Saturday, October 19, 2013

Back to School

This week marked the beginning of our school year. It's my fourth year on this side of the desk, and my third year doing it in French. My life for the last 20 years has been marked by the start of school, so this late start, along with the hot weather has really thrown off since of time. I've finally finished up a 5 and half month summer.

My first day here wins prizes for being the least organized but also the least stressful. The first day had been pushed back several times because of strikes, and there was rumors to keep striking and not start of Wednesday, but the following Monday. With teachers unsure whether or not they should be working, the day mostly meant sitting around in the teacher's hut chatting, and vaguely considering teaching.

I have only one class 5iemeA (7th grade, section 1) and only 4 hours a week of class. The kids had a year of English last year, but unlike my middle school French classes which only ever addressed the present tense and passe compose, heavily interspersed with art projects and cultural lessons, these kids are expected to pretty much learn all the English grammar possible in four years and not much else.

I managed to give out American names (to my disappointment, no one chose Bubba, but we do have Barack, Tex and Junior) and go over some classroom commands, but not anything else. The teachers repeatedly told me that "next week we will actually start teaching." So the best is yet to come.

Not only am I to teach these kids English, but reteach them how to learn. The classroom in Togo is dominated by rote memorization and copying from the board, not very heavy on the critical thinking skills. The hardest part of this is getting the kids to ask questions. It's just nor normal for them to do that.

That might be related to some of the punishment techniques often employed here. I was informed that each week there is a "Teacher of the Week" who is like the dean of students or disciplinarian. What that really means is hitting the bad students with a stick (often in front of the entire school). So in addition to creative lessons plans, I've been working hard on trying to come up with punishments that the teachers will accept, but won't look too soft either.

It's been good to be back at school. I actually have some work starting, I people I can work with, as before many were gone on vacation and I have somewhere to go during the day. Zafi isn't very big and so it's hard to wander too far without ending out of town.

I know your school years started weeks (or months) ago, but mine starting just in time for another strike to bring me to Christmas vacation I hope!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Peace Corps Volunteer Life

Dear Diary,

I found little ants crawling around in the sugar today, despite the tightly sealed plastic lid. I didn't want to waste the sugar so I just shook the container a lot until I thought I killed them all. Then I made my oatmeal and added the sugar.

I think today is when I officially became a Peace Corps volunteer.