Thursday, April 22, 2010

School

In general I don't like new beginnings. I hate first days, being unsure of what I am supposed to do, where I am supposed to be, what is expected of me. Even though I was excited about going to South Africa, I was still anxious about the start of work. Fortunately my fears were unfounded and starting at St. Peter's was painless.

St. Peter Claver's School has about 800 students in grades 1-9. It is located in Maokeng which is about 20 minutes outside of Kroonstad. While most of our neighbors have nice house, beautiful landscaping, and shiny cars parked inside gated lots, Maokeng is full of tiny cement houses with corrugated roofs, awful dirt roads, and other telltale signs of poverty. In any given restaurant in Kroonstad I blend in with the Afrikaner majority. In Maokeng I am once again in the minority, which I find oddly comforting.

So my morning begins bright and early at 7:10, when school starts. (Next week the winter schedule goes into effect and I don't have to be there until 7:30. Yeah for sleeping in!) We start every morning with a school assembly, where the children sing and pray. Then the first of elven class periods begins. I spend most of my day in the hall, a long building that prior to my arrival was mostly used for the weekly mass. I work with each of the three classes in grades 4-7. I teach 6-9 students or learners as they are called here, who are academically behind the rest of the class. I have each class four times a week, which is divided between English and Math.

The most difficult part of my job has been trying to gauge where each student is at. For instance I have one student in 5th grade who barely speaks English and the other kids whisper everything to him in Sosotho. In all of my English classes we have been going over the difference between nouns, verbs, and adjectives. It seems strange to be teaching the exact same lesson to both 9 and 14 year olds but I think it's important to have a firm grasp of the basics before moving on. The older students have obviously been exposed to this material before but they couldn't remember much about it. In Math, I have some learners who still add on their fingers and some who can do long division faster than I can (although I like to use Becky's excuse of that's arithmetic not math). I am not quite sure how to teach such a varied group.

All in all, I love my job. I found it intimidating the few times I taught an entire class of 40 students in Nigeria. But in a small group it's much easier to be flexible with the lesson and to maintain decorum. All of my students come from classes of 35 or more students and they enjoy being singled out and the more individual attention. I like doing problems on the blackboard and in an effort to get called on the students start waving their hands and yelling "Ma'am! Ma'am!" Some of my learners actually clap when I give out their homework assignment. Despite their academic difficulties, these students are eager to learn and their attitude is infectious. They make me want to work harder and I hope that together we can make a lot of progress.

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