September 27, 2013

Teaching {Jr. High} in Tanzania

Teaching Jr. High in Tanzania is:

Teaching four students in one class.
That are at four different grade levels in at least two different subjects.
Teaching one American and three Tanzanians.  One of which has only been speaking English for only a year.  Another who has been shoved through the public school system to Jr. High, despite the inability to math at a 2nd grade level.
Having a class of teenagers where more than half are less-than-eager to speak a single word, let alone engage in a class discussion.

... building Stonehenge with Keva blocks (I SO WANT some of these, they're awesome!), a ziggurat with legos, and a Minoan palace with paper in History class.
... memorizing The Apostle's Creed for the first six weeks of school.
... writing with chalk on a painted-on-the-concrete-wall-chalkboard
... a student volunteering to pray before class begins every day
... bringing the entire school together for chapel every Wednesday for corporate prayer, worship, games and a lesson.

... wearing flip-flops and getting dirty feet after a day of teaching
... an hour-long, duty-free lunch period, plus planning time every day that's never interrupted by meetings.
... being creative with the resources available and having fun doing it

... teaching every subject from a Christian worldview and discussing how it aligns with our beliefs

Teaching Jr. High in Tanzania is not exactly what I thought it would be - on so many levels.
And I must admit that these past four weeks have been a learning experience for me as well.  Learning how to work full time again, learning how to teach with much less resources than I had back in the States.  And to think that people complain about not having a Smart board, or a tablet, or that their PTA only gives them X amount of dollars for supplies.  I'm not trying to 'hate' - I was there too, but oh how things are different now.  We don't have dry erase boards, our laptops work most of the time, but internet access is touch-and-go and paid for by the GB.  Every child has a desk, but a lot of copies are made for text books.  If the power is on.  If we want a resource we either make it, make-shift it, or figure out how to do without it.
The hardest part is not the lack of resources though, or the heat, or the fan blowing papers all over the place.  The hardest part is understanding and overcoming the cultural barrier.  I teach my little heart out, give multiple examples, ask for the thumbs up if they understand, and give them an assignment.  I'm a good teacher, I've been told by my superiors in many different positions through the years.  I've been a teacher for 6 years, I know what I'm doing. And when I look over their shoulders I can see they have no idea what I just taught them.  They don't ask questions.  They pretend to know what they're doing.  Even to the point of just guessing and writing down words even if they don't make sense.  When I catch it in time and re-teach them, slowly, using different words and examples they smile and nod as if they understand.  Then the test comes Friday and it's a failing grade.  Shame plays a huge role in the culture here and the classrooms in public schools are a place where children are seen, but rarely heard.  The 'learn' by wrote memorization, not taught how to think critically, ask questions, generate discussion.  And though I'm a 'good' teacher with over half a decade of experience under my belt, I feel like a unicyclist on an ice rink, being told to do 'sprints' between the blue lines.
I know I'll get the hang of it.  We'll press on through this awkward stage together.  I have amazing support from administration that cares, and understands.  And I have amazing coworkers that help me brainstorm.  But I'm not gonna lie.  It's hard.  Frustrating.  And some days I just want to give up.
But then I remember what most of these kids came from.  And what an awesome opportunity it is for them to be in this amazing school, to be taught with a western teaching style, and to have a 1:4 teacher/student ratio rather than a 1:204.  And my heart gets excited for them, and I want to help.  To get to the root of the issue.  I'm caring less about the fact that they can't identify an adjective, and more about the fact that they feel ashamed to ask questions in class.  There's a deeper issue there, and I know God has placed me in the lives of these teenagers not only to teach them academics, but to teach them the unfailing love of the Father, and the never-ending grace that He offers.  He put me here to teach, to care, and to nurture these kids into individuals that are not afraid, or ashamed to ask questions, generate discussion, and think critically for themselves.  He put me here to show them His love, because where his love abounds, there is no shame, no fear... only freedom.  Only hope.