Although we got off to a slow start at Hope Africa University this semester and it was shortened into twelve weeks, I am now at the end, others are on last week or two with finals. For me it has meant giving the final exams, grading and turning in grades all in the last week since I am leaving for the month of December.
This semester has had many of the usual challenges—lack of desks, broken chalkboards, unscheduled special classes that become a priority and “kidnap” my class for a week or two, student’s who don’t have the required textbook, tardiness and “musical rooms” (as another class decides to take the classroom 4-5 weeks into the semester). But thankfully, we did have classes, despite the political tensions and insecurities, occasional gunfire and grenades in nearby neighborhoods and the decrease in student numbers due to greater financial difficulties for everyone in the country. Once again these students demonstrate their tenacity, commitment and desire to gain an education even with so many obstacles and barriers. I applaud them for this and feel privileged to participate in their learning.
In addition to teaching two classes of English 2 (Writing in English, as in academic types of English writing) I was also asked by the Education Department to teach a course called “Integration of Listening and Speaking in English”. My greatest qualification for this is that I am a native-born English speaker. The Dept. chair wanted the students to gain confidence and practice with English, hearing it, understanding it and speaking it. It’s very difficult for students to practice when there are few places to find English speakers and we all default to what’s comfortable. It proved to be a lot of fun to create the curriculum, activities and provide many opportunities for the students to work in groups to facilitate their English practice. As so often happens I was taken by surprise one day by the unexpected when we were playing some board games that involved using place markers and dice. I discovered they had never used dice and had no idea how to role it and move around a board game. It was a great practical lesson to demonstrate the importance of cultural familiarity when trying to interact with others. Particularly as these students are training to be secondary teachers it became a teachable moment for illustrating how important it will be for them to anticipate their students experience and understanding when they become teachers.
Another new challenge for me this semester was being asked to participate in one of the thesis juries for a master’s level student. Her thesis was written and presented in English, although she is Burundian, and involved the teaching of English at the equivalent of a middle school. Again, I was asked to do this because I am a native-born English speaker and I felt very unprepared for the role I was to take, which was one of three persons on a panel to review and judge her thesis. While it was not as intimidating as I thought it would be I’m not sure how much I contributed to the whole proceedings. It was another interesting cultural experience that stretched me beyond my comfort zone. Fortunately, most theses are presented in French so most likely my native-born English expertise will not be needed very often.
As the semester ends I am thankful for the students I was able to teach and become acquainted with this time, for their enthusiasm for learning and for the ongoing challenge of trying to find new ways to connect them to the subject matter. Likewise, as all teachers, I am thankful it is the semester break, for a time of repose and to travel to see loved ones in the U.S.