Sunday, January 17, 2010

First Day of School

January 13th marked the first day of school for the learners in my village. I woke up that morning excited because it was my first day, too. But this time, I would be on the other side of the desk.

The first day is always exciting—new books, new friends, new stories to tell. As a new educator, mine was no different. I was very excited to get to know my two new classes. I am teaching Grade 5 Technology (about 45 learners) and Grade 10 Physical Science (19 learners) for the coming year. My first day and first week were better than I could have imagined!

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Of course, as is tradition in many American families, there always has to be a First Day of School photo. (Mom, you can add this to my other first days of school.)




The learners in Grade 5 on the first day were rather quiet for me. They followed directions, but I could tell they seemed hesitant of their new teacher, whether it was my accent, my speaking English, the color of my skin, or just that I was new (maybe a combination). Whatever it was, they’d bashfully smile and giggle at my requests and not much more, but after some coaxing and gestures, they got to working on their in-class assignments. I was anticipating such a reaction, so I brought my world maps with me just in case of a reluctant class. After asking a few volunteers to help hold the map (master map holders!) and others to come to the front and guess where America was, I got a blaze of hands flailing in the air and grasping for attention just so that Mr. T (me) would call on them to come to the board and have a swing at pointing out America on the map. And with some help, we found it! Way over across the ocean, even! Who would have thought that someone could travel that far—and how long!? 18 hours in an airplane!? Woooowwww…

I wish I could say Grade 10 was prepared to have class with me, but alas, they were busy getting books and supplies for all their classes. So, our first official class was postponed until Friday. When we did finally have class, they were right there, following along with me! They raised their hands with questions and answers; they interrupted me if they didn’t understand something I said (which I encouraged any time they couldn’t understand my accent); they started working on their first homework assignment I gave to them; and after class, there were some learners who approached me with more clarification questions! It was a dream-class come true for me. Now, these things I mentioned may seem a little basic in some of your minds, but let me mention that for many reasons, this is a good sign for the first week: first off, I’ve observed as well as test-taught a class or two since being here and noticed the lack of participation by the learners overall; and secondly, I am not a professional teacher by any means, so I’m starting from the basics and taking it one step at a time; and thirdly, I’m new to them as an educator, so I can’t expect us to all walk into the same classroom and have the same expectations right away. But, we’re getting to know each other and this is a very good start. Now, I’m not trying to count my chickens before they hatch, but I can’t help but be cautiously optimistic about our year together.

Friday’s class with Grade 5 was just as productive and fun—for all of us! The learners came prepared for the lesson and had a fun review on safety using our whole body (we all stand up, point to each body part and speak together): head—think about safety; ears—listen to instructions; eyes—watch out for dangerous situations; mouth—tell someone if you see something dangerous; hands—watch where you put your hands when you work; tools (hold onto your pencil or a ruler)—keep tools clean and organized; and feet (this one makes everyone laugh: everyone grabs their foot)—walk carefully when you are working! We even drew our own picture of a person to go along with it; as a class, we decided to name him “Boy.” Safety first—it’s a lesson we don’t want to learn the hard way!

So, I guess I should explain why they call me Mr. T. Back in September when I first arrived to my village, I was given my Setswana name, Thuto (“2-toh”), by the community. Thuto means ‘education’ in Setswana—rather fitting, don’t you think? Since then, it’s grown on me to be almost as close as my real American name. I am Thuto to everyone here. I also took on my host family’s surname, Mongwaketse. I love the name, what it means and the fact that the community gave it to me. There are a few variations that I’ve come to respond to: Thutas, Thuta, Mr. T, Mr. Thuto, Mr. Mongwaketse, and whatever else someone wants to call me. Nna ke Thuto Mongwaketse (I am Thuto Mongwaketse). So, that’s the story behind Mr. T.

My final thought: the one worry that I had coming into this as a new educator, which intimidated me to no end about teaching, was the assessments and how to go about being fair and give an appropriate workload to the learners. However, in just a few short days, my fears have quickly dwindled, now seeing that all assessments and workload recommendations are given from above. The National Curriculum Standard (NCS) through the National Dept. of Education has everything set up through their guidelines so that everything is standardized down to the very basic level. I now feel at ease with a big weight lifted off my shoulder—someone already took care of the hard part and left the fun part for me: being in class with the kids.

This is going to be a good year. Salang Sentle—Stay Well

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