According to Namibian Ministry of Education the school year officially started last Tuesday, Jan 17. However as I’ve come to learn, starting dates are more liquid than in the states. We had only 66 learners in the whole school that first day, we didn’t even follow a schedule. I was with my register class, grade 6, for the entire morning and ended up running out of things to do. We did a fill in the blank worksheet about class rules and policies, and then I had each learner draw a star with their name in the middle and on each point draw or write a goal they have for life, for the schoolyear, for math class, someone who would help them with that goal, and what the could do themselves to accomplish that goal. Even in doing all that I was left with lots of time and stumbling to find something to do, I had them write worksheets with the numbers 1 -100 on them for our Worksheet for a Sticker Wednesday, but failed to actually explain worksheet for a sticker to the new learners. Needless to say, it was a bit of a rough and unorganized first morning, although I will say I am proud of the stars the kids made. I don’t know if they had thought about goals before, especially what they want to be when they grow up. I was happy to give them all the chance to use their imagination and dream for the future Many of them want to be nurses, doctors, lawyers and soccer players. I hope the activity gave them each a chance to believe in themselves. Encouragement isn’t dished out regularly in Okahitua. Most of the conversations between adults and kids fall along the lines of yelling to do something, or telling them to stop doing something.
I did the same goal seeking exercise with grade 7 and grade 5. Grade 7 was great, their English is good enough to understand my basic instructions and each person came up with some really great goals. Grade 5 struggled. It became clear that many of them didn’t understand my English. when I was giving directions and they saw me write “Ms. Mathias” in the middle of the star I was making as an example, some wrote “Ms Mathias” in their star instead of their own name. It was definitely frustrating, but their undestanding can only improve from here right?
Now I have a star up for every one of my learners on the wall in my classroom under a banner I made that says “Reach for the Stars!” (thanks Woody from Toy Story for that phrase). Its there to remind the kids not to be afraid to work hard and make their goals come ture. The volunteer before me told me that getting the learners’ names on the wall quickly would stop them from writing all over everything, so the stars serve that purpose also. So far it’s worked.
The rest of the last week went without a schedule. After day one it became clear to me that I was the only teacher doing anything in my classroom, The rest of the teachers had the learners sit, or clean the class during the day. I took that time to keep going over the rules and classroom procedures. I’m happy to say that after repeatedly going over it, 90% of my learners know to raise 2 fingers when they have to go to the toilet, 3 to ask me a question and 1 to answer a question. Getting up to leave at the end of the day is still a bit of a struggle for grade 5, but after I assign them spots in the queue (line), I hope they will stop hitting each other to be in the front or the back.
I played a pretty fun card game with grade 6 and 7 last week to review basic addition and multiplication. It was Ms. Mathias vs the class to see who could get to 100 first pulling two cards at a time. Each round we added all the numbers, and found the difference between the two scores . The kids got really into it, I could hear them whispering “two, two, two” when a learner was drawing a card for me, or blowing on their fingers for good luck before choosing. I think it was a great way to ease them back into doing some math.
This week, although the official start of the schoolyear with the school schedule, has been lax as well. Monday went smoothly, in grade 5 and 6 we went over rules again, and played the game to 100. In grade 7 we started with place value. I read over the weekend that before teaching each place value it is good to make sure the learners have a good grasp of number sense and a good way to teach number sense is to use poker chips with different values for each color. I didn’t have poker chips, but I did have different color plastic dividers and covers from all the manuals Peace Corps handed out… and now I have chips! I had grade 7 make different numbers and subtract or add with the chips. By the end of the period they had a pretty good grasp of it, and on Tuesday I added a hundreds place. The physical exchange of one blue token for ten white token makes it easy to understand why we have to borrow in subtraction. Plus they aren’t used to be able to use things in class besides a pencil and paper, so its been an nice change of pace for htem.
Tuesday in the staff meeting it was decided that Wednesday classes would be canceled and all of the learners would work clearing the soccerfield of weeds and grass so we could start athletics. Athletics are a big deal at the beginning of the year. I’m still not sure what they are, but I hear its something like track and field. All the learners grade 1-7 and the teachers are split into two teams and practice every day for an in house competition (although if its just track and field couldn’t we do it without the teams, most events are individual anyway). We have to have our in house competition by next Friday, so it has been decided that Wednesday and Thursday the kids will clear the field and Friday they will start practicing. That means no more classes and I’m finished teaching for the week. Apparently the change in schedule is common in many schools all around Namibia (learning is not always the main priority in school, not if the teacher needs something cleaned, or grass to be cleared, or the teacher is tired). It makes me wonder why the learners come. Half the day they sit in an empty classroom with nothing to do. I guess they get to see their friends, and now they’ll get to practice math!
