Tag Archives: classroom

Sorry to our 8th grade teachers…we finally understand.

Mondays.  Oh Mondays.  Why must they come so soon?  After a relaxing and eventful weekend we felt a little apprehensive starting such a daunting, teaching-heavy week.  Whether it be lesson plan anxiety, mild bodily discomfort, or feeling a little homesick, it was clear we all had our worries about how this Monday would go and whether we would be successful in engaging with our students in meaningful ways.

Some challenges we continued to face today revolved around effectively managing our classrooms and dealing with troublesome students. Having drawn a lot from our own experiences in grade school, many of us are feeling like we are, at times, falling short of being able to command their full attention and gaining 100% of their respect. Breaking into the already predefined “classroom culture” here at Heritage has been a definite barrier, but one that we are slowly breaking down and becoming a part of. This has lead all of us to realize that teaching is a skill that is honed over time and is causing us to feel a great deal of respect for the teachers that have helped shape our lives in many apparent (and subtle) ways.

The day was filled with highs, however, as we continued to connect with our students in new and surprising ways. For example, after having a difficult start to the teaching process, one of the students in Katie’s Human Rights class came forward with a completely finished final project days before it was due. The students were instructed to create their own countries, including designing a flag, constitution, and structure, and it was so encouraging to see this student really embrace a challenging concept with such creativity.  Kyle also experienced a breakthrough today in his Creative Writing class when a quiet, yet confident student proudly read a short story of his own.  For us, who seek to teach material that will encourage students to explore their creativity, these moments of expression are self-affirming and inspiring.

After school today, several of us journeyed into town to explore the market. The rest of our group stayed behind at school to organize their ever-growing library. Growing up in America, reading was a natural part of our lives, and a way for us to learn and be influenced by our culture. Because of the lack of Ghanaian culture represented in the literature that they have access to, the students at Heritage are consuming American culture as they learn to read.  This seems to be leading to a certain disconnect with the books they read every single day. Despite these cultural differences, we are noticing more and more how similar children are all over the world. The hand-games and silly childhood habits that we all experienced growing up are present here in Ghana as well, and this makes the world feel just a little bit smaller.

Thanks again for keeping up with our trials and tribulations. We love you all and are eager to share our stories in more detail when we get back to the States!

Peace, Love, & Plantains,

Molly, Kyle & the Crew

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First Day of School!

Today was our first day of teaching at Heritage.  Our daily schedule consists of a mixture of teaching our individual subjects and holding small reading groups.  The classes we teach range from 7th graders to 11th graders, while the reading groups include students of all ages.

Our initial reactions to the atmosphere at Heritage were positive.  There is a clear sense of community within the structure of the school.  The staff members not only have relationships with the children but also communicate openly with other staff.  For example, DeGraft, the school’s headmaster, can be seen socializing with the kitchen staff, as well as taking care of all the details that contribute to helping Heritage run smoothly.  One of the teachers sat with us (Molly and Chloe) during a free period and discussed different aspect of the business world in Ghana, as well as the culture of homosexuality in this country. His curiosity about our perspectives on education and his clear love of learning made the conversation really open and culturally enlightening.

The students have a lot of responsibilities in the maintenance of campus procedures and aesthetics. For example, students have various tasks ranging from coming early to school to sweep the floors of the classrooms, to alerting the teachers when each period is over.  The highest achieving students act as prefects of the school and help the teachers to keep the classroom in line. It is clear that for both the staff and students, Heritage is a place that is enjoyed and appreciated.

After working hard on preparing our lesson plans and bouncing ideas off each other, we were excited to implement our lesson plans in a real classroom setting.  Our first day experiences ranged significantly, including both highs and lows.  One factor that contributed to the differing experiences was age.  As a whole, our group felt that the older classes were much harder to engage.  During reflection we brainstormed ways to connect with these students and created ways to more effectively manage the classroom and convey our course material.  Generally, the younger students were more enthusiastic and receptive of our material.  These interactions helped sustain us through a long day of trial and error.  We also realized that while the majority of these kids do speak English quite well, it is still very much their second language. We all found that speaking extraordinarily slow and in the simplest language we could think of was important in conveying our lessons.

