What I’m Doing, Part II

This is Part II. I’d recommend reading Part I first.

The close of July marked the end of two weeks of teaching. A week ago, when I first drafted this post, I closed with the following paragraph:

You will never meet a class more enthusiastic to be in school, even if ‘school’ is more enjoyable as a concept than an undertaking (but then, that’s hardly unique to Zambian preschoolers). Children come to school dressed in their Sunday best, with backpacks or plastic bags or younger siblings in tow. By the time I arrive and unlock the building, I am greeted by 40 smiling faces and a chorus of ‘Teacher!’ ‘How are you? Fine’ and ‘Good morning’ and tiny hands shoving to be the first through the door.”

Although things have not changed in any major way in the last week, I am somewhat more critical of the current system. On a practical level, having an outsider teaching is not the best arrangement. I do not speak the language and am unfamiliar with the culture, to say nothing of the events of the village. When everyone in the village knows everyone else and most of those in neighboring villages, having an outsider teaching is a novelty. For me, it makes communication a challenge, as I do not speak Lozi, the local language and only language many of the children speak. On a personal level, I’m not overly fond of working with children, something I already knew but which is now refreshed in my mind on a daily basis. I am not the best person for the job. Far better to have someone who the students already know and who can communicate meaningfully with the children.

Thankfully, an arrangement has been reached. After two days of me and Zach in the classroom struggling to communicate such basic necessities as “sit”, “stand”, and “be quiet”, the Turners connected with M—, a Year 12 graduate with a 2-year-old son who agreed to help teach.

As far as I’m concerned, M— is a godsend. She comes to class every day with a plan in mind. She tells the children what to do in both English and Lozi, so they understand what they are being told while learning English. And she is a second person. In a classroom which we have pared down to *only* 40 children, having two people makes everything run more smoothly. One of us can teach at the blackboard while the other quiets the students, separates those involved in the inevitable scuffles, and generally maintains discipline. And both of us can work one-on-one with the older kids on their letters and numbers. We can tag each other out teaching whenever one of us gets tired of shouting to be heard over the kids.

Even so, we are both exhausted at the end of the three-hour class period. We usually plan for the next day and draft materials before M— goes home.

*       *       *       *       *

I much prefer afternoon sessions. Starting last week, we began a women’s literacy program (although calling it a program makes it sound much more organized than it actually is). Every afternoon, the women come in, about half of them carrying babies in cloth slings over their shoulder. The women, most of whom went to school for only a couple of years if at all, want to learn English and maths.

I enjoy working with the adults in a way I don’t with the children. They are attentive and really want to learn, and there are a manageable number. Most of them speak at least some English.

The first week has not been consistent, for a number of reasons. Firstly, the women want me to teach them, whereas I want to implement a structure sustainable without my input, in hopes of it continuing after I’m gone. This becomes a challenge when the women do not voice their views. Although they speak English, they do not say much in class. It’s a cultural thing: people do not question authority. And even though I do not view myself as an authority figure, the women do. So I hear what the women have to say only indirectly.

Secondly, there is a huge range of reading and education levels in the group. There are nine or so women who have been coming. Of those, several have completed Year 6 or higher in school, most of the others can read on a second- or third-grade level, one can just begin to read, and one doesn’t know the alphabet.

Despite challenges, I have great hopes for the group. We have plans to divide our time between maths and English. In the latter subject, I have told them I would like to divide into two groups: those who know how to read already and would like to improve their skills, and those who are just learning to read. The plan is for me to spend half of our time dedicated to English with each group and for the women to work with the materials I bring the other half of the time.

Of course, one thing I’ve learned here is that things change suddenly and in ways completely out of my control. So the entire plan could go out the window on Monday. We shall see.

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