"Life in the Peace Corps will not be easy. There will be no salary and allowances will be at a level sufficient only to maintain health and meet basic needs. Men and women will be expected to work and live alongside the nationals of the country in which they are stationed—doing the same work, eating the same food, talking the same language. But if the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps—who works in a foreign land—will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace."

-President John F. Kennedy

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

School is underway and things are moving along…ever so slowly

I haven’t posted in several days. I hope you enjoy a few of the pictures I was able to upload here. This post will be some various topics of things that have been happening around here. I had a three day weekend because Monday was Founder’s Day (Ghana’s July 4th) but no celebrations or anything happened.

Last Friday we wrapped up determining who would be in which class and form. This process is very tedious for the reasons I have explained earlier, but also for the fact that we aren’t using computers to write rosters. Each child’s name is handwritten (300+ students) over and over again as we make roster changes. So when we had certain kids in one class but then did the reading challenge and had to demote kids, the roster’s had to be rewritten by hand. No simple copy and paste. And then it all had to be done again when they got switched back to the other classes. Little things like that make a big difference when you don’t use computers.

Friday after class I went into Walewale with a couple of the teachers and went to market and bought a live Guinea Fowl for 15 Cedis. I carried the thing around alive as we made our way to the chophouse where they butchered it and grilled for us. It was tasty! It was nice to unwind and hang with a couple of the teachers, and also eat some fresh meat!

Friday I got in the classroom and had a little questionnaire prepared for the students. I did two separate classes, about 45 students in one, and then 60ish in the other. It is quite hard to control that many students in a tiny room, and they also don’t have enough desks to sit at so they cram in and also have to stand. Not conducive at all. I asked them 17 questions ranging from what is your favorite food, who is Barack Obama, what are you good at, what do you want me to teach/do for you, if you could have anything in the world what would it be, etc. This turned out to be quite pointless when looking at the results, however I am realizing the fact that their responses were so limited is very eye opening for me. Critical thinking and open-ended questions are not familiar to the students AT ALL. There are a few issues here, let me try to explain.

For example, the question “Outside of school, what are you good at?”

First, they did not understand my English. They asked me if “good at” is English and they didn’t understand. I highly doubt they were trying to correct the fact that you shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition. I had to rephrase the question several times and it finally turned into me saying “What do you do outside of school? Do you cook well?” The girl looked at me confused and said “Well?” Of course she only knows the word “well” in terms of a “well” where she gets water. I had to further change the question to “Do you cook good food? Do you play football?” And then the question had pretty much lost its whole point. Second, they aren’t able to compose a complete sentence anyway. Even if they did understand my English and wanted to say that they were good at cooking and cleaning the house, they couldn’t have written the sentence. And third, the fact that this question doesn’t have one single correct answer that I am looking for, the fact that it is open-ended, makes them unsure of what to do.

You can imagine the looks I got when I asked the question “What do you want me to do for you? What can I teach you or show you?” That question was just overwhelming and I basically got no written responses. The students left many of the questions blank.

Some other things I have gathered by skimming their answers:

About 95% of them have not been to Tamale, which is the capital of the Northern Region and is located two hours south on the road that the school is on.

99% of them haven’t been to Accra, the capital of Ghana, all the way in the south at the coast.

Most knew Obama was President of USA, but hardly any spelled President correct.

0 of them have used a computer.

Their average age is 14 or 15ish…this is the first level of junior high school.

80%ish of them wrote their favorite food is rice.

0 people knew how many continents there are.

Nearly half left the question “What job do you want when you grow up?” blank.

And much more…..

Saturday morning I watched the Ghanaian news. The main story was how most people are changing from black and white to color tv’s now. I thought it was kind of interesting just how that is third-world news, whereas in America the story may be that nearly everyone is changing to 40+ inch flatscreens and such.

I had the most uncomfortable and painful two and a half hour ride back from Tamale this weekend. I am not complaining, well sort of, but I am just explaining. I got on a tro and had to go to the very back row. Remember, this is a big van stripped bare and 4 rows of uncomfortable bench chairs are crammed in. I was back row and squished between three other people. My legs barely fit to begin with, and then they pushed a spare tire under my feet AND a propane tank. I was carrying my backpack that was packed with canned foods and such, so that had to sit on my lap with my legs up and squished between people and I could barely budge. Not to mention that it’s 90 degrees, smells bad, your head hits the roof each bump, and everyone else sits there as if nothing is uncomfortable or painful at all. It’s just funny that there is no such thing as customer service or serving the customer. There is nobody in charge really or anyone to complain to even if someone did want to complain (but Ghanaians don’t complain about anything). There is no competition so it’s not like I could choose something else if I was uncomfortable or had a terrible seat in the tro. You just have to deal with it. So I did. Not happily, but I dealt with it. I just kept telling myself “I’m in the third world, I’m in the third world.” Hopefully this experience helps me to never, ever complain again when I go back to the first world.

The rains finally came Sunday and lifted the heat. Last week (my sick week) was probably the hottest week I’ve had yet in Ghana. It was also the longest stretch without rain, maybe 9 days. I can’t imagine the dry season when it doesn’t rain for months… Anyway, the rain came and it has been much cooler and I’m able to exist outside.

The number of classes I will be teaching is still being sorted out. I was dealt the most classes, and Headmaster came to me saying he may have someone take some of my load. I will be having around 110 students for maths, broken into three classes. And also my three ICT classes. We’ll see what changes soon.

Tuesday, my first real day in the classroom, I set some rules with my three classes. They are pretty rowdy and I’m hoping to set the tone early. Wednesday (today) was better. I gave them a diagnostic maths exam of 11 questions that they should know from primary school. The average score was about 5 out of 11. During the exam I explained clearly that if they talked or if I saw them looking at someone’s paper, they would get a zero. The issue is that they are either standing, or crammed into the desks and they do their work in notebooks basically touching. It is nearly impossible to police entirely. During the exam I caught many people and marked a fat X on their paper and everyone knew that I meant business……but they kept cheating….and I kept marking X’s. It was quite frustrating. I am not sure if they were just really testing me or what, but they are quite the cheaters. I talked to the other teachers about this and they told me that about half will consistently cheat because they are behind and actually don’t know how to do the work. Then they told me the real reason they will cheat in my classes: Because I do not cane. Yes, the fact that I won’t hit them makes them continue to cheat and not care of getting a zero so long as they don’t get caned. What a sticky situation. I could do something like write the names of cheaters down on a piece of paper during class, and then pass that to headmaster who would then cane them, and that may curb the cheating but obviously doesn’t eliminate the caning issue. I will try other punishments on top of getting a 0 and see what works first.


I blew my fellow teachers away today. How, you may ask? Typing. Somehow the topic came up because they saw me typing on my phone and they were curious how fast I could type on the computer. So they got out one of the laptops given my the government to the school, and I started typing. They were blown away. Apparently they all still “search and peck” because they were never taught how to type. Then I performed what they thought was magic….I closed my eyes and typed just as fast. They couldn’t believe it! Now they all want me to teach them how to type that fast. I told them it takes a long time and I had been typing since I was a little kid. Maybe I can figure something out, but I have enough on my plate already with the students…

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