HEY, another disclaimer: This post is based on my experiences so far. It doesn’t represent the country or every volunteer’s experience.
So. I knew that teaching in a Tanzanian school would be difficult. Even when I heard that the government makes it mandatory for students to be taught in English in secondary school..I knew that there was no way every student knew English. I knew that the classes would be big. I knew that the resources would be limited. I knew that students would fall somewhere into a large spectrum of what school supplies they actually have. I knew that homework would be hard to give and grade. I knew that corporal punishment existed. I knew that schools would be very..rigid(?) in the way of uniforms, respecting teachers and speeding through the government-issued syllabus even if the students’ understanding levels were low. I knew these things.
However, in the past few weeks I have learned: no matter how prepared I thought I was..I was not. There was just no way to be prepared. Right now, I teach Form 1C math, so it is their first year of secondary school. Stream C is for the ‘slowest learners’ (Form 1A is the fastest). The first day I walked into class, the students ABRUPTLY basically jump from their seats, stand and say ‘good morning(it’s 12:50) teacher’ and then some Swahili stuff like robots. I was blown away and confused, so I just had them sit. I taught them a daily class greeting in English (Which I start, because I like the idea of me greeting them instead of them being so terrified of me that they jump from their seats and stand at attention when I walk into the room).
I learned VERY QUICKLY that none of my students speak English. at. all. They were just taught the difference between morning and afternoon last week by another PCT (hey Molly). Even basic greetings, numbers above ten, the words ‘example,’ ‘group,’ ‘alone,’ ‘different,’…….nothing. In the beginning, it was not possible to work in pairs because no matter how I explained, gestured, or used broken Kiswahili…nothing. Nobody understood. I am thankful that I am teaching math, because I have numbers and examples to use. For an English-comprehension reference..the motto of our school is, “We do better for future.” It is printed on shirts and on the sign of the school. Remember, this was approved or written by teachers who are supposed to be teaching high school aged students Physics, Math, English, Biology and Chemistry in English.
My class has about 55(?) students I would guess. I don’t take attendance because one of the students is supposed to (I think). On days I collect papers and count them..there are about 42-43 kids there per day, and the 10-ish who are absent are always different students. I have a couple ‘star students’ who have started to love to participate and do great on in-class work..and then there are the students who stare out the window or sleep and then just do nothing right on in-class work. Basically that is the same as in an American classroom.
I have a chalkboard, I take my own chalk and eraser. I would say 75% of my students have pens or pencils and don’t mind sharing when they have to. The paper situation..a lot have notebooks, a lot have newspaper (fully printed so you can’t actually read anything you wrote), some have nothing. I am not giving homework because students (especially girls) do not have free time in the mornings or evenings. Even then, attendance is so poor that it wouldn’t make sense to try to assign or keep track of. AND on top of that, cheating here is a problem. There seems to just not be a moral issue with it. I can’t explain it. If they openly cheat on my in-class assignments, I know that homework would be worse.
I have seen students who were ‘possessed’ screaming and crying at school. We were told that this is normal and were taught how to handle it. I have seen a lot of corporal punishment in the form of ‘chapa-ing’ (using a long flexible stick to hit girls on their hands or boys on their behinds). A note on corporal punishment in TZ: it is legal here. The law states that it is legal to use a long flexible stick to hit girls on hands and boys on behinds no more than 4 times. All punishments should be recorded on paper with the student name, the offense, and the teacher who did the punishing. The number of strikes is supposed to be “appropriate” for the offense, and female students are only to be hit by female teachers. Refusal to receive punishment can result in expulsion. (This is all as far as I understand it and have been told).
At the school where I am internship teaching, I watch students line up for this. Lines and groups and small crowds of students receive corporal punishment almost all day every day. Attendance is already an issue, and to add to it other teachers remove students from class for this. It happens in the center of the school, it happens in the teacher’s room, it happens behind buildings. With all of this…I have never seen any written documentation. I have seen students stand holding bricks over their head for long periods of time until their arms and legs are collapsing. I have seen and heard students being hit more than four times. Students are chapa-ed for getting a wrong answer, being late after walking an hour to school, not completing homework, if they are found to be in a relationship, talking when they’re not supposed to be, etc..it is basically the only form of punishment no matter the offense (that I have seen so far at my school).
NOW. Even though I was not prepared…I am adapting. We all are, really. We have no other choice. I spend a lot of time trying to imagine that I am seeing the material for the first time while lesson planning. I really try to have concepts and examples broken down as simply as possible and work up to adding things in. I always assume we need to review things they should have already learned, and so far I have been very right—we do. I use very little English, and the English I do use is translated, gestured, defined and written down and/or repeated by students. My students are incredibly patient with me when I try to explain an activity in English/Swahili. Students are excited to come to the board especially because most of the time we clap for people who come up (whether they are right or wrong). We are not to the point where I can communicate, “If you have questions, you need to ask. Don’t just say you understand because you think it is what I want to hear.” But they are getting more comfortable giving right or wrong answers instead of not volunteering if they are not sure..I think this is because I’ve demonstrated that I have no problem standing up at the board and waiting as long as it takes for different people to volunteer, haha.
I am only with my current class for four-five weeks. Realistically this isn’t enough time to help them pass a gov’t exam or to reteach them everything they should have learned by this point. So, as with everything here, we are progressing “pole pole.” Slowly. Teaching is my favorite part of my day. My students laugh at me when I run away from the bees in the room. They have even tried to chase them down for me with their notebooks. I’m happy they can see what it is like to receive encouragement from a teacher. If someone comes to the board and starts doing a problem incorrectly, there are always a couple little whispery voices telling them why it’s wrong so they can fix it. I am happy to give them a space to help and support each other. I love the times when after someone answers something correctly, students initiate the clapping (not me). This experience so far has made me VERY excited to have my own class(es) for two years.