Friday, February 13, 2009

“I am Madam Martin” by Tammi; 13 Feb 2009

Teachers at Ghanaian schools are referred to as Masters. As a woman teacher I am referred to as Madam.

I am Madam Martin. I am also Madam Tammi, Madam Iowa, Madam Adwoa (my Ghanaian name based on the day of the week I was born), Madam Toffee (because I have been known to reward students with candy) and Obruni (because I am white). I am more appreciative of some names than others. Students use the first four to address me in class or playfully great me on campus. On campus, I refuse to respond to the last one.

Madam Martin is uncertain that she should be attempting to teach at all. This is not due to the seemingly insurmountable circumstances that my mother made reference to in the previous blog entry. Poor facilities, lack of equipment and supplies, etc. –those are just things. My reasons are more personal and my feelings about it swing like a pendulum. I wonder if Ghana is making me bi-polar. Take for instance last Monday.

It’s nearing 7a.m. and I’m 1 of 2 “Master’s on Duty” this week, so I head across the street for morning assembly. (I am supposed to be a lot of places as Master on Duty, but what exactly I am supposed to accomplish by being at these places eludes me). For assembly we all stand outside. The students stand in sections, more or less in rows, based on which year they are. Many students filter in late, and many more are presumably absent altogether. After listening to the school song, the pledge, a few announcements and a few reprimands from the Senior Housemaster, the 7:20 a.m. bell sounds and it’s time for the first period to begin.

This morning I meet with my Form II (second year) business track students. My objective is to review the End of Term I exam so that all of the students understand the correct answers before we delve into new subject matter. (This is something that I really appreciated as a student and something that I think will interest the students.)

I do my best to engage the class. But I soon find that I am no competition for the distractions of other students wandering outside the windows, classmates inside the classroom chattering with one another after being apart for 3 weeks, or the multitude of students who wander and out of the class late. (There are no hall monitors or passes. In fact, there are no hallways). After about 35 minutes, having had enough of the teenage attitude; I clench my jaw, write a homework assignment on the blackboard, calmly announce that this is a waste of time, pack up my things and walk out of the room leaving the students to their own devices. Unfortunately this is not the first time that I, (or other teachers), have done this. And unfortunately it is not unusual for classes to be without teachers for all kinds of reasons. After being here for one term I find that it is more shocking when I walk by a classroom block in the middle of a period and see that almost every class has a teacher in it, than it is to walk by the classrooms and see that there are no instructors.

So anyway, I tramp away thinking: “This is a bunch of crap. I don’t know why I was assigned to do this anyway. Of all the things that I actually have to offer the Peace Corps, why did they ask me to teach?! I have no formal teaching experience, no teacher’s education, no kids of my own, (or any interest in having kids of my own), and I only deem myself to have basic computer literacy! So why on earth I am here trying to teach ICT to 55 uninterested teenagers? This is CRAZY”!

I pace about campus busying myself with various things until the 8:40-9:10 breakfast break. As Master on Duty I’m supposed to check up on the kitchen to make sure that food is prepared for the boarding students and see that the students are “taking” (eating) their breakfast. What I’m supposed to do if this is not happening, I have no idea! But I go through the motions for good measure.

My second class begins after the break. I am scheduled to meet with my Form I (first year) students. I consider this chalkboard lesson on basic software to be dry and boring. But the students are engaged and responsive. They even seem to be learning something and enjoying it! At the end of the 80 minute session, I leave the classroom thinking, “I totally rock! I am the best teacher ever."

So as you can see, this ride on the pendulum is a bit extreme. But I think that my pendulum may be leaning to one side. Maybe it’s the weather.

It’s hot! I stated on my application and in an interview with the Peace Corps that I do not function very well in hot weather especially when there is no relief in sight. So…now I am in Africa. I keep our bungalow as cool as possible via my strict heat management program. This means that I open and close the louvers and curtains at various times to keep the hotter air out and the cooler air in the best I can. By doing this, I am able to keep our bedroom at least 10 degrees cooler than the outside temp during the day. When I went to bed last night it was 88 degrees in the bedroom. It was nearly dawn before the temp “cooled” to 81 and then the sun started coming round to heat things up again.

Seriously though, I am very happy to be in Africa. I truly think it is great, (albeit there are cooler places in Africa where we could be). But if I were serving on another continent, I would surely be thinking, “I wonder what it’s like in Africa? I want to go there”.

Many of my co-volunteers are here to gain teaching experience. When they return home they plan to either start or resume careers in teaching or something closely related. When they describe their trials and tribulations, I hear them say things like, “The education system is messed up, but I love the kids”. I must admit that sometimes I find the students quite appealing. On an individual basis, I’d even venture to say that I like and enjoy nearly every one of them. But when you stick them in a dysfunctional institution and pack them together in a classroom, it seems to me that they somehow become sub-human. There also appears to be an undocumented rule regarding the teacher/student relationship. Apparently there is some kind of game whereby the student’s have the mission of cheating and tricking, and the teacher has the mission of catching and beating. This does not work for me. Homey don’t play that game! So what am I to do?

Take my most recent dilemma for one example: All students take end of term exams. At least 70% of their grade is dependent on this exam. While one of my classes was taking the recent ICT term exam, the senior master who was invigilating went around to each student to check their fee card. If the student had not paid their school fees (or failed to produce evidence that he/she had paid), he pulled their exam and sent them out. Eight of my students were sent out, and as a result they had to receive a zero for their test score.

To me, this seems completely unfair. Even if the fees have not been paid it is an entirely separate issue from the students’ knowledge of the subject matter. So I stuck my neck out for them. After multiple discussions with the Academic Headmaster, I decided to do two things. First, I made a promise to the students that this will never happen again. At the very least not while I’m around. (I’m sure that there will be some “interesting” staff meetings prior to the term II exams as a result). Second, because changing the term I grades was not an option, I provided another opportunity for the affected students. If they wished, they could choose 1 of 2 assignments to complete. If they performed very well, I would add up to 30% to their second term exam scores. Ample time was given so as not to interfere with other class work.

This week, 6 of 8 students opted to hand in the assignment more or less on time. Five of those students chose the option of interviewing a person in the community who has a career that is associated with ICT. Unfortunately I found that not only are most of the reports generally lacking effort, but few students, (if any at all), actually spoke to a real person! I handed them a special opportunity. They handed me a pile of bull #%$@!

It is times like these that really make me doubt why I am trying to do this at all.

I spend a lot of time laboring over lesson plans, (probably too much), trying to foresee every potential problem and playing out what-if scenarios so I am ready to flex the plan and flow with the students’ needs as the lesson progresses. So when things like this happen I can’t help but to think that instead I could be spending time working on other projects. I fantasize about small enterprise development, community action, and eco tourism projects. I fantasize about collaboration with NGO’s, funding sources, and how together we could tap into the great potential of Afram Plains.

Unfortunately I do not believe the Peace Corps is as flexible as my belabored lesson plans. My primary assignment is teaching (this is my mission, which I chose to accept). So far I have not self-destructed. I still go to bed at night with hope for tomorrow. And I still wake up in the morning ready to give it another shot. But the swing of the pendulum is uncertain. And I’m not sure how long the momentum will last.

1 comment:

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