Monday, October 4, 2010

First Day of School

Well, I have to say the first day of school was anti-climactic. I let myself get all worked up last night. I was worried about not knowing where to go, not knowing the skill level of the students, no knowing if there are books, not knowing if the principal speaks English, not knowing... anything! In fact, I was so upset I cried several times just thinking about what an idiot I was going to look like.

Johane had told me not to worry about the first day; it would be no big deal. She also said there would be maybe 30 students there on the first day. Well, she was right. The first day of school was absolutely ridiculous. Only two high school students reported for class. Two kids in grades 7-12! That's crazy!

I went up the mountain with Willem and Johane on a four wheeler. When we arrived it was probably a little after 9 am. Classes begin promptly at 8 each morning, so I was a bit shocked to see a handful of the kids from Laboule plus some I didn't know standing at the top of the road. I was even more shocked to see more students sitting on the steps in front of the church and leaning against the rail outside the cafeteria. In total there were probably less than 30 students I could see, and there were no classes in session.

First, Johane took me up to the elementary principal's office where there were 6 or 7 teachers sitting in a row. I think they were having some kind of meeting, but at least one teacher could have been with all the k-6 students. Next I went up to the preschool where there were four teachers and one solitary student. Poor little guy. He looked like he wanted to go home.

Eventually Johane took me to meet the high school principal. He is tall and skinny, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't speak English. He hasn't made a good impression on me. He's still not finished making the high school master schedule. School was supposed to begin today. What was he going to do if even half the high school students showed up?!

Then I met the Haitian men who are teaching English. Johane introduced us, and then took off to find something. I wish she had stayed to witness the conversation that followed. I said I was interested in the vocabulary each class is working on, and the shorter man replied. He said something about the three of us working together and I could watch them teach and then the students would come to me.  Okay, so I didn't exactly get an answer to my question; that's okay. Then I asked which grades they taught. They did not understand that question and kind of mumbled something. I tried to clarify and say, "Does one of you teach 7, 8, and 9 and the other teach 10, 11, 12?" But the taller, younger one (named Gary) gave me a mini lecture about how each of us will teach our own way. He gave an example about how he likes to have the students write on the board, but I may or may not do that. He said I will watch their classes and they will allow me to follow them. And it's okay if we all teach our own way, but we will work together. We must work together. Seriously? Did you even hear the question? Finally, the short guy told me that they were planning today for the rest of the year, so he couldn't give me anything right now--we'll meet later this week.

It could be a long year with my colleagues! Some of the students I've met are easier to understand.

After I met the principal and English teachers, I found Willem and Johane. They asked me what I thought with smirks on their faces. When I told them about my trouble communicating with the English teachers, they both laughed. Then Willem told me how he spoke better English than his teacher in high school.

For the rest of morning I hung out near the kids. I took some pictures with Beth's camera (I'll try to post some tomorrow), and I talked with the Laboule kids for a bit. Then I found a shady spot on the steps under the church, and watched the kids play. Eventually about 15 kids came and hung out near me. Some of them were from Laboule, some were high school students I met at church, and others were just with their friends. I was able to use some Creole phrases I've learned, and my Laboule kids and the high school students tried out some English with me. It was a nice morning, but looking back on it I wish I would have gotten out my English books and worked with the kids. They needed some type of academic activity on the first day of school.

Johane and I discussed this cultural issue of not going to school for the first week or month. She said it's the mindset of parents who aren't educated. She said the first day is better attended at schools where the parents have all been to school themselves. It seems like the parents would jump at the chance to send their kids to school, but I can see why the first day isn't that important when the teachers use it as a planning day.

On Wednesday I'll go back up the mountain to see if the schedule is finished. Maybe there will even be enough students to form a class.

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