, which is great news!  Additionally we have a visitor currently staying with us Dr. Sonia with International Service Learning who is making the finals plans before we become their official home in Tanzania for their service groups.  This will include a group of 25 American college students coming in December!

These past two weeks I have found myself really awestruck at a few moments while teaching first grade and looking at the 44 beautiful little brown faces staring back at me.  The will curiously watch me and giggle when I would stick out my tongue or pull on my ears (to explain sensory organs).  Or they would laugh as I would theatrically explain how air is all around us and reach all around the room, which leads to them laugh and then mimic my movements.  I remember back to years ago when I did the exact same thing and received the exact same reaction from 44 beautiful little brown faces.  They would try their best to write and speak full sentences in English to show they understand or some would just struggle to stay awake after a long morning.  The task at times seems so daunting for a moment as I watch them and just prayed they would understand and that one day I would know each of them as an individual.  

I’ve only known these first grade students for a few months but what stuck out most of all was that they just seemed so little.  44 little six or seven year olds, with little faces all trying to speak full sentences in English.  It's easy to wonder what they will become.  This past week I walked into my P3 class to teach English after teaching P1 Science with Adam and I could actually see what our first graders will become.  It lead me to look back at my journals from my first trip to Tanzania.  I read an entry that was my second ever entry in Tanzania back in January 2010.  I wrote that meeting the children was “incredible and awkward because we were both so excited, but neither of us could truly express to the other how we felt because of the language difference”.  Since then the children have expressed many things.  The children and teachers have called me by many names “Mr. Terry, teacher, sir, my father, my brother, my son” and many more names, all of which are individually special to me.  Not only because of the sentiment behind them, but because of the individuals that spoke those words are so special to me.  Beyond our relationships, what is truly special is that they spoke those words in English when it seemed so daunting only a couple years ago.   

The students in third grade are writing stories, reading stories and answering questions about books already when many secondary school students struggle to greet me at different times of the day (I am often greeted by Good Morning on my evening runs).  I have had the blessing of being a part of teaching at Stella Maris every year it has been open and to be a part of these children's lives.  It is incredible to see how much the children have grown physically and intellectually before my eyes.  After reading my first few journals I remembered back to when the children were little P1 students, how they couldn’t even tell me what their names were or how old they were.  I was completely in over my head and had no idea what I was getting myself into.  There were no P3 or P2 students to look to and know where they were heading or proof that this would work.  No one to look to as an example.  But now after three years I can say for certain that we are doing quite a few things right.

It’s amazing how with each day, each year, we are able to unlock the personalities of the children and give them the ability to express themselves.  It is difficult at times because the society, culture and school system treats every child exactly the same with no room for individuality.  We have to constantly battle decades of bad teaching practices, and a culture that is resistant and very slow to change.  Teaching children as individuals is one area that I have been working on improving at our school and frankly trying to prove the validity to the teachers.  I am happy to say I have already won over Madam Gonda, who I teach with daily.  Without this instruction and the trust I have earned I would truthfully miss out on so much with each child.  By teaching them as individuals, they also feel comfortable to step out and be individuals.

One of my favorite new games I started playing with the children before they go home started with a girl Lidia.  One day I snuck a piece of scrap paper into her bag when she wasn’t looking.  After discovering it, she figured out it was mine and decided to try to give it back to me.  So she pulled me aside and asked me to get down on her level then she whispered in my ear “my aunt asked me to give you this gift.  Don’t look at it!  It’s for you and it’s a special gift.  Put it in your pocket, but don’t look at it!”  Of course I took it in my hand and put it in my pocket.  I later took it out when the children were lined up to go home and showed it to her, she had drawn a smiley face and a heart.  She erupted with laughter and gave me a high five as we both laughed together.  Lidia is a school prefect, she is intelligent, she is a leader, she has a sense of humor, she has an imagination, she is silly, she is incredibly hard working, she is emotional, she is nine years old and she is an orphan.  Not one thing defines her because she is so complex, she is an individual and I have no idea what she will do with her future.  Just like I have no idea what any first grade student will do with theirs.  I do however look forward to watching them grow and unlocking their individuality through teaching.  One thing I am certain of however is that they will be successful, because they already are. 

Thank you everyone for your continued support and love!


  1. Terry,
    I continue to enjoy reading your blogs and the progress of the children as well as get chills reading about their progress and the love they are feeling from you. God Bless All.
    Pat K.

  2. Thank you so much Pat. I have learned a lot about what love truly means from these children and what it entails. I am blessed to be able to share with everyone, but most of all blessed to know these children!