Most American kids complain about heading back to school after a break, but they’ve got it easy compared to our Ghanaian students who spent their first class period back at Heritage cleaning their classrooms and campus. Duties included sweeping, setting up desks, and picking up trash that had floated onto campus during the students’ absence. We headed to the school early this morning to begin our first day of teaching. Each of us taught reading periods and a subject of our choice.
Here’s what we all chose to teach:
- Greg and Alexis: World Geography
- Michael: Geology and the Environment
- Kate: Psychology
- Jake and Teresa: Creative Writing
- Anne: French
- Anita: African History and Current Events
- Sydney: Logic
- Jennie: Anatomy
We each taught classes, held reading periods, and had a free period throughout the day. The reading periods were instituted by Kwesi to help students improve their reading skills, which aid in their ability to pass their national examinations. During the reading periods groups of two or three students worked with one of us, reading stories and discussing them. We sat in the shade of palm trees reading textbook collections of stories that could have been in our own elementary classrooms (Stone Soup, Frog and Toad, Curious George, etc.). We all felt the material they were reading threw idealized American culture in the faces of children experiencing a very different childhood. During our nightly group reflection this evening, we agreed that helping the school supply texts that are relevant to the lives of the children at Heritage would be beneficial. Any ideas?
The Ghanaian school system is structured so that teachers teach to the standardized national exam. The classrooms are organized in rows of desks and the students are used to lectures and rote memorization rather than participation, discussion, and creative thinking. The Heritage teachers are focused on the students’ success on the national exam, but balance the strict curriculum with creative teaching and classes with practical applications (Home Ec., Technical classes, etc.). The teachers and the school administration are invested in the students’ future beyond the national exam.
Our purpose here is to introduce new ways of thinking and subjects that the students wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to explore: knowledge for the sake of knowledge rather than for the sake of passing a test. On our first day we began facing the major challenge of breaking the students’ routine. For example, in the Creative Writing class, despite our encouragement that there is no wrong answer and that it is all about individuals’ thoughts and ideas, several students copied the works of their peers rather than using their own imagination. We are unsure whether the plagiarism is a result of fear of an incorrect answer, incomprehension, or laziness. We all adjusted our lesson plans on the fly to accomplish our goals.
The high school students here are typical teenagers: bright but some are too cool for school. The junior high kids are enthusiastic and more receptive to new subjects and methods. Each of us interacted with the different age groups throughout the day, making each period unique and exciting.
Not only did we have the opportunity to teach the students, but they also taught us a thing or two…
Unbeknownst to him, Jake looks like Jesus, Son of God. Quickly upon entering one of his classes, a high school girl told him that he “resembled Jesus.” Nice.
We also found out that unlike American kids these days who listen to the “devil’s music” filled with sex, drugs, and money…Ghanaian kids dig on Gospel.
Ghanaians do not think that baby goats are cute…they are lunch.
After a hard day’s work teaching in the equatorial heat, we all piled into a tiny van and ventured to Mankessim for market day. We walked through dusty streets looking at everything from machetes to luggage to fruit. Along the walk Ghanaian children shouted “Obruni!” at us (a non-derogatory exclamation of our whiteness). Our mission was to buy super dope fabrics to make sweet threads. Mission accomplished. The shop owner was lovely and we now have oodles of colorful cloth scattered around the house.
We are all exhausted but super pumped for tomorrow.
Jake, Anne, and Kate