Working in schools can be both inspiring and crushing here in South Africa. The inspiring part is rather small-I KNOW whatever I do will likely make a difference because these schools are in such a desperate state. Let me attempt to illustrate how.
The school year started on January 18th, but teachers started to come back on the 16th. These two days were not spent preparing lessons-they were spent filling out department forms, cleaning classrooms, cooking, allocation subjects to teachers, not making a timetable for the school, talking, and waiting for someone to arrive with the keys to the school. As you can probably guess, teachers were not really prepared to teach that first week. This was not unexpected to me.
Vital things to the school were not done beforehand-making a schedule so teachers know when they are to teach, telling teachers what subjects they will be teaching, or even the arrival of a new teacher. This is scary to me-that a school can start the school year without books, knowing what the teachers responsibilities are, or even having entered the records of new/transfer learners. It is a week later and the timetables are still emerging, and teachers still do not know who exactly is in their classes.
Forget about things like teaching aids, seating charts, or any sort of classroom management.
It is really hard to be in school that seems hopeless….I really do not know how I can teach these kids English, and if my work will result in more kids passing. I will start my classes next week, and I know that it will be really hard because my learners-even Grade 6-barely understand much more that “How are you” and “What is your name”. How can I teach when they simply cannot understand me? Despite the language barrier, I am not going to have a Setswana speaking teacher helping me because that will result in the class being translated/taught completely in Setswana (the norm here, despite the national curriculum and policies that say classes must be taught in English). This will NOT help my learners, so I will refuse to let other teachers translate. Please pray for me as I struggle through the next few months, until my learners begin to understand me.
Last year, 20 of my 39 Grade 5 learners passed English, and 31 of my 44 Grade 6 learners passed (I find this hard to believe, and am afraid scores may have been altered-a sadly normal action). Passing at my school is considered 50%, I believe. The age distribution for Grade 5 was:
And the age distribution for Grade 5 last year was:
Learners are only supposed to fail once per phase (Intermediate Phase is Grades 4-6, for example), but technically teachers can fail them once per grade. So the 4 Grade 6 learners who started the year out as 17 (and are now 18) were going to be passed on regardless because they had been in Grade 6 two times. Some teachers argue that this allows learners to do nothing and give up the second year because they know they have to be passed on. But if learners could fail more than once per grade, how old would my learners be?!
There are good things about my schools. The kids who greet me each day ka Setswana or in English makes me smile, and they are no longer scared of the lekgoa at school. I know my learners respect me and want to have me there, as they tell me so. Some teachers have rethought the whole beat-the-naughty-learners thing, and I hope my techniques will rub off on them as time goes on. The computer lab at one school is something at some American schools would want, and it is basically my personal classroom. I’m doing things different in there, and I hope it starts positive discussions about classroom management and teaching aids here. At any rate, I do believe that when I leave in a little less than two years, some things will be different. Will I change the world? Absolutely not. Will I change some lives? I think so. And that is worth all the struggles, stress, and frustration I’ll face.