Being an Education Volunteer, my life has come to revolve around kids. I’ve had experience working with kids in D.C.- I was a teacher assistant and tutor at an elementary school and a teacher assistant at an inner city high school for a journalism class. Both were incredible opportunities, but they were also incredibly draining, so I had decided I wouldn’t pursue teaching in the future.
The Peace Corps had other plans for me.
I still remember when I received my blue invitation packet from the Peace Corps, April 5th, 2011. I was listening to Adele’s “Hometown Glory” (download it) with tears streaming down my face, disregarding stares I was certainly getting down F Street.
Now, here I am, pretending to know what I’m doing in the classroom even though each class is more unpredictable than the last.
My Grade 7 has made teaching enjoyable and rewarding. We have real conversations since their English is fairly good, and one of the highlights of that class was watching their eager faces as they used protractors for the first time. (Imagine that, excitement during a Math class.) There are two trouble-makers, to put it lightly, who enjoy talking back, climbing trees, and swinging from the ceiling boards during class. I predict it’s due to a lack of attention at home, so I try my best to be patient with them. They grasp mathematical concepts pretty quickly, so hopefully I can get through to them that their biggest roadblock to passing and succeeding in life is their attitude. Someone will have to translate that for me.
Since their English is good, we sometimes get off topic in Math class. One time, while I was trying to teach exponents, one girl raised her hand and asked me if we were the same. I was confused by the question, and I asked her to elaborate. She wanted to know if she and I had the same brain and thought the same, even though she was black and I was white. I was so taken aback by this question, and explained to her that the only difference between her and me was our skin color and our language. She was shocked, and asked if that was the case, then why did white people discriminate blacks during apartheid? This question showed me that she already understood more than I could have imagined. The view from the eyes of a child can blow you away.
Stepping into Grade 6 is much more difficult than stepping into Grade 7. While the majority of the girls are angels, the boys, many of whom have been left back, have little interest in learning, and would rather fight and curse instead. One boy, who is very bright but who also has an attitude problem, decided to come up to me at the board, while I was teaching, blow a whistle in my face, hold up a red pen cap, and scream “RED CARD!” Is this a joke?
Many times after school children will come over to read and write. Even though I may be exhausted after school, it’s nearly impossible to say no to a child who wants to read for enjoyment. It’s a much more relaxed setting than school, and it gives them something to do instead of wandering the village. We joke and laugh as they color and stare in disbelief that my hair is natural, and no, not a wig.
There are highs and lows inside and outside of the classroom, and what has gotten me through so far has been focusing on the small victories- like sharing laughs with my little friends.