Sunday, February 24, 2013

An ode to a colleague….and am I just a glorified babysitter?

An opportunity walked right by me, yet I am still very happy for our colleague and friend. When Jon & I first began working at our school way back in September 2011, there was a student teacher here. His attitude towards teaching and his dedication to his students was eye-opening for Jon & I. It is rare to find a Tanzanian teacher who does not use corporal punishment, that uses interactive teaching, and who dedicates his life to the well-being of the students. He is one of the French teachers at our school. Around November of that same year, he returned to Dar es Salaam to finish up his university studies. Late last year, he returned to our school after completing his own studies. It was a great day when he returned. You see, Jon & I are viewed to be rather strange to our colleagues. We’re strange because we put our students before ourselves, we put our students before our colleagues and we don’t hit them. In short, we’re viewed as strange because we respect our students. This French teacher shows the same characteristics as us. With his presence, we felt that he was a phenomenal role model to the other teachers. He’s Tanzanian just like them and he does the same thing as us. He believe in education. He believes in the same language acquisition styles as me.

How did this opportunity pass me by then? We had so much to learn from each other. Both being language teachers and having the same belief system in education, we should have been collaborating. Alas, we didn’t because we were both so busy with our students and lives. Two weeks ago, he was offered a job at a college on the northeast coast of Tanzania. He’s ecstatic and so am I. This is an excellent opportunity for him and he always told me he wanted to be a professor. This is an excellent stepping stone for him. While I am really happy for him, I am very disappointed that we are losing potentially the best teacher at our school. It’s hard to express how much his presence and his dedication to our students has left an impact on me. You see teachers like him in this completely dysfunctional school system and it gives you hope that maybe, someday, the Tanzanian education system can turn around.

In the meantime, in reference to my last few blogs titled “why, why, why?”, I asked him why do the parents of our students in the one classroom where they are about 5 years behind continue to pay for them to come to school? I didn’t get it. It seemed like such a waste of resources on everyone’s part. It seems like they can just get to work on the farm. Yet, his response made me realize that there is no real point in teaching these students. He said there are basically two reasons to keep these failing students in school. The first reason, he said, is because it is shameful to the family if they pull their student out of school at this age. It’s shameful for them to put him/her to work even if they are failing everything and not understanding anything at school. Secondly, he said they send their failing students to school because it keeps them out of trouble. If they are not at school, it’s possible they are engaging in relationships (getting pregnant or the risk of HIV), or getting themselves into other trouble (perhaps drinking, drugs, etc). So, sending them to school, even if they are failing, is like daycare for teenagers. Essentially, for this classroom, I am a glorified babysitter. It’s too bad that the parents can’t be talked into sending them to a vocational school to learn useful skills such a being a seamstress, driving cars, maintenance of cars, carpentry, etc.

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