I had one of the best moments of my Peace Corps experience at the one-year mark!
I am supposed to be building the capacity of teachers. I am supposed to help them learn to teach Life Skills or critical thinking skills. Almost all the teachers resist this for many reasons. Some don’t want to learn anything new, some don’t want to do more work, some resent sending a non-teacher in “to teach them” to teach better. Nearly all of the teachers will allow me to teach for them or do their job for them – but they don’t want me to teach them. It is hard to find a middle mark of teaching them without being the class teacher for them. But I think I finally had some success, as the story below will show.
More than half the kids at school do not have books. One of the ways teachers deal with this is to copy the book on the chalkboard and ask the kids to copy the information into notebooks. While this does provide the children with more information, it is not teaching. Teachers don’t seem to mind this. Everyone believes the children need the information in the book and spending the entire class copying the book is considered an accepted lesson plan.
Over the last four months, I have been writing study guides. I make real study guides instead of a summary of information or verbatim copying from the book. I always:
- Make a vocabulary section defining all new or hard words
- Provide current event examples or related stories
- Refer to other class subjects that are correlated
- Provide directions for study or test taking
- Provide the guide in an attractive layout with colour pictures, graphs and charts or little cartoons.
I am trying to do a guide for each chapter of the lesson books. Most of the study guides are between 6 and 12 pages and it takes about 10 hours to complete – so it is quite time consuming. However, the School Head (principle) has agreed to allow the teachers to make copies of any notes for Form 3 students (the last grade of middle school) as they will be tested at the end of this term to see if they are allowed to continue their education. The school is also given a rating based on the student pass rate.
At first the teachers were sceptical about my project, especially because they saw how time consuming it was. They told me the kids never read their notes and I was wasting my time. Nevertheless, once they had a study guide, that saved them from having to copy the book on the board, they decided to use it. The students LOVE the study guides – and they are being used with enthusiasm.
But that is not the GREAT MOMENT part.
My favourite class to co-teach is English – especially literature. We were reading a play about Shaka Zulu’s life, which is an intriguing story to these children. The play is a fictionalised biography about the greatest African warrior and his demise. It is written at a personal and compelling level.
When we finished with the play, I started connecting the play to history lessons in Social Studies. The time Shaka ruled is also called the time of the Mfecane Wars, which means, “the great shake up”. The history book barely touches on the personal life of Shaka. It provides the historical facts about the place and time of the battles as well as the cultural and social impact of decades long bloody wars. The history book shows this as a bad time in Southern African history.
I connect the Shaka play they had just read, which showed Shaka’s human struggles, visions, quests, and desires for “one great Zulu nation” to the historical devastation of the wars in the history book. I saw that they got it and were starting to rethink the social study lessons and/or the play.
Several kids in the class had light bulb moments. One kid said he wanted to go back and read his Social Studies lesson about the wars and other agreed.
I compared several parts of the play to history and science lessons.
We talked more about the value of education and how they should look at each subject as a way to help learn and understand another subject. While the classes were notes of music, their education was the final song. I told them there were hundreds of examples of cross reference learning – and tens more in the single play we were learning.
This all happened on Friday and many of the kids asked if I would come back at 4:30, when school is out and go over more of these connections. I could not do it, because I was leaving to celebrate my one-year anniversary with my Peace Corps class. But I was feeling very very good – and then the GREAT MOMENT came – THE TEACHER AGREED TO COME BACK – at 4:30 without me and go over more concepts in the play.
I could leave the Peace Corps right now and feel like I have accomplished what they asked me to do, which is something I have been doubting could be done.
This teacher is teaching critical thinking and the kids are learning! This is one of those rare moments in life – one year’s worth of work and I am get 10 minutes of utter and complete satisfaction of job well done! What a great way to mark my anniversary here!
Below are a few pictures from our one year anniversary party. (Go to the web site and double click the picture to see the whole thing)