Sunday, August 14, 2016

Teaching Practices

Through the time that we have been in South Africa, the team has taken different classes and participated in discussions with professors about culture and education.

During our last meeting, we sat down with an education professor with a specialty in science and have worked in New Jersey and South Africa.

He was speaking about how we have to stop teaching science and math, and we need to start teaching students how to think. I woke up a little. I pointed out that in America, too many teachers are made to worry about their test scores and as a result, teach students how to take a test.

My first year teaching was spent worried about the state test and how my students would score. I cried too much that year. My dreams of what teaching was supposed to be were temporarily crushed. I decided that I would no longer talk about the end of year test, until the end of the year.

I’ve spent every year since focused on teaching my students how to talk about their learning, how to form opinions, how to write about their thoughts. I teach how to manipulate numbers and come to solutions on their own, rather than using the way that I depend on.

I love Common Core.  

My friend, Florence and I talk about how we love that Common Core builds from one year to the next. I love that it thinks about the different learners in our classrooms and shows us how to approach a problem, rather than teach the answer.

Today lit my “beginning of the school year” fire!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Women's Day

Schools are closed today! Today is National Women's Day in South Africa. 

Women's Day celebrates the group of women who decided to march on the Union Buildings in 1956. During apartheid, the black citizens were not allowed to move around without a pass. This was to ensure population control. 

The women decided to march to end the pass laws.

They were successful!

I think this day sets a great example for working together to create change. Girls and boys need to be aware of the fight that the generations before them fought. 

America should take a day off to celebrate Women's Suffrage.

Monday, August 8, 2016

"Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world."

I've been teaching weather to grade 5 at Emafini Primary. When I first walked into the classroom, I noticed that there were no maps or globes. Students were learning about the world through a textbook that was read aloud as they followed along. 

A major problem in South Africa is the education system. There is a clear difference between predominately white schools and schools in the townships. To start, the teachers in the townships started teaching during apartheid, and therefore, did not have a chance to participate in a competitive teaching program, and black teachers were not allowed to be evaluated. Leaders during apartheid wanted to create an inferior black culture. 

Today in South Africa, all schools are funded by the government, but schools have the option to charge an additional fee. The most prestigious schools are considered public, but only the high middle class can afford to send their children there. Schools like Emafini do not have additional fees and open their doors to all students. Teachers are teaching 45 students at a time, so classroom management is the main focus.

To teach the students about climate, I brought in 9 laminated world maps for students to get into groups. I noticed that they needed a few uninterrupted minutes to explore. We began discussing the equator, the hemispheres and the water cycle. We looked at the smaller maps that showed precipitation and population. I saw more of an eagerness to answer questions and share what they noticed. They were responsible for their own learning, and the kids took it seriously.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

"The only thing you have to fear is fear itself."

This is where we are staying. It is beautiful. We live two blocks away from the ocean, and next door to a boardwalk. We walk to dinner every night, shop at markets, go to the movies, and grab a cup of coffee at our favorite coffee house on a regular basis.

The houses around this neighborhood are just as beautiful, I assume. It's hard to tell because all of the houses and guesthouses, like the one I am staying in, are surrounded by 9 ft concrete walls with electric wires.

We were all warned to use the buddy system, not to carry too much cash and to be aware of our surroundings. I have followed all of these rules, but I have not ever felt like I have been in danger. Maybe it's because I've taken all the precautions or maybe this isn't anymore dangerous than walking around a city in America.

I think walls are built because of fear, and also because it's a natural process when moving into a community with cinder block walls. 
I think violence is because of fear of being the minority. 
 I think fear is keeping us from building a new community.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Change is Coming

Schools were out on Wednesday because it was Election Day in South Africa. I spent the day trying to understand exactly what that means.

I learned that this year's vote was a municipality vote, meaning new mayor's for each city and National Assembly. The voter goes to the designated voting place and submits their vote for one political party. The votes were mostly between the ANC (African National Congress) and the DA (Democratic Alliance). 

This election is important because this is the only vote that the citizens participate in. The National Assembly will elect the next president in 2018. Therefore, if the public wants the next president to represent the DA, they need to vote in the DA to represent their city.

