Sunday, March 7, 2010

Reflections on School

Being a teacher is more work than I ever realized, but it is fun because of the kids. Every time I teach a lesson that they do not totally grasp I go back to my plans and try to figure out what went wrong. If I am successful I can usually find a way to represent the information in a way that the students will get it. And when they do, it’s like magic. It feels so good to see that moment of recognition when the idea just makes sense to them, and I always feel so proud knowing that I have successfully taught another concept.
That being said, school is not all about that spark of understanding. We as teachers learn a lot from our students as well as from each other. As a new teacher, my first month has been a valuable lesson in many areas, including classroom management, classroom presence, and lesson planning. It has also been a continued challenge to try to understand Samoan culture, or “The Samoan Factor” as we Peace Corps like to call things that just don’t make sense. For example, Samoa has initiated a compulsory education program requiring students between the ages of 6 and 14 to be at school. This is a great program, but it creates a huge challenge for the teachers who receive students as old as 14 who have never been to school before. The students are at a disadvantage because they are put directly into their age group level, not their school level, and the teachers are forced to teach to all levels of students. So while 98% of my 8th grade class is writing essays, the other 2% are tracing the alphabet and learning to write letters. It’s frustrating, but as a teacher I have to remember that it is not the students fault, and it is better that they come to school now then never. Even if all they learn by the end of the year is how to read numbers and write their names, at least they will have gained something.
More to the point of the Samoan Factor is the sheer amount of time that is required for even the most minimal task. The first week of school in America is a time to review from the past year and assess the students’ levels. Here, day one was spent as a cleanup day, where the few students who were unlucky enough to show up were forced to sweep the rooms, rearrange furniture, cut the grass, and wash the walls and windows. Day two, school was cancelled and all teachers in my district reported to a district meeting, something that in America would have been help prior to the first day of school. The third day was scheduling day, so we each made timetables of when we would teach. These tables proved pointless because they were really for me to map when I would lead my English classes, but all of the teachers scheduled English at the same time, so in the end I just follow the schedule I made and they accommodate. The fourth day some more students showed up and books were distributed. Then Friday students were asked to do more cleaning. So it wasn’t really till week two that classes began, and for me that simply meant the start of my observation period.
Week two flew by and by week three I began teaching 6th and 7th grade on my own (a multi-grade classroom), and assisting with years 5 and 8. Week four was much of the same, and then Monday morning of week five we had a surprise: a new teacher had come to teach year 6! Morning tea is held around 10:30 every morning and it’s meant to be just a half hour, but with our new teacher we had to say our welcomes and then the best part, the teachers fought over whom he would live with. It turns out he is an Apia boy and therefore has no family in our village. So, Samoan Factor, he showed up to his new job with no idea where he would be living for the next year. The fact that the teachers took 2 hours to fight over who would get him shows how this is not a “problem” but rather just how things are done. Everyone wanted to host the new guy! I love that about this country. There will never be a starving or homeless Samoan because the culture just will not allow it. It’s a beautiful thing.
So here we are in the middle of week 5. Next week we give the first round of assessments and I am looking forward to seeing where my students stand. I have been giving homework and the marks have been steadily increasing since the first assignment, so hopefully that will continue through the assessment week. Then I plan to start my co-teaching work with the other teachers, and hopefully will begin working with year 5 on a school garden. I am so excited for the garden, but I do not want to start before raining season is over, or the new plants will drown before they get a chance to take root. It’s an exciting time and I can’t wait to see how the rest of the year goes. Well it is time for me to go open the door for my homework center. Till next time, enjoy the reading!

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