Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Thoughts About School (Transient)

I've noticed that my feelings about my school are changing drastically very quickly. When things like that happen, I think it's important to write down what I'm thinking before I settle into a mental state and lose all of the ones that came before it.

We visited the school briefly our first Sunday and Monday in Mombasa. I think that the staff here expected us to be surprised about what it is like, expecting it to be better or worse. However, I'm me and, really, nothing really phases me anymore, so I wasn't very surprised. I'm not sure that I had any solid expectations beforehand, but it kind of seemed like exactly what I expected. It really does look like all the pictures I have seen of people volunteering in places like this. (Probably better, actually, to some degree - we have an actual building.)

Then, last Tuesday, I taught my first lesson. Afterward, during my break, I went and sat in on a kindergarten lesson. Throughout the day, in my own classroom and as I watched the kindergarteners, I had this overwhelming feeling that this school in this place couldn't possibly be any other way. It just wouldn't be right. To plop down some other school building in this place just wouldn't be right.

At the end of last week, however, the sadness of the situation began to hit me. We had exams (I thought I was getting away from standardized tests!) and watching them take their tests was really heartwarming and depressing at the same time. To start with, there weren't enough tests for each child. They had to share, 2 or 3 kids to a test. Which was amazing. I was so impressed by how well most of them did with this. They were understanding and patient with each other as they squished into each other's space to see the exam. They waited for others to finish before going to the next page. They were careful to cover up their answers. I didn't see any cheating. None. Despite how easy it would have been to just glance at a neighbor's paper.

But, even as my impressed heart warmed, watching them also made me rather depressed. To see 3 teenage boys crammed into a tiny bench sharing one test, doing their best to get an education was crazy. It made me stop and really see just how sad the situation is. How hard is it to get enough copies of the test? It's not that expensive, and they weren't even new tests. It seems worth the $5 investment to make a set of copies to use each year. But that doesn't happen. Instead we get what we have and the kids have to make it work. Which they do. But think how much better they might do if they each could have a copy in front of them, rather than straining across a desk in the dingy light trying to make sense of something they can barely read.

My intention is not to make it sound like a dingy, depressing place, because it isn't. It's very lively and welcoming and the whole thing functions fairly well. But no matter how well it works, if you compare what they've got to what we have at home, it's nothing. All of the things that I take for granted in my classroom and complain about not having or not working properly are amazing conveniences. It's amazing how much one little thing can improve what we can do for the students. Just to have copies of the test for everyone would make a difference, let alone lights or, god forbid, a computer or a smartboard.  (I would even take an overhead projector!)  It makes me realize just how little it really takes to get the job done. Because no matter how basic Olive's is, it's still a school and the work and the mood of it are just the same as any other school. No matter what, we do the best we can with what we have to help the kids learn.  And they do learn.  You really can do a lot with very little. You just have to be a bit more creative about it.

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