Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Third week of teaching in Bandjoun

DISCLAIMER: the views expressed are my own and not that of Peace Corps

It's been an interesting week to say the least. Last week was a bit rough, what with three consecutive days of 4-6 hour meetings (with no bathroom breaks or anything) and some large and unruly classes. This week things have calmed down substantially.

Last Tuesday, I learned to my surprise that I was supposed to be the head of the department (Animatrice Pedagogique). I learned this on my way home as the proviseur was waving at me, wondering why I wasn't attending the A.P. meeting. Hmm. I had been told by nearly everyone that another lady was the department head, and she's the one who had given me whatever information I had at that point. Well, anyway, that was at 1:30pm. The meeting let out at 6pm! I understood about 25% of it, between heavy rain, people speaking quickly/softly and just generally being unfamiliar with how anything works around here. I guess I was supposed to report on my department's progress, which of course I was unaware of at that time. I hadn't even met my colleagues yet, much less had statistics to report!

The following day the school let out early for an 11am general assembly meeting. That one let out at 5:30pm. Fortunately, it did include food and beer at the end. And I did get to meet my colleagues finally. I was also asked to post an officially-stamped notice of our departmental meeting which was supposed to take place on Thursday.

So... at 11am Thursday we had the departmental meeting. But not before I was called at home because the server wouldn't boot. So as I was debugging the server (turns out the memory sticks weren't positioned correctly), one of my counterparts waited outside the door for the meeting to start. ...which it didn't until 12 anyway. That consisted of finishing paperwork from last year and discussing random issues about the IT department. Basically, students aren't into Computer Science (big surprise, since the equivalent of 6-7th grade books read like college material) and I'm supposed to lead a computer club on Wednesday afternoons. And there's some paperwork I'm supposed to do, like check up on everyone else's classes and give suggestions to the others.

So after teaching my own classes, and maintaining all the hardware and software in the computer lab, I'm also supposed to do that... oh, and also fill in for anyone in the department who is absent. And 2/3 have classes at the university so they will definitely be absent at times. Yay.

No one said this would be easy, right? "Toughest job you'll ever love" or something?

Anyway... I had even more problems of my own. After the meeting ended (at 3pm!) and I went to photocopy the scheme of work, the secretary told me the printer wasn't working. Can I fix it? Well, no. Sorry. It needed a new printhead which is $125 refurbished and $500 new. That's kind of expensive. You could probably buy a new (used) printer in Cameroon for that.

Then on Monday, I had my two Seconde classes, each of which got a bit testy. The first class interrupted me to ask me to teach in English, and once I said anything in my native tongue, others yelled at me to speak French. After the first hour (of two), they completely checked out, so I told them to take a 5 minute break. After no response, I wrote it on the board. The response: Madame, do we copy that into our notebooks? (Copy "5 minute break" into their notebooks??) Madame, can I go outside? (You're on break - yes, obviously!) Geeeeez.

Anyway, so then I thought we can do exercises in the computer lab for the rest of the time. Because there are only 20 computers and there were 67 students, I said let's try going to the lab in shifts. 20 students write their names on the board, and the rest do an exercise in the classroom. I took the first 20. They didn't understand my instructions, which were to simply open a Word document in Notepad and check out the extra crap Word adds to the document. Then I returned to the classroom after 10 minutes and found no one in the clasroom understood their instructions (which was simply to identify and describe the functions of keys I had circled on a picture of a keyboard). Not quite sure if it's a language thing or a motivation thing!

The second class was checked out before I even got there. So I simply lectured for an hour on terminology like Data and Processing and Data Processing. Because that class only had 31 students, I took them to the lab together. After I gave them instructions, everyone immediately opened Solitaire and Pinball. So then I told them that the first person to complete the assignment will get a reward. They all immediately started doing the work. At least creating the Word document. Unfortunately, none of them understood the part about opening Notepad. So I ended up going around to every single student, walking them through every step myself. (Sigh) Then they all wrote their names on the board, expecting a reward!

OK, so that's food for thought. I suspect my expectations are way too high at this point. I was thinking they have all had Computer Science for 4 years by now so they must know something. Yet I notice that because it's not really required on the national exams, and it's only 2 hours a week, they don't really absorb anything and they don't care unless I give them some material reason to care. So that's good information.

Anyway, today I had a breakthrough. The first 5me class was unruly last week, and I sent 4 students to the discipline master. It had no effect, so I ended the class early. I motivated the second 5me class by telling them that they wouldn't go the computer lab if they behaved that way. And it worked. So today, for the first class I drew a "Derange-o-meter" on the board, and told them that I will color it in as they misbehave. If they reach 40%, they don't go to the computer lab this week, and at 80% they don't go next week either. Mwah ha ha. Well, they initially didn't settle down, so the meter went to 10%. They immediately settled down. I gave them a quiz, one student immediately started cheating, so the meter went to 20%. No more cheating (visibly anyway).

The class ended up at 30%, so we went to the lab. Overall, it was a successful experiment. I graded their quizzes and as expected (since no one listened the week before) only about 15% of the class passed (and 2 obviously cheated - identical answers!!), but they did actually pay attention this time.

The second class did not go quite as well. They got to 50%, so they didn't go to the lab. But upon that realization, they were quiet as doormice through the end of the class!

I really hope I don't have to do this for the 6mes tomorrow. They are not supposed to go to the lab technically, and yet they cannot really get into IT or really learn much without actually touching computers! It's pretty obvious to me, anyway. I do want to give them that opportunity, and yet they have to do the work and actually study the material at the same time. So this adventure will continue to be interesting.

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