my confirmatory visit

this is going to be an upbeat entry. i’ve had a good week.

on wednesday apagie musha had a visitor. ruth, my education program manager from vso rwanda came up for the morning for a ‘confirmatory visit’. very exciting. amanda and i were to be confirmed. woo hoo. when i reached the school grounds there was her pickup truck, emblazoned with the vso emblem, and a few students and one prefet de discipline standing around oggling it. i’d had warning, and i’d coached my class on what to say and do when she came to observe me. i was lucky on several counts: first- ruth is great and we get along fabulously, second- she came to a class that i love and who are smart and eager, third- the director (who came with) doesn’t speak english so he can’t really understand my classes and so he didn’t stay long.

in any case, the class went well, if a little more well-behaved than normal. afterwards we went back to the office for what i thought would be a pow-wow between the four of us (me, amanda, ruth, and the director) about things that were going well and not-so-well with our placements and the ‘partnership’. while we were waiting for the director and amanda, ruth and i chatted a bit. some of my students were hanging around the office (not surprising- they often get called out of class, even the good ones, to do odd jobs and discuss school-fee problems and weed the garden or whatever needs doing and naturally end up waiting for the director or the prefet de discipline to show up). so i introduced them to ruth and playfully admonished them for not studying for my quiz this week. i think i have a good rapport with my students and i wanted ruth to see that.

when the director arrived from unknown other tasks, we made for the teachers’ room. and the students followed. it was then that i realized that these were not just any students, but some of my favorite students, one boy and one girl from every class that i teach. the director had rounded them up at ruth’s request to provide feedback on what goes on inside the classroom when the director’s not around.

they pulled up chairs around a big table and ruth brought out flipcharts, markers, and post-its, vso staples as far as materials go (flipcharts are big sheets of cheap white paper that are used instead of white-boards for those who don’t care about saving trees). she gave these treasures to the students and asked them to write up some positive changes in the school since we arrived, and some potential improvements for the future. my poor kids, who cherish their bic pens (only blue and red- black is a novelty) and notebooks made of recycled paper, who must apply to the director himself to get a sheet of printer paper, who use chalk that they’ve scammed off a teacher or found on the floor in place of white-out, who go nuts when i hand out photocopies and give them back only reluctantly so i can use them again in another class- these students were now holding the biggest piece of paper they’d ever seen, a handful of colorful markers that they’d never seen, and post-its that were simply too complex to understand and therefore of no real use. more than that, ruth was politely requesting that they discuss the abilities of their teacher and the shortcomings of their school, insisting that they ignore the director (ignore the director!?!) and give their honest opinions. in a culture that frowns highly upon individuality and the expression of personal ideas, this was met with wide eyes and awkward shifting in seats.

but ruth is clever, and she’s rwandan, and she’s done this before, so she smoothly occupied the director and amanda and i with our own bit of flipchart and task, while she got the students revved up. the end product is now hanging on a wall in our house, along with comments from the director as well. every time i see it i start smiling. it’s full of positives – things like good attitude, sociability (i’m sociable!), knowledge, good explanations, motivation, interesting topics, games, love for the class (this one written i’m sure by justin from senior 5 who has a repeatedly-announced crush on me), and from the director- flexibility, open discussion, punctuality, responsibility, and he loves that we eat lunch with the teachers (beans and ugali). for all the troubles i’ve had with this guy, he talks for over a half-hour to ruth about how great we are. yes there are challenges- the language barrier is still huge, our ‘methodology’ is causing noise issues, collaboration with other teachers is not enough. but just when i was feeling the beginnings of a rut here, it’s amazing to get this kind of positive feedback, saying yes we still want you here and yes you’re making a difference.

after the meeting i decided not to go to rwamagana for the internet as i often do on wednesdays and instead stayed in musha for the afternoon. amanda and i borrowed scythes from the school and cut our lawn. we picked rocks out of the garden and had a pitching contest (i won) which garnered an audience of student-spectators. then we headed for the basketball game. amanda played with the senior twos. i mingled. i found all the students who attended the meeting with ruth and thanked them, and told them if they had any more ideas for improvement that i’m open to them. i also plugged the new english club, which had its first official meeting on tuesday with plenty of interest. i chatted with a student who’s part of the anti-aids club here, which does theatre and comedy and music, and which i’m going to observe tomorrow and saturday. i felt immersed, accepted, engaged with the school community, watching my senior sixes pummel the twos in a less-than-professional basketball game and sitting with students who i’m happy to call friends. i went home happy, thinking that if it weren’t for lack of internet and lack of market, i’d be happy spending months at a time in this little village.


~ by aliciawolcott on June 1, 2007.

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