Wednesday, November 21, 2012

“Teach the children well…”

My free laptop from work (donated to the science outreach program I lead at work) has temporarily become a very heavy paperweight [on Nov. 20th].  For some reason (probably the heat), I am now getting a “fan error”.  Normally I would just look that up on Google, but out here in the bush, the internet is too slow/often not working, which makes it difficult to fix my laptop.  Luckily Maggie has a netbook that I can use to check email and try to post my blog.  I’m just annoyed that I’m now carrying around a laptop that might be useless for the rest of my trip. [Editor's note: I eventually posted this from the Vodafone cafe when I made it to Kumasi the next day.]

Yesterday, as tends to happen in Ghana, things got out of my control and, in this case, I ended up teaching a Form 3 ICT class.  Maggie had called Thomas, the ICT and science teacher, to let him know that I wanted to observe his class.  He asked her if I wanted to teach it, to which I shook my head at her with a terrified no.  But when I walked over to the school, there was no Thomas in the classroom.  The headmaster was in there watching the class while Thomas was headed to a funeral.  He also asked me if I wanted to teach.  The look on my face must have told him no in no uncertain terms because he followed his question with, “Oh, you are worried.”  They managed to track down Thomas, who came back to the classroom for a bit.  Knowing that the students would learn nothing if I didn’t teach, I asked Thomas what they were supposed to cover.  When he showed me the section in the lesson book on email, I took a deep breath and said I would teach it. 

While we were sorting this out, Maggie called.  I let her know that I would be teaching, so she ended up coming down to the classroom to watch.  Thomas also stayed for part of the class.  The headmaster had warned me that I would need to speak slowly, which is something I was prepared for.  What I was not prepared for is how little I would accomplish during the time allotted for class. 

I picked up a piece of chalk, which promptly broke as I started writing the words “electronic mail” on the board.  I had a bit of terror at that point until I remembered that I saw the teachers struggle to use this cheap chalk.  Based on the textbook (which turns out to have been borrowed from one of the students), I managed to get through the format of an email address ( and explaining all the parts of it.  I explained that, “Typically your username is your name.”  Then I asked one of the students in the front row, who seemed to understand, what his name was.  His last name was the name of a “botanical” (flower?  Tree? Crop?) that to me sounded like “Acoogly” but turned out to be “Akugre”.  Listening to me try to pronounce his name back as part of an email address sent the class into laughing fits.  But laughter seems to be the best way to handle the miscommunication that often occurs here.  The section after email and email passwords was about creating an email account and logging in, a subject I was not willing to tackle without access to computers.

After describing the format of an email address, we reviewed a couple advantages of the Internet (e.g., entertainment) and disadvantages of the Internet (e.g., “bad films”, aka pornography).  I was about to start a new topic when the bell rang.  (An actual bell, that is.  One of the students goes out to a table outside the classroom, picks up a handbell, and rings it when classes change.)  I asked the students if they had any questions for me about America before they left but, just like American kids, they were ready to run out the door as soon as class was over.

During this experience, a few of the teachers came by to watch through the window.  They asked Maggie if I was a teacher in the US, since I had such nice handwriting on the board and knew how to use the board effectively.  I’ll take compliments wherever I can get them.  Only after this experience was over did I realize that I didn’t get any pictures of me actually teaching the students, which is the only thing I regret about my first classroom experience in Ghana.


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