First of all, I should mention that I’m about three inches away from losing my mind. My learners write their exam tomorrow and I have been going crazy trying to prepare them for it. Some are obviously ready, and some can’t even identify letters correctly. One part of their exam is “continuous writing,” which is essentially just writing 80-100 words responding to a prompt. I gave many different options, and almost all of them were things we had spent a lot of time on, such as descriptions and writing stories. To prepare them for it, I gave them a “practice exam.” Oh, it was not good. As time passes, I am coming to learn that many learners know how to write a few simple sentences and, no matter what the prompt is, those are the sentences they write. No matter what I ask them to write about, they write their mother’s name and their father’s name and then a variety of random English words, generally spelled incorrectly.
I think I was on Excedrin for 48 hours straight, marking these papers. Some were absolutely wonderful and totally validate everything I have done this term, and some made it painfully obvious how terrible the education system is here. Throughout the term, I have approached the office about learners whose English level is way below where it should be, and I quickly came to realize that these learners have failed too many times and are now just being pushed up from grade to grade each year. These kids never catch up and although it’s depressing, I don’t know what to do. There are several struggling students who are finally taking the time to ask for help, but many seem as if they couldn’t care less. There is one learner in each of my sections whose English level is so low that there is no way I could possibly help them, so I gave some of my stronger students the responsibility of helping the struggling learners in Oshiwambo. I don’t know, maybe they were embarrassed, but they were so resistant. I have one learner, Zulinda, who never does her homework, has to be pressed to write her classwork, and obviously doesn’t understand anything. I find myself getting incredibly frustrated with her because when I reprimand her about not doing classwork, she laughs. When I approach her about her poor homework scores, she ignores me. Another problem learner, Mateus, is just a bully. His English skills are basically non-existent, and he is one of the learners that I asked the stronger learners to help. He then kicked Rauha, one of the bright learners, and threatened to beat them all after school. After this happened, I attempted to chastise him in English, and then ended up having to have a learner translate it into Oshiwambo, because his blank stare indicated he had no idea what I was saying. This obviously made the scolding rather anti-climactic and I’m not quite sure how I’m going to deal with his behaviour as time goes on.
Behaviour that I generally think of as “send to the office” worthy is a bit different here. Luckily I only have one major behavioural problem, but I would say it’s quite a big one. Physical violence seems to be quite common here, and every day I deal with at least one learner who hits another learner. As time goes on I’m also realizing that corporal punishment is widely practiced in my school. On the practice test I gave, one of the options was “describe your favourite teacher.” Many learners wrote about me and most of them wrote something like, “She is a good teacher because she doesn’t beat the learners.” Statements like that make me wonder how common beating is, and it reveals so much about why the learners behave the way that they do. I’ve given plenty of lectures on how terrible hitting other people is, but I’m thinking I might actually spend an entire class period on respecting others and behaving nicely. It’s strange because in America I feel like it was always the “bad kids” that got into fights at school, but here even the really kind, well behaved kids get into scuffs sometimes.
Today, for instance, we had English Club after school. I was waiting with my learners outside while the classroom was being cleaned, and in the ten minutes it took to clean the classroom two of my learners, Nelson and Elifas, had hit other people. The truth is that Nelson and Elifas are two of my favourite learners, but it wouldn’t be fair to tolerate their bad behaviour while scolding others for doing the same thing. I knew that they loved English class and being around me, so I thought a good punishment was not allowing them to come to English Club. They were so sad and begged to stay, but I insisted that they leave. English Club began and moments later I noticed Elifas and Nelson standing by the window, trying to listen to what was going on. I would ask a question and Nelson would actually raise his hand, from outside of the classroom, to answer the question. I didn’t call on him but I also didn’t make him leave. I allowed them to listen from outside of the window, and I hope that next time they think twice before hitting someone.
I just realized I have written a lot and have yet to even broach the subject of my blog title, which deals with my learners obsession with my baked goods. I’m not sure if I have mentioned this in previous blogs, but I’ve become a regular Betty Crocker since coming here. Muffins, cookies, cake… you name it, I make it. I’ve always had quite a sweet tooth and I guess that dessert is a bit of a comfort food for me, so I bake a lot. I began bringing my learners treats for various things, such as performing well on tests or always doing homework, and it has proved to be quite a successful motivator. In the “describe your favourite teacher” writing assignment I gave, almost all of them mentioned my cake/cookies. Today, when I told my learners to study, the first thing they all wanted to know was, “If I get an A, do I get cake?” I promised giant pieces of cake to all the learners who get As or Bs, and one learner then requested a piece of cake “the size of her head.” I agreed to her request and she then pointed out another learner’s head (that was bigger than hers!) and asked for a piece of cake the size of his head. I didn’t make any promises, but I think if she does really well I’m going to surprise her with a giant, head-sized piece on Monday. 🙂