1. Know Your Students
I am a 22 year old teacher ready to show Africa who’s boss. These kids won’t know what hit them! My first topic is about inquiry. I have the perfect plan. Students will teach themselves inquiry by asking questions. Teaching inquiry by student inquiry. It sounds great right? Wrong. The lesson was a flop. My students did nothing wrong but be good “Tanzanian” students. My students do not understand that they can ask questions in school, and that it is alright to be wrong. If you ask too many questions or answer too many questions wrong… Smack! Tanzanian teachers are not afraid too use a stick. In fact, if it is possible to overuse a stick in the classroom, a majority of teachers do. At any rate, it was extremely difficult to break my students out of their comfort zone. They are not aloud to be inquires normally, and it isn’t easy to change 5 years of school in a day. I then looked deeper at my students and their primary school background. The second round of the inquiry lesson was a complete success. Know your students.
2. Pole Pole (po.lay po.lay)
Speak slowly. This may seem obvious. Aric, you are speaking with a bunch of people that know English as their second or even third language. Communication was much more difficult than I imagined. There is speaking slowly, and their is speaking pole pole. Pole pole in Kiswahili means slowly slowly. Whether conversing with a teacher or my entire class, I learned to really think about what I was saying. The speed and simplicity of how I speak has been the key while teaching here in Tanzanian. If students only understand half of what you say in class, learning becomes essentially impossible. Pole pole Mr. Aric.
3. Every Lesson, Can, and Will Change
My best friend on this trip has been my legal pad. Unfortunately, It now looks like it has been though Hurricane Arusha. Some of the blame may be because of the humidity, but there is another reason for my legal pad’s dismembered state. I have been writing, erasing, writing again, erasing again, writing in pen, and finally starting a new page for almost every lesson I have written. My lessons have been very dynamic for a majority of this trip. One minute I think I have thought up the most interesting and effective lesson for learning, the next, I throw the whole plan out the window. I have been very grateful for one of the assignments on this trip called instructional decisions. Instructional decisions are the changes that take place smack dab in the middle of teaching. One of the requirements of this class was to record all of the times we changed instruction while teaching. These decisions have been numerous, but it is great to see the journey each lesson takes from start to finish. Sorry 5E and Itips, this is Tanzania.
In most of our education classes at Grand Valley we have been taught to be reflective teachers. I had always said I would most certainly be this sort of teacher and learn from my mistakes. Well, I found out this was not natural for me at all. Every day I have been trying to write down information about each lesson and all of my instructional decisions, but it is not that simply. It takes time to write all of this information down. More time is used when I struggle to remember what happened in class just a few hours earlier. I learned that being a reflective teacher is hard work, but there are enormous benefits in this teacher practice.
5. Be Thankful
These kids don’t have much. In class we have a blackboard and sometimes we have enough seats for the 50 students in my class. Most of the time they share. These kids use wrapped up plastic bags as soccer balls and make their own exercise books out of brown paper bags and lined paper. The food can be disgusting, but the students don’t care. First grade students walk to school on some dangerous streets by themselves. Teachers often don’t show up to class. It is a different world for students in Arusha. Be thankful every day, not just one day each year when you overindulge on turkey. Every day is a blessing. Many of those reading this blog have been given more resources than most. Use what you have been blessed with. Don’t just be thankful, do something. I once read a book titledJust Do Something. The title says it all. I can remember the book saying that we are often content with what we have, but that isn’t good enough. I know all of you are amazing people, and I think you are all making a positive difference in this world. God has given us more than we deserve. Be thankful and just do something.
6. Hamna Shida
If you don’t know by now what hamna shida means, it is time that you learned. Hamna shida is a Kiswahili saying that means no worries. It is actually interchangeable with hakuna matata. You know, the problem free philosophy? This trip has taught me a great deal about hamna shida, and more than just defining the phrase. It is really a way of life to not worry and chill. What a great way to live life as a teacher. Not every lesson will be perfect, not ever colleague will be helpful, not every school will be supportive, and not every student will understand. Hamna shida. Live to teach another day. If you are teaching with all of your heart, the rest will take care of itself.