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.”

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Climate of the Classroom

My sweet learners have been studying weather elements and tools. Today we went outside and tracked the weather. Each class has about 45 students and they were all so well behaved while we were documenting our observations. 

Yesterday, the kids had a hard time understanding what precipitation is, or that temperature means hot or cold, but just through learning about weather by observing, discussing and writing their findings, they were able to have discussions about cloud cover and wind patterns.

Each student stood next to the world map and shared the weather in Port Elizabeth like they were in front of a camera. Confidence was pouring out of each learner, and their peers showed how proud they were. 

In America, teachers are able to teach through hands on resources, and discussions, and the learners receive a strong education; but in South Africa, students learn how to help their classmates, and show respect towards everyone even when in a class of  45. 

I need to work on finding the balance of confident, respectful, caring students who have the chance learn the way that is needed for each individual student.

School Days

The team went to Emafini Primary on Friday to meet our collaborating teacher and students. I wasn't surprised to be welcomed with open arms and minds. The teachers of Emafini were as excited as we were to be there. 

I was partnered with Ms. Peta, but she told me to call her Babes. Once I responded for her to call me Coco, we were a match for sure. Babes introduced me to her class of 45 students. All of these children were on their own while the teachers were meeting the American visitors, and when we walked in, they were all seated and waiting for the lesson to begin.

Ms. Peta is the grade 5 Social Sciences (geography) teacher. The class jumped right into their shared workbooks, and began learning about the elements of weather. The homeroom class was incredibly respectful to their teacher and peers. There weren't any students out of their seats, talking out of turn, or even focused on the strange new teacher, all of the learners were engaged in the lesson.

It is very evident that the children have a strong love of their teacher, and it goes both ways. But with this love, is also a fear of disappointing her. Teachers need to be loud so that 45 students can hear, but she never raised her voice at them, and they followed directions as best as they could.

During independent work, the students showed some difficulty in their comprehension of the lesson. The students were finding the like words and answering with what they hoped was the correct answer, These 5th graders work so hard, along with the teacher, but they can only do as well as they are given. It is near impossible for a teacher to make sure that she is giving each individual student the attention that is needed, and it is hard for a student to understand the lesson every time on the first try.

Ms. Peta checked every single notebook at the end of the class, but without the guidance that a teacher can give in a class with half of the students. 

The teachers at Emafini shine bright with positive attitudes and excitement, but sometimes that may be the only gift that a student receives in South Africa.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Round of applause for Einstein

Love Life is a youth center designed to educate and support teens to become healthy, successful citizens. The team has spent two days there so far, and it has made a bigger impact on us than we could have imagined. 

The center has a clinic that is open to people 24 years old and younger. Here, they are protected from judgment and fear from elders in their communities. It is a free resource where a nurse helps them with family planning, STI prevention, and guidance.

Within the budget, there are 10 Ground breakers that are selected and given a stipend. Each "intern" is given a part of the center to run. This prepares them for leadership, as well as a skill. Some positions that are held by the young leaders are sports and recreation, media, disc jockey, computer lab and gender based abuse counseling.

Our tour was led by a volunteer who is known around the center as Einstein. He was a Ground breaker last year, and is such a huge part of Love Life today. The team got to learn a lot about this bright 22 year old, and in hours we all grew to become a true fan club.

Einstein did his first year of college at the Nelson Mandela Municipal University. He woke up at 3 AM everyday to walk 9 miles to the train station to commute to school. Unfortunately, this way of transport became too expensive for him to continue his studies, and he found an outlet through Love Life to practice his passion of film making. 

This young spirit dreams of being the world's next best physicist. He has a true knowledge of science and wants to reach his full potential. In his room, he has Einstein quotes, as well as his life goals and plans. 

Einstein does not have the monetary means to complete school right now, but this does not stop him from planning and moving towards his goals. He stays active in his community. He is educating his generation on how to stay safe, and how to take care of their community. 

His ultimate goal is to "fight for life."

One quote that I found from Albert Einstein that I felt was relevant for the future physicist is: "Our task must be to free widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and it's beauty."

I wish I could bring this feeling back with me. The compassion and ubuntu that is shown among the people in Port Elizabeth is overwhelming. Love and respect is given unconditionally, without expectations.

The harder you work, the luckier you'll be.

I try to live life treating others as I want to be treated, but I need to do more than that. I need to give what I can so that others can become the best they can be. We cannot be passive citizens. We need to build each other up if we want to survive.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Rainbow Nation

On Monday, the team toured the Nelson Mandela Municipal University. Before the tour started, we were introduced to some people in the education department and given an orientation. One philosophy that is deep in the college, and in the culture is "Ubuntu." This can be translated as: "I am, because you are." Ubuntu is to have compassion, to lean on others and to build each other up.

The 1960s in South Africa were modeled after the Jim Crow Laws. The Group Areas Act enforced each racial group to live in one area together. This forced blacks to live in the townships, far from their sources of income. Coloreds (mixed race) lived in their own area, Indians were grouped together, as well as Whites. Not only did Apartheid separate people based on race, but it took away opportunities for citizens who were not white.

This had a long lasting affect on the citizens of South Africa, even 22 years after Apartheid ended and everyone was given the right to vote, there is still a lot of work that the Africans in the townships have to do to be on an equal playing field.

Schools charge fees. People living in townships have to enroll their child in the school that they can afford, which will not be the school with the best resources and conditions. After their schooling is complete, the people need to figure out if college is their next step. Unfortunately, even if a student is academically qualified to be in the program of their choice, they still are faced with many obstacles. Tuition, books, or the commute might be too much money for a student to afford. Other issues involve technology. Does the person have access to a computer? The internet? Blacks and coloreds are at a huge disadvantage.