Regardless of the students’ appreciation of the class content on this first day, all of the students expressed kindness and genuine intrigue into us as people, and we found ourselves answering questions about our lives at home and building connections almost right away with the kids. It was a lot of fun to start to get to know the students, and we look forward to spending even more time interacting with and learning from them.

We are finding that it is hard to balance our prior expectations with the reality of the constraints of this trip. Accepting our limited role here and the way that it affects how the students perceive us has been a challenge. An important understanding we are working through is that the immediate effects of our work may not be apparent in a tangible way. We are all coming to terms with the fact that this experience may play a greater role in shaping our own personal identities and ideas about service than the lives of the students at Heritage due to our limited time here. During our discussion, we realized just how important it is that we don’t let this minimize the significance of our journey in Ghana. Each of us is in the process of realizing what this experience will mean to us, and it is something we will continue to reflect on.

We are eager to return to the classroom tomorrow, and hopefully we will be able to address our own challenges and continue to foster a positive learning experience for the students. Thanks for keeping up with our adventures, and we hope you are enjoying the snow!

Love and miss you all,

Chloe & Molly

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Headstands, Happy Feet and Honest Reflection

Today we continued teaching, measuring height and weight, and distributing shoes. We experienced a wide range of highs today, including more pen pal requests, some great questions during lessons, and steady progress during reading periods. Jennie had a great time teaching 9th grade anatomy, and Jake and Teresa were impressed by a creative writing story including a full plot and moral. Anne had success introducing a new game into her French class, and Mike saw some great questions during lecture in both of his classes. We also had the opportunity to match some kids with shoes that fit well, and it was great to see how happy it made them.

Unfortunately, we were not able to give every student who got measured a pair of shoes that fit. We brought a lot of donated shoes, but the sizes were not distributed according to the needs of the kids at Heritage. We ended up with a lot of very small women’s sizes and a lot of very large men’s sizes, but most of the students needed something in the middle. It was hard to give kids the option of taking a pair that looked like boats on their feet or waiting until February, when a new group will come with more donations. Some kids very visibly sad, some were visibly frustrated, and it was difficult for us to feel so powerless. A few students kept looking at us expectantly as if we could pull out a perfect size from behind our box, but there really wasn’t anything we could do. That experience was a low for most of us today.

During our nightly reflection sessions, Lilah asked us why we were here. We shared tons of different ideas. We definitely had a few selfish reasons, primary among them wanting to take advantage of the chance to see a new country and get a taste of a new culture. Several of us also jumped at the chance to teach. Alexis and Jake both see themselves as future teachers, while Greg and Sydney wanted to challenge themselves by attempting to lead a classroom. A lot of us also wanted to spend our winter breaks doing something worthwhile, and teaching things we’re passionate about seemed like a great way to do this.

A couple of us did question how much of an impact we have had here. We know that we will all leave with a lot of wonderful personal experiences that will stay with us for a long time, but a few of us did wonder how beneficial this trip has been for our students. We have all noticed how difficult it is to teach, and with minimal practice in classrooms, we know that we are still learning ourselves.

Being from Ghana, Anita has a more unique view of our experience so far at Heritage. Anita had never heard of Heritage before coming to F&M, so she was interested to see what the school was like. She, along with some of the rest of us, was wondering how much impact we could really have in 8 days, considering most of the things we are teaching don’t come up on the national exams that the students are preparing for. She has been surprised by the contrast between the schools she went to in Accra, the country’s capital, and Heritage, a rural school. With such a divide so clear, it has become even more apparent how important education is for all students because it is the best way to close this gap in the future.

To lighten the mood a little bit, a fun moment for everyone today was watching some of the younger boys do headstands in the middle of the grass at the end of our reading period. The boys were able to hold headstands far longer than Lilah, our resident yogi. We wished the girls could have participated too, but their skirts made it difficult to try the pose decently. They were still excited to help count the seconds out loud for their classmates, especially because one boy reached 100 seconds. Everyone walked away laughing and smiling.

We will all continue to think about why we are here, and we hope to keep this dialogue open.

Namaste,
Kate, Anita, and Alexis

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