Ok, back to worksheet for a sticker. I completely stole this idea from the volunteer before me. Every Wednesday instead of doing a lesson the learners do a worksheet with 100 problems on it. They start out with addition, and have 20 minutes to do the worksheet. If they get 97 or more correct they get a sticker on the chart I have on the bulletin board and they have to get three stickers to move on to the next level. But! If they get 97 or more the first time they do the worksheet they can get three stickers the first time and automatically move on to the next level whether it be subtraction, multiplication, divisision, or the mix up worksheet of all operations. Lucky for me, grade 6 and 7 did the worksheet last year so it needed only a little explanation and everything went smoothly. But I must say, I botched it with grade 5. When I first had them flip their papers and start working, I noticed nearly half the class just staring at the paper. So I stopped the clock and explained everything again, but still some kids were confused. The poor language barrier is so huge, I really need to learn some more Otjiheraro. After the twenty minutes most of them understood the directions, but when I graded it became clear to me that grade 5 needs help with basic addition. So! On Monday that’s where we will start. I just hope that by the end of the term we can get through addition, subtraction, even and odd numbers, place value, multiplication and division. I have my hopes up that these kids will catch on, they haven’t had a true math teacher in a while. I can’t say this for sure, but I think in many places lower primary teachers neglect to teach math because they themselves don’t like it and aren’t good at it and the kids suffer from it. At least that stops in upper primary: In my classroom there will be learning, lots and lots of learning (I hope!)
My classroom is starting to take shape. I have posters of rules and consequences, learners’ stars, and a few other posters up. I hope to make some more posters with basic math concepts to put up around the room and hope htat when the learners finish their work they will stare at them and the information will sink in.
Today is Wednesday. I spent the day pulling weeds in the soccer field with my grade 6 class. It was nice being with them outside the classroom, I feel like I got to know some of the learners better. They even spoke in English with me and taught me some new otjiheraro words. I have a feeling our class relationship is just starting to take form, but its going to turn out nicely.
At Ludwig Ndinda the teachers have a tea club for tea break. Every day one teacher is responsible for making food for the other teachers. Most of the time its some sort of meat, bread, and sauce, all cooked during the period before break. Yup, the teachers leave their classes and skip out on teaching to cook for the other teachers, seems kind of backwards doesn’t it? I have to cook for the tea club tomorrow, and have been toying with ideas for the past few weeks. I finally settled on making a cake instead of some sort of hot meat dish. Cakes can be made the day before, and is easy to make. I also played around and made some homemade orange/ lemon sherbet that I’ll serve with it. I hope it goes well! If not, next time I’ll be making a namlish version of tuna noodle casserole.
I had my first overly sexist issue during a tea break this week. One of the female teachers was handing out cups of punch and gave me a cup before one of the male teachers. Now, this male teacher is pretty modern and up to beat on cultural issues so his reaction surprised me. He said, “Um excuse me, this is Africa, men get served before women. Even if I don’t want the drink, I can have it sit here for two hours if I want but I should be served first”. The female teacher apologized repeatedly and then gave him a cup. It was appalling. I didn’t know what to do so I just sat there shocked and didn’t say anything, but it stuck with me all day. I mean, what is the big deal? He didn’t even want the drink, why did he have to insist that he’s served first? Ideas raced through my head all day. I know it was just a small little part of the day, but I realize that it was the first time since second grade when a kid yelled “Girls can’t play ball” that I had been hit with a directly sexist comment, at least that I can remember. Does it mean that this teacher thinks he is superior to me in other was solely because he is a man? I’ve known Heraro culture was sexist; men get served first and get to sit in the front of the car, but I had never experienced someone making such a huge deal out of it. Part of me wishes I said something, but this is the culture I’m living in I have to be careful with what I say.
Every day school gets out at 1:30 and I’m left with nothing to do but plan lessons. Life here is very relaxing. I have been reading, writing letters, cooking, baking, running watching movies and tv shows on my computer, and soon I’ll start to learn harmonica. Even if I do all of that in one day I can still get a solid nights sleep before starting it all again tomorrow. It’s a pretty nice life I live here.
I’ll fill you in again once I really get into some actual teaching. So far its just been games and review, next week I’ll start the real deal being a teacher and I’m sure I’ll have some great stories to share!
Ka uhare nawa!
Mo aka Maureen aka Maureena aka Iwaneka aka Ms Mathias aka Madam Mathias (my least favorite)