It’s hard to imagine how much one can change just from going out of the country for a month but this trip has definitely changed me in so many ways! I have fallen in love with the country, gained countless new friends, and learned so much about myself and how I can improve my own teaching for the better. Over the course of this month, the teachers, students, and other residents of Arusha have helped change me for the better. Here are just a couple of the lasting impressions I will take from this trip:
1) The kindness of the Tanzanian people is beyond compare! From the first walking tour through the city and throughout the entire duration of the trip, we encountered the most joyful people you could ever run into. When most people would refuse to even talk to me after telling them “no, I don’t want to buy your painting” for the 1,000th time, the street vendors still came up to me each time I walked into town and greeted me with a smile and asked me how my day was going. When it was pouring down rain on our walks to school and most Americans would have a grumpy scowl on their face, we encountered countless people walking down the street with smiles on their faces and greeting us with a friendly “Jambo!” Or when students would sit through another one of my seemingly-boring lessons and still say to me after the lesson, “please don’t leave us, we want you to keep teaching us because you are so cool!”. Even through the tough situations that many of these people face every single day, they are still able to put a smile on and give everyone else the kindness they deserve. The kindness here is part of the reason I have fallen in love with this country!
2) Tanzanian students value school over almost everything else! After teacher assisting this semester, I found myself asking why I would want to put so much effort into teaching students who don’t even value their own education. Coming to Tanzania, I had a newfound hope that the students here would be different than those American students who just go through the motions in school because they are “forced” to be in school. Well, I am happy to report that I have not been disappointed here! Most students would freak out by having a new teacher who doesn’t speak the same language as them come in and teach for a month. Not these students! From the moment we walked into our schools, the students were willing and excited to learn from us. Unlike (most) schools in America, secondary schools in Tanzania are not free to attend. Students here value their education more because there are paying for it and they know that it will benefit them in their future careers. Students here are hardcore when it comes to school. They sit in the same classroom for eight hours a day, sometimes with a teacher and, more times than not, without a teacher, and work their butts off the whole time! If a teacher is teaching them, the students are copiously taking detailed notes and going through practice problems. If there isn’t a teacher in the room, the students either sit at their desks and study or one of the students leads a lesson. There is no wasted time in a Tanzanian secondary school!
3) It’s so important to make personal connections with students! Teachers in Tanzania don’t value teaching as much as most American teachers do. They show up to school on the days they teach (or should be teaching), go into the classroom and teach (usually from the book), and then sit in the teacher’s lounge when they are done teaching. Not once during this trip have I seen a teacher interacting with their students. As a result, students only seem to respect their teachers because they are told to do so, not because they want to. Not doing that would result in them getting hit (corporal punishment is used frequently in Tanzanian schools as a disciplinary measure). When we stepped into the schools, it was totally different for the kids. We took the time to get to know our students on a personal level. We began our first lesson by asking students questions about their lives and inviting them to ask us questions. We began each lesson by asking the students how they were doing and really getting to know them. We spent our break times hanging out with the kids instead of the normal teachers who would just sit in the lounge. The stark difference between how the students acted around their normal teachers (i.e., quiet, fearful, and not willing to answer questions in class) and how they acted around us (i.e., talkative, happy, and engaged in the lessons) was amazing. It’s crazy how simply getting to know these students and interacting with them daily had such an impact on how well we taught and how well they learned.
4) Even through the toughest of situations, I still want to be a teacher! Coming into a country where students are not 100% proficient in speaking English was a concern of mine leading up to coming to Tanzania. I figured I would struggle to teach in a classroom full of students who might not understand me. Throughout my time at Sekei Secondary and Prime Secondary, I encountered a lot of struggles with the language barrier. Students would ask me questions and I would have no idea what they were asking me. Even after a couple of repetitions, I still couldn’t understand. I felt helpless because I didn’t know how to help the student because I couldn’t understand and I also felt sorry for those students because I couldn’t help them. Since it wasn’t possible to learn Swahili overnight, I had to adapt my own teaching in order to accommodate for these students. I started speaking slower and emphasizing confusing words to make sure all students understood. I used visuals such as pictures, diagrams, and cut outs to help all my students understand (even if it wasn’t through verbal explanation). There were also times when, even after explaining the material five times, the students still didn’t understand. I had to figure out a way to make sure these students understood. There were yet other times where I had to improvise because I lacked the proper materials and tools to carry out a lesson how I had hoped. The conditions that we taught in over here were not ideal, but I made the most of them. Some of the problems I faced here would cause a lot of teachers to just give up, but I am now more confident than ever that teaching is definitely the career for me!