Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Biggest Accomplishment Ever

This past weekend I made the always-desired squeaking noise when I handwashed three bathtubs full of laundry!!! Only took almost a solid year. Actually I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it again, but still very proud. There’s nothing like the sight of your clothes turning the water black and hearing that magical squeak. It came after adding a TON of laundry detergent powder… so why do my clothes still not smell so clean?

On a different note… A couple things that have been going on at school -- So the Ministry of Education has a program called Window of Hope, which basically helps boost self-esteem and address the emotions of learners in the presence of HIV/AIDS. I volunteered to be one of the facilitators of this program for a group of the Grade 6s, and I have loved it so far! Some of the sessions we’ve had involved topics such as ‘why I am special,’ ‘why friends are important,’ ‘why our family is important,’ and ‘how to cope with anger.’ We did lots of talking, played games, I read some stories, and we sang awesome songs! Our Term 2 session just wrapped up yesterday with a party – and don’t forget the handing out of certificates! It is not legitimate unless you receive a certificate at the end of it = reason why I now have a certificate for skydiving in Swakopmund and going in the hot air balloon in Sosussvlei. I brought some American snacks from my secret hoard, which the kids LOVED, and they brought some traditional food and various cooldrink/lekkers. I got to try traditional owambo bread, which is made with mahangu. 

Most of my Window of Hope group at our party!
Also, the past few days I underwent the torturous process of marking the previously mentioned exams. I was pleasantly surprised by some of the essays I received. Given the prompts, many of my learners displayed really great creativity! I thought I would share with you one of the essays from one of my favorite/also smartest learners – his name is Ghiovanni and what he wrote literally made me laugh out loud, partly because it was so different from the rest of the answers to this question, but also because its hilarious! I’ve corrected most of the spelling/punctuation here it so it can be read more easily.

Prompt: The old woman has been in hospital for 2 months now. She takes her tablets three times a day. One day she refuses to drink her tablets. Write a funny story about it.

One day Grandma Phumzy striked the lottery. Guess what happened? She won 1.3 million. She was so happy she laughed and laughed and laughed. At the same time she felt a very anxious pain in the stomach. Grandma Phumzy didn’t know it was wind in her stomach that let her pain. She fell to the ground and phoned the doctor. The ambulance came in ten minutes. They hurried back to the hospital. The doctor said “Grandma Phumzy you were drinking too many fizzy drinks and the gas aimed straight at the stomach and when you laugh the gas will hurt you.” It was true she bought many fizzy drinks because she loved them. The doctor gave her tablets, she drank them three times a day and then decided she wouldn’t drink them anymore. The doctor asked why and she replied “the tablets make me puff a lot.” The doctor laughed and said “the tablets are made to make someone puff.”

*embarrassingly enough I did not realize what puffing was until a learner explained it to me using some quality gestures. This is a huge cause of disruption in my class “Miss this one is puffing!!!” is guaranteed to simultaneously start a fight, cause 10 learners to cover their faces with their shirts, and start general disorder around the room as kids start pushing chairs around to get the windows opened.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Angriest I've Been In Peace Corps

Sooooo as I’ve mentioned, this term Grade 6 read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and most people were really into it. To wrap up our unit, I had an exam that integrated parts of the book into the mandated term exams - part 1: continuous writing and part 2: reading and directed writing. I came back from this ICT training and printed it out, went to the office and was immediately told to go staple my exams. As usual, being perpetually uninformed about everything, I stood there with my exam in hand and a puzzled look on my face, since I had not made copies yet. What??? Well, apparently I had to use the cluster exam.

Aside: In Namibia, schools from the same area sometimes get together and make plans for subjects. The goal is to work with other teachers of the same subject in coming up with a solid year plan. This works better in some regions than others – in Luderitz, for who knows what reason, our cluster was prohibited from meeting and planning together this year. Again, for some unknown reason, this somehow did not prevent cluster-designated exams. WHAT? Why is one person from these three schools writing an exam for English/Science/Math/etc? Especially if we didn’t lesson plan together, this does not accurately test what the kids learned, and how are you supposed to tell the kids to study for an exam that you didn’t yourself write or even see!?!?! Ay tog.

Back to me in the school setting. I proceed to plead with my principal to be able to use my exam. I told my kids that the exam was on the book we’ve been reading, this is ruining my credibility with them – nope not going to work. Then I look at this exam. Not only did whoever write this blatantly take one of the questions from the exam not even a year ago, but it is horribly written – I mean complete carelessness, not to mention the blandest of prompts. I go back to my principal, and continue to argue that this is not good, I want to use my exam!!!! I then tell him its poorly written – I am told that is a matter of opinion.

By the next day, flames are almost shooting out of my head after I read through this exam again. I went to each of the four sections of Grade 6 and apologized to them that they had to take this exam, and had to explain some of the questions that just didn’t make sense. I then told them to treat the questions like they treat my daily warm-ups, which involve correcting grammar in sentences. I told them to correct the improper prompts so I could see what grammar they learned, and that I would find another way for them to take my exams. As I walked out of the door to let them write these exams, one of my learners pulled me aside and pointed out one of the numerous grammatical errors – fyi, this kid literally is getting a D in English [which is a 29-45 out of 100], but was able to find the blatant errors.

