Teaching in general is a new experience for me. I’ve been an assistant instructor of martial arts for a while and unofficially taught computers through my consulting work. However, this is the first time I’ve officially held the position of teacher with a whole class and lesson plans and everything. I have been told multiple times and by multiple people that I would be a good teacher and that they think I’d enjoy it. Here’s my chance to find out.
Currently, I have three classes going with a fourth to start shortly. Each week I have two hours of class with each of years 9 and 10 during which I can only hold half the class in the lab at a time. I don’t teach the years 11 and 12 because, as we’ve mentioned, we’re in a French area and I still don’t speak French. This leaves me teaching in Bislama, a language that is really not suited to the specifics involved in teaching this subject. I also have two hours of classes with teachers in order to teach them in-depth computer repair. There are currently two of these with others having expressed interest in at least popping in sometimes. I have only just talked to the principal and will begin having weekly hour long classes open to the community to teach basic computers shortly. I have a feeling that these will involve a lot of repeated classes to accommodate all interested parties and likely some separate times for specifically women to make sure they’re not left out.
So, how am I finding the teaching profession? To be fair, this assessment of the experience is still early on in my service and I’m still getting settled into the swing of being a teacher. So far, it’s frustrating. In large part, this is due to the systems here. Again, I’ve never been a teacher before and I don’t know how to do my job.
The first system is the Peace Corps has a lot to cover in their training and limited time to do it in. I’m glad they spent as much time as they did teaching me the language and how to take care of myself here, not to mention what to do with all these natural hazards. With all that information, there just wasn’t a lot of time for sessions on what the heck I’m supposed to do when I’m suddenly standing in front of a room full of students. The students seem to expect me to impart knowledge or something.
The second system here I have to deal with is the Vanuatu Education system. It is, how to put this, a little on the rough side. The Ministry is currently putting a lot of work into standardizing training and curriculum but it’s not there yet. One of my fellow PCVs is currently doing a lot of hard work on some of these issues. Even then, math and literacy take a higher priority to computers. In the meantime, what this means for me is that I have very little guidance on what the students should be learning. I don’t even have end-of-year goals, much less anything approaching a curriculum. I sat down with the deputy principal who teaches year 12 (he taught year 11 last year) to ask him what the kids are expected to know when they finish year 10. Getting any sort of an answer to that was a bit like pulling teeth and he was very adamant that I should teach them what I deem important. Now that I know that they’re trusting in my expertise and leaving things up to me, I’m moving on and just designing the curriculum myself. Next, I need to have some discussions about what is expected in terms of grades.
The hardest part for me in my classes is remembering just what it’s like to know that little about the subject. Given that both of my parents were both programming before I was born and I honestly can’t remember not having a computer in the house, this is a little difficult. I’ve taken to using the analogy with my students of learning to walk on small, slippery footpaths. I point out that I know how to use computers well because I’ve been doing it all my life but I have to learn how to walk around here because I haven’t. This generally gets a good chuckle and I think it gets the point across that I don’t expect them to know this stuff. Self-effacing humor is a useful thing for trying to break down any condescension that I may inadvertently show.
The kids themselves are very eager to learn. As with any subject there are wide ranges of skills and learning speeds. One generalization I can make is that students here are very hesitant to make mistakes. Gaea and I have both been somewhat mystified at times as to how people learn skills here. Mistakes are quite shameful and shame is a big deal here. In my classes, I have to confirm just about every action my students make. “Bae yu prestem lo bigfala red ‘X’ blo klosem window (Click the big, red ‘X’ to close the window)”, I tell them. They’ll hesitate a bit, hide their face, peek out enough to move the mouse to the right place and then glance sheepishly up at me for confirmation before very hesitantly clicking the mouse button. They’re learning though. Shutting down the computers is pretty smooth these days as they all have that pretty well figured out.
Overall, I’m getting the whole process of teaching figured out. I’ve got some outlines for what I want my students to learn and am working out a tentative schedule for classes. The kids are learning but without any way to practice outside of class, I have to give them plenty of time to refresh old material. I figure this is one of the topics that will be returned to a few times throughout our service here so I’m sure I’ll update again and let you all know how I’m feeling. For now, I’m still a bit uncomfortable with the whole situation but getting myself settled. I’m cautiously optimistic about my time here but not convinced that teaching is something I’ll want to continue doing for a primary job. We’ll see what happens.