Now, I will give you a list of thoughts that need to be considered during this election:
  1. In the 1950s, during Apartheid, neighborhoods were built according to skin color. This is still how it looks today. You can find pictures and a quick description on Mrs. Johnson's blog at: CharlotteSouthAfrica.blogspot.comThere is no running water in some of the shacks, no electricity and in most cases, no inside toilets.
  2. The majority of the people in townships are of the Xhosa tribe where they still practice many rituals. One of which is appeasing their ancestors. Some voters believe that they will anger their ancestors if they vote against the ANC- Mandela's party.
  3.  The current president, and most mayors, are apart of the ANC. Right now, this is a very crooked group. President Zuma owes the taxpayers about 7 million Rand for taking it to build onto his personal home.
  4.  There is an underlying fear that if the ANC is not in office, Apartheid will happen again.
  5. Young voters realize there needs to be a change- tuition is high and graduates can't find jobs.

Votes are still being counted, but it looks like the country is voting for the ANC, although Port Elizabeth has changed their majority vote from the ANC to DA. 

I am still waiting to hear about the results from Johannesburg. This is a city with the largest township in the country. The ANC was incredibly confident that they would win in this highly populated city, but as of now, the DA is winning by a few hundredths of a point. 

There needs to be major changes still to come in South Africa. I am unsure of which political party will be the answer to continue their revolution from 20 years ago, but I am hopeful that this election is a push towards the right direction.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Say what?

I've previously talked about Ubuntu in South Africa. This philosophy means, "I am because you are." I've seen this in action in the poor areas of Port Elizabeth. There is so much love and support between the students and the youth, but I'm also aware that this needs to extend past our own communities. 

Today I had a moment of feeling very isolated while I sat in on a staff meeting at Emafini Primary. The group was discussing the passing of a family member and how they would go about collecting money. The 14 of us visitors came in and spread out among the teachers. They were discussing this topic in Xhosa, their native language. After about 10 minutes of watching the conversation bounce around, I felt very alone. Although I had my own coworkers with me, I felt as though I was on my own and I became defensive. I started feeling as though the group was talking about me. I wanted to hide or join my English speaking counterparts to feel safe again. 

In America, we are surrounded with people from all over the world and we expect them to always learn English. This is not an easy task and it doesn't become easier when you feel backed into a corner. 

There was never a moment when I was in danger during this meeting, but I couldn't help how I felt. We need to be more sensitive to the people around us. We need to attempt to learn the language of the country we are in but we also need to accept that not everyone will be fluent. If the teachers at Emafini took a second to share what they were discussing, I would have felt more at ease, but they were not aware that we were struggling. They were focused on trying to come up with a plan so that they could begin their day. 

I can't help but think about this non communication in the classroom. The most obvious is the English language learners. I need to do more to make sure they are not just holding on to my words, but that they also have a solid understanding of what I am saying. 

More than that, for the students that do not have the same life experiences as others. We need to know where our kids come from. What do they know? What have they read? What have they cooked? We need to build a common language so that I can teach to their knowledge. We need to add to our language by experimenting and researching and talking. 

We also need to think of where the people around us come from. What they know, what their family is like, where they've been. Without taking time to learn about the people outside of our own community, how can we build new relationships, furthermore, how can we build others up?

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Give them something to talk about...

A few days ago, while meeting with the team to debrief about our week at Emafini, the topic about class discussions was brought up. I was quick to share that I noticed that the students do not spend time discussing a topic in the classroom.

Back at home I have my students engage in a lot of discussions and seminars about current events, history or books. I let my students lead the talks and argue their thoughts with little guidance from myself. My fifth graders surprise me with the depth of their discussions about my read alouds.

This week at Emafini Primary, I tried to have the students share their thoughts with me and it was difficult. I assumed that this was because they weren’t taught how to argue or discuss; until I remembered that some of the most intelligent conversations I’ve had has been with the youth in South Africa. In previous blogs, I talked about how overwhelmed I became listening to people in their teens talk about the world around them.

The learners at Emafini have had a similar effect on me. When they are in between classes and we have a second to discuss what their interests are, or what is going on in their world, they light up and love to share their thoughts.

When I compare my learners in America, to the learners in South Africa, I’ve noticed that my students can talk about literature and social studies freely, but conversations about their life at home or about their neighborhood have not taken place. Whereas the children in Port Elizabeth speak of their communities with ease, but do not question literature or science.

I’m reminded that my way, or our way, is not the “right way.”