Listening to South Africa's youth speak about this problem is so inspiring. The young adults do not show any signs of frustration or anger. They communicate with a matter of fact tone, and push through it to give themselves options. The tenacity shown is almost unbelievable. Twenty-three year old's want to follow in Mandela's footsteps and fight for a better tomorrow with smiles as bright as the African sun.

The people of Port Elizabeth have been so genuine. I ask our guides and teachers any questions that come to mind, and they are happy to answer everything truthfully. Differences are recognized, but respected. Blacks have their own traditions and rituals, and whites understand, but do not practice the same practices. I think this is a huge difference between America and South Africa. I watched my colleagues listen to the struggles of a 24 year old black female, and they responded by sharing their own  problems. We need to stop talking about how do things, and start listening. We need to internalize and empathize with strangers. We need to recognize what people are made up of, and where they came, to understand each other's choices.

There isn't any hate, or judgement, there is only Ubuntu. "Rainbow Nation" because all of the colors are needed to make a rainbow, but blue is not trying to be red.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Just when I thought poop in my mouth was bad...

Our second day in South Africa was to be spent on safari. The wild animals are the part of Africa that makes it seem like a dream, so we were all very excited to be on our way to Addo Elephant National Park. 

The drive was about an hour long and I couldn't stop staring at the sea of trash along the road. Like most cities, there are well-developed areas, and underdeveloped areas. Parts of Port Elizabeth is covered in litter. My mind started racing with questions and connections:
How can this be? What about the animals? Is this a focus for the upcoming election? Does this current president care? How can any child grow and succeed in these conditions? How is this Africa? How can we change behaviors?

The thoughts spiraled as we pulled into the National Forest. Vibrant shades of green protected us from the pollution outside. Our safari began. The team took pictures of ostriches, elephants, warthogs, and buffalo. These animals are free in the wild, and even provided with clean water during this dry year that South Africa is facing. I understand that the conservation of these peaceful creatures is very important, and that any pollution or changing climates is the fault of humans, but what is Port Elizabeth doing to help the citizens?

In order for people to begin to care about their surroundings, they need to feel cared for. The current president, Jacob Zuma, has been taking money from the government to build on to his over the top, personal home. The people I have talked to in Port Elizabeth do not trust any potential President at this point. If the government is not looking out to better this beautiful country, who is?

I can't help but think about my own country. Do we care about our environment? Do we care about the well-being of others? Are we in the same place as this young democracy?

Fortunately, I was able to get away from these deep thoughts for a few hours, as we went to a game park. ;) Here, we were able to get close to giraffes, rhinos, wildebeests, and cheetahs. 

Our tour guide introduced us to a new game. We had to see who can spit an "object" the furthest. It just so happens that the said object was impala dung! Anyone who knows me, knows I have a weak stomach, but the rules were clear from the beginning: If you agree to play without knowledge of the game, you must play- even when you hear what the task is. I thought this was going to be the most interesting part of my day...

The last stop was the cheetah enclosure. The guide spent ten minutes telling us about the wild cat and how they love to hunt, but that there was nothing to worry about while we were taking pictures of the six cats. The team was ready to go back to the office when we learned that the car was having issues and would not start. A few unsuccessful attempts later, another truck was called in to rescue us. Safety was close, until two cheetahs approached the trucks and began to torment us. The rescue vehicle was stuck against the other truck and the dominant cheetah was standing against the hood, staring into our eyes. Just as I surrendered to the idea of becoming catnip, we were finally free and out of the enclosure. 

Reflecting on today, I realized that I need to give more, empathize more, and pay attention to the lessons around me.

**I will post pictures when my wifi is stronger!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Show of Hands

The team woke up for an amazing breakfast at our B&B, and were on our way to paint a school. We were not thrilled to wake up early after a day long flight to paint, but as we started driving, the team was finally exposed to the different neighborhoods that makes up South Africa. I pulled my camera out to try to capture the little houses that held happy families. I was quickly brought back to reality- no longer would I whine about painting, when I am given so many opportunities to travel, learn and grow.

The team poured out of the van ready to find out our task. Volks Wagon employees were leading the charge to beautify the school campus, this is apart of their Show of Hands volunteer program. Groups of people were gardening, painting the exterior, cleaning, tiling and painting murals in classrooms. All of the volunteers were pleased to be there, and the community was overwhelmed with gratitude.

In the bathroom, the message below was a decal at the entrance. Everyday, the students will be reminded  to "Work hard...Do what you love, and stay humble." Children who will have a working toilet in their school for the first time are reminded to "stay humble."

I was reminded of my own journey. I've dreamed of teaching, of changing the world through loving my students, I have been pushing myself to keep dreaming, but I never thought I would be in South Africa. Now I dream of meeting new people, seeing new places, and trying everything. I can do anything, as long as I love what I do and stay humble.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Just touched down in Elizabethtown!

After 26 hours of travelling, the team is settled in our rooms at the guesthouses. We are a block from the beach where there are dolphins, sharks and whales! There seems to be a lot of nightlife here in Port Elizabeth, as well. 

I'm off to sleep, as we have an early start tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

2 More Sleeps...

I am half way through packing for my trip to Port Elizabeth, South Africa. The team of 12 teachers from Carolina Forest International Elementary School, as well as Dr. Gross, and two professors from University of North Carolina at Wilmington will be jetting over to the Southern Hemisphere on Thursday.

While we are there, the team will be working closely with teachers at Emafini Primary School. We will learn about South African culture, history and language, as well as so much more.

Look out for more posts about my adventure!