Posted by: kam6761 | April 5, 2008

Let them Eat Cake!

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. 🙂



  1. Kathryn: I very much like your gentle manner in which you let your learners have and eat their cake too…..but please, do not be like Marie Antoinette and lose your head over all of this. Tolerance, patience, humility, kindness, are every bit as learned as English…and these also take time to nurture, grow and measure. You are on the right path and your methods are admirable. Keep up the good work.

    Now I have really bad news for you. I am back from Argentina but I really don’t want to be. If I was one of your learners, you might feel the need to spank me as I do not want to concentrate on anything else but being there.

    You might laugh, but fairly often when we traveled I thought of you and Dan..and mostly it was over meals when we were served ENORMOUS portions of the most extraordinary food and the notion of your bugged-out Mac n’ Cheese came to mind.

    Unlike Namibia, finding good food of every conceivable kind in Argentina is not a problem. What is a problem is knowing how to consume it all in one seating. Meat, particularly beef and lamb, are central to their diets. Atkins followers should all move en masse to Argentina!

    We tried to undo this phenomenon by ordering half portions or sharing a meal and then we found that with EVERY meal we would end up getting extras – some for when we sat down, some for what was meant to accompany the dish, some because it was meant to end the meal, some just becuase they liked us.

    It was all becoming a bit too much for us….not because we did not appreciate it but becuase we simply could not digest a half a steer…even if we wanted to!

    Adding to our grief was knowing and watching good food go to waste. There is no such thing as a “doggy bag” or a “to go” container in Argentina. We finally relented and had to learn to accept the local customs.

    And to make matters worse for we middle-agers who seem to watch calories like your learners must watch video games…next to NO ONE in Argentina is fat! How do they do it? How can they possibly be served such enormous quantities at least three times a day and not get fat?

    Truthfully, I know the answer – virtually everything they eat is really good food and most often really well grown. Except for the somwhat odd encroachment of some American restaurants (Hooters and TGIF for instance) we saw very few fast food restaurants. Yes, they existed and yes, we were enjoying life at a fairly high level while there…but still, you saw very few Argentine’s eating junky food.

    I intend to write the US Dept. of Health and insist they take a massive caravan of so-called experts to Argentina to find out how to fix our obesity problem.

    I have decided that in my next life (frankly I’d just rather get on with it in this life) I want to be an Argentine.

    The people, culture, and way of life was so graceful, relaxed, thoughtful, generous…and the places we visited so exquisite. Four different micro-climates in all and each more beautiful and naturally perfect than the other.

    Glaciers, unlike in the rest of the world, are not receding and in some places are advancing. We enjoying trekkingon two of the most formidable and climbing some high vertical ice walls as well..pretty gnarly but exhilirating too.

    I wish I could tell you more but maybe if you do decide to go and teach English anywhere else, I can put in a good word for Argentina ; – )

    Lots of love and I am really happy to know you are feeling much better (health-wise) and do not have malaria or cholera. Now as far as your mental health goes, I am going to ask Dan to help you keep your head where it needs to be….becuase like that learner’s dream of the size of their to-be cake…your head is a very, very BIG one and we need to keep it around for a good many number of years.


  2. i just left a long comment and then it got deleted.


    anyway, i laughed out loud at this:
    “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 hope they start to request body-sized pieces of cake soon…wouldn’t THAT be motivation!! i think it’s so sweet of you to treat your learners with your beloved desserts!

    today is “catch up on lauren’s, daniel’s, and kathryn’s blogs” day because, shamefully, i have not been very up to date 😦 i’m sorry! BUT i am thoroughly enjoying getting caught up on all of these entries! i alternate back and forth between yours and daniel’s blogs, so that i can go in chronological order!

    i love reading about your experiences, but my heart does go out to you when i read about the harder situations like the “creepy crawlies” and your lack of water, the corporal punishment, cheating, and unlearned English. i know it’s taxing to get through all of these…well, trials… BUT you’re doing great and keeping your cool! and progress is being made in many areas, it seems, and i’m sure your learners are extremely appreciative of how much you want them to succeed! 🙂

    alrighty well…i’m going to continue reading reading reading! miss you!

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