The following was published in the Capital Journal.
I was planning a lesson on verb-subject agreement when a student stopped me at the classroom’s door.
“We are sad today,” he said, as if to prepare me that it would not be a regular class period. I should have assumed as much when I saw the same student yelling with three others 15 minutes before.
When I walked into the class, a few students were crying and others had their heads down. The faces I could see were sullen and full of more emotion than is custom for traditional Basotho.
There was an argument amongst the class that resulted in one student physically abusing another. Although this type of reaction is often less shocking and more tolerated in African classrooms compared to the U.S., the students were clearly upset over the matter.
I abandoned the English lesson and went into life skills. They tried to explain the situation to me, which I didn’t entirely understand because of their limited vocabulary, but I was more interested in helping them recognize their emotions and find a way to move past the event. What actually happened and where punishment would need to be served was up to the other teachers, in my opinion. They could let the students explain in their native language and know the most practical way to handle the situation. I was there for something else.
We discussed how they felt towards the accused student and what they wanted from him, an apology. I reminded them about forgiveness and that this student may have external problems that he is taking out on other students so they should find ways to help him. Then they asked to meet with all of the teachers and I said they would need to control their anger before the conversation. I encouraged them to make a list of talking point and then decide on a the outcome they would like before they even asked to meet with the teachers. A few times, I followed crying students out of the classroom to calm them down and remind them that it will be ok.
Besides the opportunity to live in Africa for two years, I accepted my invitation to teach English because of the relationships I would be able to build with students. I do not have a passion for teaching, nor am I really good at it, but I saw school as the best grounds to make an influence.
I believe that my greatest contribution to my students comes when I am listening to them talk about their problems and then asking questions that can help them obtain a solution. If they can properly use the past continuous tense or write a compelling argumentative essay, great, but I will consider my service a success when they understand how to accept and handle life’s hurdles. Even more so, the most valuable thing I can give my students is the understanding that someone in this tough world cares.
That means that sometimes we have to forgo lessons on English mechanics, but I am OK with it. To me, helping them with life, is my true job.