Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Mwalimu Christina

Today was my first day of teaching! Oh, you didn't know I'd be teaching? Neither did I, but I'm really glad I started.

My day began fighting for a seat on three dala dalas to get to Loyola Jesuit High School. I walked into the math department, hoping to speak with the teacher who I'd be assisting for the day. She handed me a notebook with the information that was to be covered in the Form 1 math classes before the end of the month. She walked me to the classroom and announced “This is Miss Christina. She'll be teaching your math class each Monday.” Then she left—not something I was prepared for. I'm really glad I remembered how to do long division... and short division... and prime factorization. That was a nerve-wracking experience, to say the least. The kids were great though. Form 1 students range in age from about 10 to 14 years old. This all depends on when their parents put them in school or sometimes how quickly they are able to learn English if their primary school was taught in Swahili. This first class was really fun to teach. They were all participating and knew way more than I expected. These kids could rattle off every prime number past 50! And they could perform pretty advanced division in their heads. I was really impressed.

The second class could take a few lessons from my first class. This group was right after lunch so they were rowdy and definitely didn't want to be in school. It made me rethink all those times I was whispering and passing notes in class. I'm so sorry to all my former teachers... now I understand. It seemed like a never-ending hour and a half.

Later in the day I met up with Chris from the Rotaract Club. He was taking me to Mwenge to teach English. I wasn't aware of any details like what age group, level of understanding, or what they needed to learn (grammar, vocabulary, verb tenses, etc). We walked up to some shops along the street and then ducked into an alley that led behind all the shops to a soccer field. Adults were playing an organized game with many spectators relaxing after a long, hot day. It was fun, but where was the classroom? Apparently after dark, they take out two chalkboards, screw in a couple small light bulbs under a roof and call it a classroom. Adult students began to stroll in have a seat on the rickety benches. Finally a young man named Kevin showed up. He explained that he teaches the beginners class, and usually American volunteers will teach the advanced class. Those volunteers didn't show up yet, so he asked me to teach them. What was I supposed to teach?!? He said I could teach about anything as long as I try to engage them in conversation. They are looking to perfect their conversation skills, and what better way than to listen to a native English speaker.

I began by asking the seven students to talk a bit about their favorite pastime. Many said football. Others said they enjoy being an accountant (even though they weren't actually an accountant), exercising, watching sports and playing chess.
I asked what they wanted to learn about, but no one had any suggestions. First I went over some tricky verbs like do, have, think, write, and make in past, present, and future. It was informative, but not exactly fun to learn about. So I started talking about the solar system. I remembered most of my facts about the sun from this song called “the sun is a mass of incandescent gas” by They Might Be Giants. It's definitely worth listening to.
Some of the students were very knowledgeable about the solar system in both Swahili and English, but there were a few students who had no idea that there were any planets other than Earth! Can you imagine how shocking it must've been for these adults to realize for the first time that there is something so much greater out there? They were blown away when we discussed the possibility of life on another planet.

Something in common with all the students was confusion surrounding Pluto's failure to qualify as a planet anymore. We were all quite disappointed when that fact came about.

I must admit that I was so inspired by these seven ladies and gentlemen. Each of them was an adult who worked all day long. Every night they come to these lessons to improve their English in a completely voluntary setting. None of them were falling asleep or fidgeting or visibly discontented. They all wanted to be there! The setting was not conducive to teaching whatsoever, but that didn't stop them from being 100% attentive. It was such a great group to work with because they are learning for all the right reasons. I sincerely look forward to teaching these students again.

They meet every night during the week from 7:30-9pm. My only concern is finding the place by myself... it seems unlikely. I might not get there again until I have someone show me where it is. My sense of direction is horrible!

My family was just starting dinner as I got home.
And the night concluded with another glorious bucket shower :)  


  1. I'm so glad your first teaching experiences went so well! See, just like I said, you're a natural-born teacher! Keep up the good work Miss Christina :)

  2. I'm so disappointed about Pluto. I don't like only having eight planets. :-( Other interesting questions to ask to get conversations started:

    ~Who is your hero and why?
    ~If you could go any where in the world (money's not an issue) where would you go and why?
    ~What's the earliest memory you have? (past tense yay!)

    Or you could teach them slang. I don't think that would help them as much.

  3. Thanks Marissa!

    And Jenn--those are great ideas! I'm definitely going to ask about them next time I teach there. Maybe not the slang part... If they're trying to impress people to buy their crafts, yelling slang is probably going to scare the customers away lol

  4. That's amazing!! Look at you, educating people in english AND science! WiSTEM MVP.

  5. i have trouble figuring out write vs. wrote, but incandescent, no biggy.