Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Working at a Secondary School —
Work Ethic; Student Discipline

(Continued from 25 August)

Coming from the U.S. and being of Chinese descent to boot, I have a pretty strong work ethic. Moreover, I regard teaching as a vocation in the sense of something of higher value that you feel called to do. So I expect a level of dedication from myself and my colleagues that is a cut above merely holding a job.

The picture at school is mixed. It's culturally murky and difficult for me to interpret. On the one hand, teachers are habitually late and casual about starting classes "on time". Occasionally they don't go at all. It's common for teachers to show up late for work and to leave early. Only a few of them take work home. On the other hand, there are occasions when a teacher will volunteer to provide extra instruction in their subject because there is material that still needs to be covered or because their students have not learned it well enough. Overall, though, I can't help having the impression that the work ethic is not up to my expectations. I'm not saying that there are not good reasons for that. But I still notice it, and it's bothersome.

A constant topic of discussion in the staff room is student discipline. But first the issue needs to be put in perspective for the people who are reading this. Our students are like those in high school in the U.S. in the 1950's. Violence is rare, close to non-existent. I am never concerned for the safety of my person. That said, truancy, coming to school late, talking during class, losing books and materials, not taking good care of them, not doing homework, etc. are exasperating to us teachers.

Historically and currently in most schools, corporal punishment has been used, sometimes severely in the form of caning. The manager of our school, who is originally from Germany but has been in Africa for a long time, and the headmistress, who is from The Philippines, have abolished these practices. Some of the Tanzanian teachers disagree, feeling that corporal punishment is necessary for African students and is appropriate and effective when used judiciously. They respect the authority of the administration but feel that their hands are tied as far as disciplining students. I sense a certain amount of perplexity and frustration.

I feel conflicted about this myself, but in a different way. Personally, I do not like to use or to witness physical punishment. But then I also do feel strongly that Tanzanians must figure out their own way through this issue (along with myriad others). There has been enough of non-Africans coming here to subjugate, exploit, and dictate to the indigenous peoples. I do not want to continue that pattern.

Student discipline is a dilemma which all the teachers are struggling to find a way through, including me.

A bit more later. -Earl

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Working at a Secondary School —
Being an Introvert; Adolescents

I took a "mental health day" last week. I stayed home to be alone, to catch up on household stuff, and to take a needed break from being at our school. This year has not been a positive time for me. The past few weeks in particular I have been cranky and irritable at work.

It's been very demanding for me to teach and to work at a secondary school. I'd like to describe a few of the ways.

Let's begin with the fact that there is a mismatch between my personality and my position. I am basically an introvert. Always have been. Always will be. That doesn't mean that I dislike people ("introvert" does not equal "misanthrope"). It means that being with people is a draw on my batteries.

That's one very good reason why being a software developer has suited me so well. There is a lot of time spent in solitary work. Not all, but really quite a bit. It's a good balance for me. In contrast I am currently with students an average of close to three hours a day, either conducting class or supervising the computer lab. This is intense for me. And much of the remaining time I am at my desk in a large office shared with a dozen other teachers. I have very little time being truly alone.

If I were teaching adults it would be different. But I don't. I teach adolescents ranging in age from thirteen to nineteen and twenty. Not only are they struggling with the unavoidable process of becoming adults, they also have to deal with health problems, persistent poverty, and, God help them, exposure to Western popular culture and, for a few, the Internet. Moreover, in our part of this country education is not well-rooted as a value. So even at a small, private, Catholic school like ours there are serious problems with student motivation, focus, and academic performance.

I find that I don't really have the requisite patience and caring to be in such close proximity to so much adolescent energy for so much of the time. I now have the utmost respect, admiration, and gratitude for those teachers who do, and who do this essential work day after day, year after year.

If I were to start this gig over again I would ask for less front-line classroom work and to be in more of a support role. In addition to the endless tasks of maintaining the aging computers, I think that being a teaching aide of some sort, rather than being the teacher, would be much more suitable given what I'm writing about in this post and for other reasons as well.

More later. -Earl

Friday, August 12, 2011

Opening of New Buildings at Aquinas School

This past spring our secondary school tried to introduce classes for Form 5 (we currently offer Forms 1 through 4), but so few students enrolled and of such marginal qualifications that the administration decided to shut down the program after only two weeks.

In the meantime we have some beautiful new classrooms, which are mostly going unused. But we also have a new library that Diane has moved into with the book collection. It's a very nice space that is getting a lot of good use, a pleasure to walk into.

Anyhow, even though we don't have any Form 5 students it was decided to go ahead with the official opening ceremony which had already been scheduled. Cardinal Pengo attended, so it turned out to be a pretty big deal. He is, I believe, the highest ranking Catholic in Tanzania. Photos below are of the ceremony. -Earl

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Selous Game Reserve - photo album

Trip to Selous Game Reserve, July 2011

At the beginning of July we had a wonderful trip to the Selous Game Reserve to see wildlife. This park is not well known outside of Tanzania, so it doesn't get many visitors. As a result it is completely uncrowded even though it is relatively close to Dar es Salaam.

The animals we saw included impala, giraffes, baboons, hippos, crocodiles, elephants, lions, painted dogs, a cape buffalo, and many more. It is such a special experience to be with these African animals in their natural environment.

Click on the above photo or its caption to jump to our album of about two dozen pictures which is stored on the Picasa Web Albums website. Unfortunately, many of the photos we took turned out to be too poor quality to share. They are blurry or the animals are too far away to be easily recognizable to anyone but ourselves. We freely admit that we are not photographers. 8-D -Earl