I proceed to go into my classroom, take out my red pen, and go through that exam and mark every error, circling the ones that are simply unacceptable. By the end, the pages were covered in red. With my evidence, I walk to the office, but alas the principal is gone. I am instead directed to the staff room to staple part 2 of the English exams. What do I find? This exam is EVEN WORSE than the first!!!! Words don’t express my anger. I go to the computer lab to cool off so I don’t start crying in frustration [this is becoming a trend, Peace Corps is making me so emotional!]. The principal finds me there, and I show him my red-marked first exam, and point out the absurd second exam, saying how this is too embarrassing to even begin with. He sees my reason – at first I think he was annoyed because I was so persistent/this was a hassle of a problem to address/properly fix, but then he realized this was ridiculous, and said that he would call the principal from the other school and have the second exam emailed over so I could correct it, because there was too much gross negligence going on. That principal got angry as a result [duh, because it was embarrassing that his school wrote this]. But, a couple hours later I fixed it to a somewhat more presentable quality – some things were beyond simply correcting grammar.

This story still makes me angry because the point is – how are these kids supposed to take their schooling seriously if their teachers aren’t taking their teaching seriously? Honest to God whoever wrote these exams did not spend even a single minute proofreading to find the insane typos/realize this was entirely unreadable English. There have been many trying moments in this job, but this exam saga was the most upset I’ve been about incompetency in the workplace since I began Peace Corps a year ago. In my opinion, whoever wrote that exam should be fired – for embarrassing him/herself, for lowering English standards, and most importantly, for having written something that makes the 350 Grade 6 learners in Luderitz feel like their studies are a joke and they’re not worth someone spending a respectable amount of time writing a decent exam, one that reflects their hard work. #frustration

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Schooling Differences

Things have just gotten so routine over here at Diaz Primary, but I thought maybe I could reflect upon some things from my schooling years that are somewhat or very different from my school here.

American Primary School
Namibian Primary School
An automated bell rings at the end of the period
The bell rings whenever the secretary/whoever is in the office gets up to ring it… sometimes it rings early, sometimes the secretary forgets about it and I end up with rowdy kids because my lesson plan is finished. Also, the bell here sounds like what I imagine an air raid siren sounded like during World War II. True story.
There is a large building on school grounds, in which you find the offices, classrooms, and other assorted important rooms to a school. Often this involves STAIRS and even better HALLWAYS.
No stairs, no central building with everything, no hallways. Unless you count the hallway being the great outdoors. Classrooms are lined up in blocks. Stairs are pretty unheard of here.
There is a librarian, and generally someone in charge of the computer lab. Learners have access to the library and the computer lab.
There is no full-time librarian/computer lab person. Currently I am librarian along with another teacher. At the start of Term 3 hopefully I will share computer lab responsibilities with an ICT committee of teachers. As of now learners are not allowed into the computer lab at my school.
There is a gym. Maybe even a field on which you can play sports.
My school’s grounds are made of sand [#desertlife]. There are three concrete platform type things where we have PE and assembly, and learners practice netball. During track season, they run outside the gates of the school on the gravel/sand/rocks barefoot.
There is a cafeteria!!!!!!!! And a different time for recess!
Learners race outside of the classroom at break time to line up and receive their food outside the soup kitchen. Havoc ensues outside with 970 learners running around for 40 minutes. There is just one break, as school ends at 1:30.
There are class sets of fiction books to use in English class. There are also textbooks, spelling books, vocabulary books.
We have a class set of English textbooks. However, I find them boring/not challenging enough, so we literally never use them. I hoarded my copy paper to make a class set of copies of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Students wear whatever they want, within reason/a dress code
Learners have a set uniform.
If you fail the grade, you repeat it, end of story.
In Namibia, you can fail and repeat a grade just once during each phase of school. At the primary school level, the phases are Grade 1-4 and Grade 5-7. This means if you fail grade 3, but you have already failed grade 2 and repeated that year, you get passed on. Once you hit Grade 5 and fail only then will you repeat that year again, but just the once.  This consequently means I have about 6 learners who are completely illiterate, even though they are in Grade 6 and about 13/14 years old. Things start to get more serious with regards to failing in secondary school.
If you get a 66 you pass the year.
If you get a 29 for the year you pass. [will have to go into the marking system at another time, it’s a whole other story]
If you are bad, you go to detention.
If you are bad, you probably get beaten. And if you are Miss Nowlin, the boys don’t care how they act towards you because you aren’t going to hit them, and they run home instead of coming to detention.
If you are a teacher and have something to do, you do it yourself
If you are a teacher and have something to do, you send a child to do it for you. 
Students write however they want to, unless they have specific instructions from teachers
Learners are obsessed with ensuring that their notes are written perfectly, and take their time writing to make sure of this. They are also obsessed with drawing lines [using their oft fought over rulers] under their notes when topics are complete. In my classroom some children love asking me if they should draw a line when they’re done, because I get annoyed and another child shouts in their imitation American accent “Miss N doesn’t caaaaaaaare!!”
Handouts are common, whether as worksheets or homework assignments
Paper is a precious commodity, and has to be used sparingly --> lots of note taking from the board

Namjam of the month: this is a song that my learners got me hooked on during one of our recent Fun Friday dance parties. I actually like the version I have of them singing and dancing to it better, but I can’t seem to find the video on my computer! I BELIEVE