Thoughts of an Inexperienced Teacher

Honestly, I have no qualification for this. But I’m teaching high school math, English and physical education, and I’m about as qualified as it’s going to get. Needless to say, I am often questioning myself and wondering if I am doing more damage or good.

This morning there were four students in the class when I arrived. I was informed the rest were on their way. Just to put you in the right context, people here are always “on their way”. And so people are always late and people are always waiting and it’s just an intrinsic part of life here and no one cares.

I’m not Ugandan. And I am not going to sit around the classroom waiting for a bunch of teenagers (Am I no longer in that category?!) to saunter in whenever they feel like it, instead of teaching my lesson. So I went to the scariest woman in the school (in the kids’ eyes) but without a doubt my favorite staff member, and asked her what I should do about the late students. This was not the first time it had happened, and I’d had enough.

Madame (that’s how you refer to ladies here) walked into the classroom and despite her chalk-like size, made quite a threatening appearance. A few disappointed words ensued, and then the students followed her to serve their punishment – slashing weeds in the schoolyard.

Oh. I don’t want them to be punished now, I whispered to her. But it was too late; she’d given the command and there was no looking back. But I had a math class planned. Now what?

Dilemma number 1: What is more important – teaching them the importance of being on time or teaching them crucial concepts in math? And – will they actually learn from this to be on time or will they just be scared of me?

Whatever the long-term impact – they showed up to the next class on time. Some scowled and informed me they were “not fine”, but I made it clear that there were no hard feelings, I was not mad at them, they would not be mad at me, but they would not be late, either, and that was the end of that.

I was very excited for the English class, because I was about to teach them how to use the internet. I decided a while ago that English is the lesson in which I teach them whatever I want and think they need, as long as it’s in English. “So. Who knows what ‘internet’ is?” Blank faces. “Um…okay, who knows where the internet is? Is it on the TV? Or on the computer?”

I tried to squeeze whatever I could out of them, but realized it was a waste of time. “Take your notebooks and follow me,” and then we were off to the internet cafe all the way across the main road to try and open their worlds.

Of course, thenetwork was down, so we had to talk the guy into giving us his net stick, and he tried to get more money because we’d scared away all of his customers, and we couldn’t use a net stick at school because there was no power and everything was far from ideal… but hey – a handful of kids in some faraway village now know how to type, and that if something is blue and underlined you can click it and it will take you to another page.

Dilemma number 2: Should I teach the students about facebook? Or are some things better left outside the bubble?

The decision was made from above – when I tried to sign into facebook the man’s net stick package expired.

Sports class made way for new questions. While some of the students can’t get enough of the running, others would rather do anything else (except foor slashing weeds, maybe).

Dilemma number 3: Do you push the good ones higher or do you try to pull the weaker ones to a basic level?

I tried pulling them, only a little too literally. I wanted one lazy girl to join the relay race. So I dragged her by her legs, the way someone who grew up with older brothers would. I didn’t realize that I was smearing her skirt with dirt. And that that was a criminal offense. She made a sour face, walked away and didn’t turn her head when I called her.

Dilemma number 4: How much do I run after a student to try and apologize? Am I a teacher or friend?

It’s confusing and tough, but my desire to give them with knowledge and confidence in themselves grows each time I see them. Today I got some glimpses into beautiful personalities – from the girl who wants to be a lawyer and change Uganda (by making plastic bags illegal), to the ones who chose to spend the break trying to solve the algebra equations in our semi-private lesson, to the girl who blessed me with “Good night Danya…Tuka Bulungi Nyabo – Dream on me!”

With all of the time I’m spending fundraising, planning, and meeting, it means so much to me to have this time to touch the ground, feel the students, learn the vibe – and remember why I’m here.


7 thoughts on “Thoughts of an Inexperienced Teacher

  1. My favourite teachers in highschool were the ones I initially feared the most. After working as an ESL teacher in Japan for a few years, I found the only way to deal with one particularly difficult class, was to make them fear me, but show them that when they were well behaved, we would do fun things.

    Facebook… tricky. I’m leaning towards leaving it outside the bubble, just because you’ll have a stampede for the PC otherwise.

    With the issues of kids at different levels, I had a couple of English classes where I split the group, giving harder stuff to the better students who were bored with the normal stuff. It kind of worked, but it was a lot of running back and forth and extra preparation.

    Teaching is one of those jobs you get better at as you go along. You figure out what works and what bombs. Good luck

  2. wonderful to read about your experience and your thoughts and thoughtfulness; you discovered a most important truth: in most cases there are trade-offs and you must decide which has the greater weight, and you hope that the positive will outweigh the negative results — it’s like in medicine, too, and most aspects of life.
    Love you and am proud of you, Opi

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