Below are some excerpts from my blog when I was a chemistry teacher in a secondary school from 2006-2008 in Tanzania with the U.S. Peace Corps. Some of my views have since changed or grown from these initial entries.
18 Oct. 2006
Ready, Set, Go Teach!!
You have 3 weeks of local language training. You are standing in front of 40 students who have had 5 hours per week of English in primary school, and a 6-week crash course in the language just before secondary school. Their previous teacher taught most of the class to them in Kiswahili, even though it is required by law to teach in English. The classroom does not have enough desks and chairs for your students – some sit 2 to a chair and share a desk. There are no text books – your notes are the textbook. The notes come from a few textbooks supplied by Peace Corps and the knowledge in your head. The school has electricity maybe half the week. It doesn’t matter, though. The classrooms have screenless/glassless windows that take up the entire wall, so enough light gets in. However, the dust blows through the classroom in the afternoon and gets in your eyes. You step into the class in the middle of the school year with maybe 15 hours of teacher training and classroom management and the knowledge of tutoring small groups from back home. The students in front of you have no school and unemployment to look forward to after secondary school, considering the government only sponsors a select few for university. They also expect to get hit with a stick if they misbehave or don’t turn in homework. If you send them out of the classroom for misbehaving, they may get beaten from a teacher doing attendance duty. You are teaching chemical reactions of water before the students know the difference between molecules and compounds because it is the way the national syllabus is set up and all teachers must teach what is in the syllabus.
Ready…. Set….. Go Teach!!!!
7 April 2007
It’s amazing to learn how much money is poured in Tanzania for “development”. There are grants, loans, donors, but no one to follow through…. There are service groups, religious mission trips, NGO’s. People want Tanzanians to have money, generators, books, latrines, electricity, an “education”, computers.
After being here 3 1/2 months, and only talking and hanging out with students for literally 4 days straight, I’m not sure it’s what any of these students want at all. They want me to come to their home and meet their families. They want to know what my family is like. They want me to know how to cook chapati, mandazi, and bananas. They want to play with my hair. They like to teach me Tanzanian songs. They want to clean my home for me and wash my dishes. They want me to go to church with them. They want me to read the stories that they write and the raps that they sing. They want to practice their English with me. But, basically, they just want to be themselves. And I like to think that they just want someone there to listen, like any teenager.
Time, I think, is the most valuable thing someone can ever give to anyone because it cannot be bought, it cannot be changed. It can only be given, and it is a sacrifice when it is.
It’s hard for me to imagine what it would be like to be one of our students who always seen white people in their “developing” country as money bags knowing that they are here because they think the Tanzanians can’t do it themselves. This culture doesn’t need another computer or library of English textbooks. What I see (but still, who am I to judge?) is that someone needs to make these students believe that they are more than what the world projects them to be so they themselves can make their country what they want it to be.
Idealistic? I know it is. Unrealistic? I like to believe not.
18 May, 2008
It has become very apparent to me how school shapes our culture. Below are some example sentences from a Tanzanian English structure book. It can give you a look at how school may influence their world view. While there are positive sentences in the books as well, there are other kinds which I am surprised to see (things in parenthesis are comments added by me). I also ask myself what kinds of things did I learn as a child in our hidden curriculum?
He will never pass, however hard he may try.
Don’t say anything even if they beat you.
I got married to him despite his poverty.
Anna cannot get a job, in spite of doing well at school.
Strong as she is, he was beaten by my daughter.
Although Amina is plump and heavy, she is not healthy. (It is considered beautiful to be plump and heavy in TZ)
Rukia is killed by her husband.
She loved me inspite of my poverty.
Mussa shot the lion with his gun.
Saadam was about to be killed in an explosion.
Use of the word “whose”:
My bitch, whose temper is very uncertain, often bites the judges at important dog shows.
As you do not love me, I shall have no truck with you.
Let’s wait till he finishes his work.
Mwalimu might be awarded noble Prize.
Tulizo was hardly likely to admit she was a prostitute.
Waiyaki said he loved Nymbura but he let her down completely.
America is the richest country in the world.
Give me some money.
However hard he tried he always ended in failure.
The drunkard fell in the trench last night as he was returning home.
The bad smell makes me vomit.
Unless you word hard, you will fail your examinations.
Mogeka failed in her exam, although she had worked extremely hard.