It was 8:10 a.m. No one was at school except for the grounds keeper and myself. Great, I thought.
Less than five minutes later, in a few separate groups, all of the teachers arrived, looking fresh from the winter holiday and time spent with family. The students soon trickled in and began dusting and cleaning the school. Nearly two hours behind schedule, at 10 a.m., we began the first day of the second term.
I’ve been anxious about going back to school. To be perfectly honest, I am a lousy teacher and just haven’t gotten the hang of controlling and motivating my students. The last term ended with me nearly in tears as some students tried to lie and cheat their way out of my class. I hoped the winter break would offer some perspective and time for me to steady my breath, but I wasn’t sure that I had reached the calm I desired. The students could easily eat me up and spit me out like before.
This term my scheduled changed a bit. Previously I was teaching Form B (ninth grade) English and Life Skills and Form E (senior) English. Form E and Form C are called externals, meaning students have to take a national test to pass on. The Form Cs move to high school whereas Form E is eligible for technical schools and university. It’s not recommended for volunteers to teach externals, especially in their first year, but my school had no one to teach it. It is just one student and her exam is all writing so I thought I could help her and my APCD (fancy acronym for my Peace Corps education supervisor) agreed to it.
However, a few weeks before final tests, one of the school’s former English teachers came looking for work. She was still on payroll and they decided to let her teach because they were still paying her. (The ins and outs of hiring and firing teachers in Lesotho is quite complex and is strictly handled by the Ministry of Education, which works like all governments: slow. This teacher had hoped to be released to work at another school and it didn’t happen, so she returned to the school). Because we already had one paid English teacher and two volunteer teachers (myself included) we all gave up a few classes for this teacher.
At first I was adamant about not giving up my Form E. I thought it was unfair and it made me feel not needed, then I put my ego aside. This other teacher has actually taught Form E before and has much more experience with the exam than I do, meaning she can offer much more practical advice to the student than I could. At the end of the day, I realized the student may have a better chance of passing with this other teacher leading her than I, so I willingly gave it up.
But I didn’t want to feel completely useless and asked to take something else. Another teacher was teaching two forms of Life Skills and said that I could have the Form As. I was nervous to take them because the Form Bs have a hard time understanding me and I knew it would be worse with a lower level. When working with the students at my school, I have to speak very. slow. English. If you’ve heard me speak, I don’t do slow. But I have to for the sake of these children and I have to use very simple words (which actually isn’t too terribly tough for me because I don’t have that extensive of a vocabulary and I’ve been forced to write at a fourth grade level through my newspaper training). I would also have to repeat things over. And over. And over. And over. And over. It can be very frustrating and I knew I would have to be slower, simpler and more repetitive with the Form As.
On my first day, I had only one class and it was with the Form A. I made a quick lesson plan of review and introduction, including rules for ‘Me Keneuoe’s class. Although there was only six students, I was intimidated by them and feared that eating and spitting thing I mentioned earlier.
I walked into the class with a bright smile and the speed of English so slow I didn’t even know if I could pull it off. Immediately the students warmed up to me. We had both seen each other around school for four months, but now we got to interact and it was kind of fun. I suddenly felt at ease and excited about the rest of the semester.
The rest of the day went so smooth that it was hard for me not to put my hopes on this being a precedent for the rest of the term. The teachers seemed eager to be back in the classroom and a few students, who were wandering around the village earlier in the day, had gone home to changed and showed up in their uniform, ready for the learning fun.
By the end of last term, I was rarely in the staff room. I was usually in the computer lab or library, busy doing whatever it is I do, but I decided to hang out with the teachers. They asked me about my winter and I joked with them that the school’s cat missed them. It was fun to be with them again, speaking Sesotho-English and making fun of each other. We even sat down to write the school’s mission and vision statement. That is kind of the one thing that I am semi-good at and produced both to their liking in five minutes. (Fun fact: I also wrote the SDSU Foundation’s mission statement, unless they have changed it in the last two years. Maybe I should write mission statements for a living.)
It’s funny how anxious I was about this day because it couldn’t have gone smoother. It showed me that this next term will have confusing and frustrating moments, but I can beat each smile when I put on a smile and good attitude and find resolve in not being in control.
There are 92 school days, give or take, left in the school year and I have 92 good feelings.