Friday, February 19, 2010

School Atmosphere

Since people keep reminding me that even the dullest day here is (apparently!) interesting to you, I thought I might take this opportunity to describe the atmosphere at the school. There’s no real coherent way to do this, but here are the main points
-During break, after school, and between classes kids are everywhere. They are shouting, talking, eating and everything you would expect of school children in the U.S. The big difference I have been able to see is the violence. Hitting, chasing with ropes and sticks, punching, tackling someone in the dust, putting something in a head lock are all things that at my elementary school would have gotten you sent to the principal’s office. Here, it’s a constant.
- The kids are little worker bees, and I don’t necessarily mean in class. They are sent to do errands all the time. The littler ones usually can be seen picking up trash in handfuls from around the school grounds to take to a trash can. The older boys are used for carrying stones, desks, chairs, trash to be burned, branches cut off a tree that’s being torn down, etc. And children of all ages are used to run errands for teachers—they buy snacks during break, make tea or juice in the staff room, carry books, deliver messages, sweep classrooms, anything. But this isn’t seen as a chore, or necessarily a privelege. It’s just assumed that they will complete the task and they do it without seeming to mind. My politeness when I ask a favor (can I look at your book? Will you show me where this is?) is lost on them, because they are expected to do things all the time.
- Copying a paragraph or summary off the board is a completely acceptable way to teach/learn. This might explain why some of my kids are so behind. In the younger classes singing a song over and over and over is how something is taught. I know this because the library is right next to the grade 1 classroom and I hear them sing the same song every single day at LEAST 10 times. I’ve learned it, so I’ll share:
I love mathamatics
And how about you?
I love doing adding
One plus one is two.
There are four more lines too, but they’re usually so jumbled I can’t tell what they’re saying.
-Classes are not all that important. Teachers have no problem walking into a class and asking me questions or for a favor in the middle of me teaching. It’s incredibly frustrating for me when someone wants me to fix the computer in the office and I have to explain why I need to wait 20 minutes to finish class. Similarly, they have no problem pulling kids out of my class to discussed the aforementioned chores expected of students. It also means that if a teacher is busy or forgets sometimes a class just isn’t taught and obviously if someone is sick there are no substitute teachers. This means a class full of students is expected to sit at their desks and make relatively little noise for a 40 minute period or however long it takes for their teacher to show up.

These are the biggest differences I’ve observed. They can sometimes be incredibly frustrating, but also great if I learn to take advantage. I can get lots of work done using students as helpers and take periods where they’re sitting quietly without a teacher as an opportunity to practice skills we don’t have time for in class or do some quality bonding with fun games. When it comes down to it though, being here makes me realize kids are kids the whole world round!

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