Saturday, March 31, 2012

More About my teaching (at HRSS)

I was a teaching neophyte on arrival in Sierra Leone struggling to figure it all out. Our In country Peace Corps training program was initially designed in both Washington at Peace Corps headquarters, and in Freetown at the Sierra Leone Department of Education and at the Freetown Peace Corps office. And this training program was well designed. Despite the Sierra Leonean Coup and takeover in April 1968, Sierra Leone in those days was in decent shape, and education was supported and was important to the country. With this in mind, incountry Sierra Leone teachers and administrators worked with Peace Corps to develop a Freetown Summer School to both teach some of us how to teach, and to ease us into the Sierra Leone system of education. There was an extra and added benefit to the Freetown schoolboys and girls who attended - they got some extra teaching and learning. So each day Monday through Friday in the month of July in 1968, from 8am to about noon we were supervised as we taught, underwent critiques of our classroom work, and this all went to increase our comfort level in the classroom, and learn a few techniques to see that class went smoothly and well. Our afternoons were spent in language training (Krio). At night we prepared for each class room day. My responsibility was to teach science and mathematics and Susan's was to teach English and History. The summer school was filled with students from Freetown - and they helped ease us into teaching by being well-behaved. This was helpful in making it easy. At the end of July 1968 the summer school training was ended and we all headed to Njala Univesity College - the agricultural college for Sierra Leone for training in agriculture, for more cultural training, and for language training. At Njala we lived on campus in school dormitories. We ate African chop in the school cafeteria. We planted swamp rice. Our free time was spent talking to our Sierra Leone language instructors or in exploring the area around Njala. We experimented with speaking Krio and sometimes even succeeded. In late August we received our teaching assignment to the newly established girl's school called Holy Rosary Secondary School in Kenema, and headed off (by public transport)from Njala to Kenema to meet our principal and to set up our living quarters. At HRSS we were the only lay teachers. Our colleagues were all sisters of the Holy Rosary. I was the only male on the staff. Our principal, Sister Joseph Miriam met us that first day, and kindly showed us about. Our other teaching colleague in that first year was Sister Kathleen Toland (Sr. Adrian), a woman who had spent much of her life in Africa, first in Nigeria before being driven out by the Biafran War. She saw her purpose as teaching young girls, getting them educated, and providing them with the tools to make something of themselves in life. It was either later in our first year, or just before our second year, that Sr. Celia Doyle (Ibar) came to teach - I remember that she also taught science. On that first day - Sr. Miriam assigned me to teach physical education and be the net ball coach. She handed me a net ball rule book to read on that first day. The school (HRSS) was small in that first year with one form of girls (perhaps 35 or 40 students). Although most of the students came from the Eastern Province - there were some from the north. Many of their names come back to me: Elizabeth Sama, Cecilia Banya, Bernadette Conteh, Alawiah Mourtada, Princess Bundu, Jalahan Sesay,Agnes Bundu,Mary Fortune, Elizabeth Karimu, Sabina Tucker, Wuya Coomber,and others.  I enjoyed my first year of teaching mainly because the students made it fun. Respectful, energetic, and although many were lacking in educational tradition - they wanted to be there and tried hard. However my teaching as I saw it was stilted, at times lacking in creativity, and at times frustrating. I needed more ideas - more input - and worked primarily on trying as best as I knew how to get the students interested in what I was teaching. From time to time the girls learned despite me. My best students were as good as students anywhere. They learned quickly - helped on occasion to teach their fellow classmates, and were fun to be with. That first year passed surprisingly quick.   With support from our colleagues and principal our first year was wonderful. In the second year of HRSS there were two forms of girls - and the school had therefore a bigger feeling. Our first year the school had an intimate feeling. In the second year, although the school was still small - it took longer to learn everyone's name. In this second year the diversity of the student body became greater as more girls from out of the area came to study.  In the second year I continued teaching general science and mathematics, ran the girls around in physical education, and from time to time took the netball team on school trips to play other schools.At the end I was appreciative that the Holy Rosary sisters had been willing to let me teach at their new school. Here I was a male, and a non-Catholic, allowed to teach at this upcountry all girls school in Kenema. I felt special that they had allowed me to be part of this new school venture for girls in upcountry Sierra Leone. It was enjoyable.

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