I am starting to get a handle on this whole teaching thing. I won’t say I am a good teacher, there are many days when I am pretty darn crappy. I just do not know high school physics well enough to make it very interesting. But the students really love having me as a teacher and that makes me feel better after each lame lesson. The students beg me to stay after class and continue teaching, or to come during their breaks and teach. When I left the Form Four classroom the first time, they all burst into excited laughter. The Form Three girls gave me a round of applause, I did not know why and I made them stop, and the Form Twos always call me back as I am walking away, “Madame Ryan! Madame Ryan!” and when I turn around, “We Love you!!”
This week, I started teaching Life Skills and I am already feeling out of my league. I had it in my mind to be a fun, interactive class where the students could trust me and we could talk about issues that relate to them. I have only taught one class to each form and already it is a much bigger job than I anticipated. I feel like I need a degree in psychology to handle some of the questions the girls ask. I let them run the class the first day; they could ask me any question they wanted. This was a bad idea because I incorrectly assumed they would ask me about boyfriends, schoolwork, and friendship. They did ask me those questions but also added so much that I was unprepared to handle. It is like they have been saving up a lifetime of questions and only now are given a chance to ask.
We discussed abortion, racism, poverty, friendship, fear, self esteem, sex, why some people are shy and others are not, when they should get married, and many other topics in the short 40 minute period. Two of the classes even convinced me to sing “Stop in the Name of Love” in an acapella solo (it wasn’t pretty). When we spoke about whether it was appropriate for a secondary school girl to have a boyfriend or lover, one student asked what a person should do if she is in love with someone who treated her badly. I got the impression she was in a bad relationship but how can I advise her in a group of 30 other students? I tried to give her advice and get some information about the problem but she kept saying “But what if you love him?”, as if the love negated her need to take care of herself.
My form 2 students told me they are failing all their classes because they do not understand when the teachers speak English, it is their 3rd language. Out of the 130 students, there is only one girl with a B-, there are a few Cs, but nearly all the students are at D or below. The students are afraid of the teachers, they might get caned if they speak up. The teachers are convinced the students are “not serious” and lazy, and they do cane them.
My form 3 class asked me about homosexuality; they all agree that, as a sin, it is up there with incest. They are all very religious and I do not want to imply that the Bible or Quran is wrong, but I have to tell them how I feel about the issue and it is a direct contradiction to what they learn in their religion classes. And when my form 4 girls asked if I had been circumcised, every one of them has been, I could not stop my shudder. I did not know how to explain my opinion on female circumcision in a culturally sensitive manner with no preparation in the 5 remaining minutes of class. They live in a completely different world; I am not qualified to tell them how they should live but I have to say something and all I have is my American knowledge and opinions. I can only be honest with them but it makes me nervous to be molding these girls. I know that they trust me but I cannot give both sides of the issues and I think they really should have that.
As we were finishing up class, another girl asked me which I would become: a wife or a sister (nun). It is hard to comprehend that they see those as the only two options. I think they are trying to see the other choices. I left class with my mind full. I learned more about their culture, knowledge, society, expectations, and experiences than I ever expected. Just with the one introductory day, I have a whole years worth of topics to discuss. I talked with the deputy principal and the other teacher in charge of guidance and counseling about the girls’ need for a mentor. Next week, we are going to split the girls into small groups that will meet with a teacher every day. Hopefully, the girls will open up more and be able to talk about these issues. I also need to do some classes about sexual health. The students know almost nothing about their bodies and they really need to know that you cannot cure STD’s by washing with cold water.