Thursday, September 20, 2007

In Hangman We Trust.

Neither Hunter nor I have ever taught English before. We've spoken it a lot, and I like to do most of my writing in it, but teaching the lingua franca of the New World Order is something entirely new. It's one thing to feel prepared for the job after sprinkling 40 hours of TEFL online training atop 23 years of conversational experience. It's another thing to feel like that when it's your time to shine.

If I've learned one thing in the past few weeks, it's this: 40 hours of doing just enough to advance to the next module, added to 23 years of failing to focus on the structure of the English language, don't help you when that moment arrives.

There you are, wondering how it is that you came to be standing in front of a blank chalkboard in Usa River, Tanzania, with 20 pairs of young teenage eyes all glued to you, the Mzungu they assume to be all-knowing in this subject. Your name is no longer Bayless, but "Teacher BP," pronounced tee-cha BP, and Swahili for Mr. Parsley. And your mind, far from collected, is silently screaming to itself, "What now!!"

I'm just glad I have almost no fear of public speaking. That wouldn't help matters at all.

The two of us went into our first morning of work having already been promoted, unknowingly and undeservedly. No longer assistant English teachers, we'd suddenly been elevated to head English teachers for Standards 5 and 6. We owed our thanks to the mysterious "Beatrice," formerly the head teacher for both of those classes, and who still hasn't showed up for work, which started in early September.

"I think she's sick."

"I heard she's in the hospital."

"I think she probably just got a better job and didn't tell anyone."

Of all the products of the FK faculty rumor mill, the last guess alone ended up being proven correct. The English teacher we thought we'd be assisting, Beatrice, had quietly peaced out, without any warning at all, to anyone, and yet it didn't stoke the ire of a single soul on staff. Cultural relativism can be a little harder to swallow when it isn't coated with the sugar known as ignorance.

"What now!!"

I tried a few different things in that first week as the teacher for Standard 6. Only one thing, though, proved wildly popular during my short tenure as the Lone Ranger in charge of a bunch of 7th grade equivalents (the following Monday, my second at Fikiria Kwanza, Bwana Oola was transferred to take control of my class).

My legacy, short as it may have been, will be marked by the memory of Hangman.

I don't have a picture of my own class playing, divided unevenly into groups dividing along gender lines, all calling out different letters. All I've got is this outdated shot of Hunter acting as Hangman mediator, when my team of eight/nine-year-old boys dominated Peanut Belk's team of girls during a friendly a few months ago, before school began.


That's the answer to "What now!!" when I'm put on the spot to sub, like last week, when I received no warning that the Social Studies teacher, also the Headmaster, was occupied with other work. A time killer, perhaps. And a fun one, too. But I really do try and reinforce the day's lesson in my selections.

Here are a few examples I've thought of so far:

For help in geography/politics
T-E-X-A-S I-S T-H-E B-E-S-T S-T-A-T-E I-N T-H-E U-N-I-O-N.

(I hold this truth to be self evident.)

W-I-L-L T-H-E B-O-Y-S E-V-E-R L-O-S-E?

(Though outnumbered heavily, they won the first four or five games in convincing fashion.)

T-H-E G-I-R-L-S T-E-A-M H-A-S T-U-R-N-E-D T-H-E T-I-D-E.

(The girls started Day 2 of Hangman on a 4-0 tear.)

Sayings Pt. 2
T-H-E G-I-R-L-S A-R-E O-N A R-O-L-L.

(They won all seven rounds that day.)

Facts of life
R-E-G-G-A-E M-U-S-I-C I-S T-H-E B-E-S-T M-U-S-I-C.

(I hold this truth, too, to be self evident.)

F-A-L-L-O-P-I-A-N T-U-B-E.

(Not knowing what to write, I shot a quick glance at the [extremely] vivid Biology diagram, illustrated with English labels and hanging on the wall next to the blackboard, where I found inspiration. It was pretty funny, indeed, to hear this one exclaimed by the Headmaster's son Felix.)

Current events
M-Y A-R-M P-I-T-S A-R-E S-W-E-A-T-Y.

(Probably the class' favorite to date).

Every day, since I arrive before Bwana Oola, I have at least one kid ask if we can "play." The name of the game isn't even required; I know what these kids want from me. I say "no" more than "yes," but it's hard to refuse. Hunter uses it as a go-to as well. When in doubt, In Hangman We Trust ... at least until getting a better handle on this teaching thing, or maybe just until we finish our time at Fikiria Kwanza. I mean, who doesn't like playing that game?