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And for once I was SuperMom

Friday, February 12, 2010

Working in Africa

What is it like teaching in Africa?
First I teach in a strange school. Rosslyn is an international Christian school. The students are largely missionary kids, embassy kids, or upper class Africans. We have 44 nationalities represented. Every time I get a roll sheet I have no idea what gender half the students are, much less how to pronounce their names. I have turned the initial attendance call into a joke, to take the pressure off the poor kids who are sitting there with clenched shoulders waiting for this new white lady with a fat consonant squashing American accent mis-pronounce their name. The students are phenomenally well behaved. They come into my class and know exactly what to do and get started without prompting. Most are motivated by grades, so even in a class like mine where they think Art may not count for nothin' at least they want a good grade, so to keep their GPA. The worst behavioral problem I have is cell phones going off in class.
Most African schools lack funding, teachers are teaching off dirt or cement floors and are lucky if their compound gets water or electricity. Resources are scarce and usually gained through prayer rather than a budget. At Rosslyn I was handed what I thought to be a fat budget to order supplies from the US. I haven't been able to spend the whole sum either year. I tried pretty hard though...
My classroom is huge with big picture windows. I had the main wall painted a deep orange, the tables are aqua, I had aqua curtains made, and am attempting to achieve some kind of color harmony in the room. While I love my room there are drawbacks. It is always covered in a light film of red dust. No matter how much I wipe it's always there. So there I am in my business dress casual hacking through layers dirt, up on stools getting supplies and bending down to pick up the leftovers of my students always with marks on the knees of my dress pants. I have begun to make my 6th grade boys clean, in the vein of, 'it's not that fun to do a quick job on your art and finish first.' No free draw, you wipe counters.
My class is on the third floor. Now somehow pumping water up to my class is an almost impossible task. About once a day a student looks at me and says, 'Mrs. Barnett the water is finished.' One of my faucets makes this horrible sucking noise, it will often go off on a face-melting solo right in the middle of lecture. I think it knows....
Then there is the vermin. Lord have mercy on me, there is the vermin. My classroom last year was infected with three inch long fuzzy brown spiders that apparently had a poisonous necrofying bite. I would find about one a day. That classroom had a wall of floor to ceiling cabinets. The spiders loved these cabinets. I HATE spiders. I can handle mice, geckos, large bugs, bears, (that's right Colbert, I said BEARS, I'm not afraid) almost anything the great outdoors has to throw at me. I HATE spiders. I usually approached each cabinet door from the side and stomped loudly with my feet. They hated that. Each opening of a drawer was a breathe holding moment of fear. My classroom was next to the music room, which was never occupied, which was next to the teacher's lounge, it was like my own private hallway. This was a corridor of vermin. Dead rats, gigantic spiders, geckos. Geckos are the worst, because they are completely harmless but are wiggly and scare the crap out of you. You jump and scream and then realized you wasted all that energy on a harmless lizard. Once I even responded, 'oh, I'm not afraid of you.' Then I stomped at it. Geckos do poop. They leave their little droppings allover my classroom and house. Looks like rat poop. Uch.

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