I Am Not Teaching You

This is my third week in my classroom, and to be honest, I have been struggling.  I have been confused about the curriculum, or lack thereof, and don’t feel as though I have had a concrete direction to take my students in.  It has been difficult to understand what my students actually understand, and what content has already been covered.  I feel as though I am constantly finding things that need to be recovered before I can actually teach the lesson that I had formed in my mind.  I have had many days where I have just been exhausted trying to keep up with all the things that are happening in my mind, in my classroom, and in my new culture.

So here I am today, exhausted, a little sick, and at a loss for what I was actually going to stand up in front of my students and say.  Well, I got through most of my day just fine, but it’s 2:00pm and I have no plan or inspiration for an activity to do for this last hour of my day.  I decided I’m going to take a step back and give my students some control.  (And for anyone who knows me, you also know that I can be a control freak, so I was pretty desperate for ideas!)

“I am not teaching you right now,” I told my students. “Right now, I want you to teach me.” As I said this, I picked up my books, and sat at one of the desks.  They looked at me confused, not quite understanding what was happening.  I continued, “As my students, I get to help you understand new things.  Today, I want you to help me to understand some new things as well.  I have been trying to learn some Nyanja, and I’m not very good.  You are all going to get a chance to be the teacher and teach me some things in Nyanja that you want me to know and to be able to say.”

Let me tell you, it was an interesting hour.  My students were buzzing with excitement, and all wanted to be up first to teach me new things.  I had to create a schedule and write names on the board to keep some semblance of order.

When each child’s turn came, they jumped to the front of the room and started spewing out a bunch of words that I could not understand.  I would have to tell them to take it back a few steps and say one word at a time, then explain what those words meant.  They struggled to talk slowly and enunciate the syllables so that I could understand.  They thought my pronunciation was hilarious, and I think they really enjoyed the opportunity to laugh along with me.

I learned a lot during this time, and the majority of it was not Nyanja.  Though my students did help me to get a little wider vocabulary, I learned a lot more than language during this time, more so than I ever could have if it had been me at the front of the classroom.  Being their student helped me to understand what they were experiencing from me every day.  They aren’t learning in their first language, and I need to be more supportive of that.

I need to help the students to learn, but they are never going to be able to do that if they do not understand the words that are coming out of my mouth.  I have been conscious of the fact that I have been teaching in a language that was not the most familiar to the faces that were staring back at me, but I think I assumed that the students understand more than they do.  I need to be better for my students.  I need to be more sensitive to their needs, and I need to be more descriptive in my teaching.

Though the lack of inspiration has been a bit of a struggle, I am so happy that it led me, and my students, to more of an understanding on how we should communicate with one another and how I can make my students better grasp the lessons that I am trying to teach them.  I hope I continue to learn from my students every day and stay sensitive to the language barrier that is before us.

Chewa Proverb:

Kangaonde kakoma ndi mcere – What you started off with may be small and imperfect, but you can improve on it.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Laurie Harrington says:

    Olivia .. I’m loving your blogs!


  2. Jay says:

    Great post! You had some wonderful insight and perhaps some intervention. It was always those moments when we allowed ourselves to step back and look at things from the indigenous perspective that we found the most understanding of why we were there. I am so proud of and impressed by you.


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