The main reason I wanted to participate in Global Citizen Year was for the hands-on work experience that I would get through my apprenticeships. Therefore, I spent several days scanning the information about each country’s apprenticeship options. Seeing that India only had English teaching apprenticeships automatically made it my last choice for placement. I did not want to teach English. I didn’t want to take on a job in a place that I had been for the last 13 years…school. The irony that now my only apprenticeship is teaching English is kind of one of those 'story of my life' things. Of course the one thing that I didn’t want to do has consumed my life for the last 6 months. But the more ironic part of it all is that nothing has made me happier than teaching English in Senegal.
Starting in October when school came into session, I began teaching English at three high schools: Lycée de Thiadiaye, Dieguem Privée, and Keur Magour. Around the beginning of December, my host sister Bousso began class at the local vocational school that teaches a student body of mostly girls things like sewing, French, cooking, business, hair styling, and mathematics in order for them to take these skills and be able to work in Senegal. Because they didn't have an English teacher, I was quickly asked to take the position.
I’m not going to try to sugar-coat my experience with teaching. Some days I have come so close to picking up my backpack and leaving in the middle of class so that no one sees me burst into tears; I’ve learned that frustration in the most common side effect of teaching a bunch of loud teenagers. There are days when all I want to do is hit the snooze on my phone again and again so that I don’t have to get up for 8 o’clock class. I go through small phases of thinking about whether or not my efforts are appreciated or even worth it at all. But all these bad days or times of frustration are worth the incredible experience I’ve had as an English teacher.
At first, the hardest part was the language barrier blocking communication between me and my students. It didn't really click in my head at the beginning that it would be incredibly difficult to teach a language when I couldn't translate vocabulary words into the language that my students understand. For example, how am I supposed to teach them the meaning of the word ‘happy’ or ‘cooking pot’ when I don't know it in French or Wolof? The challenge continued for some time until I became confident in my Wolof; I can now carry on a 2 hour lesson in Wolof because I am able to convey lessons of grammar and vocabulary through listening, speaking, reading, and writing activities in their own language.
As the year went by, I became assured in my teaching abilities and started teaching classes by myself. This was a combination of me wanting to push myself to do the work that intimidated me as well as my supervisor preferring to sleep rather than show up for class. Trying to control my classes while teaching them a valuable language that is spoken all over the world is hard. With gaining their respect, much trial and error, and the occasional punishment, we’ve made it work.
But the most important part about my experience with teaching English has been my students. They are crazy, obnoxious, loud, and difficult people. Fortunately, I wouldn’t have wanted to spend my bridge year with any other group of people. We crack jokes and make fun of each other. We try our best together. One of the gratifying parts about my apprenticeship has been the relationships I have created with my students. I cannot walk around any part of my village without being greeted by a student. Walking from my house to the market or school is a circus of throwing out “çe va? nanga deff?” to their calls of “Aïcha! Aïcha Dieye! Nama naa la!” Having students ask if they can come over to my house after school to have extra English lessons puts a huge smile on my face. We walk home from school together, talk about our differences in culture, discuss who's going to the rap concert Friday night, and relate about what we want to be when we grow up. We exchange ideas and our languages. If I go for a walk with a member of my host family and am greeted by a teenager, my brother or sister ask if that person is my student or friend. Unexpectedly, I could say they are both.
My experience with teaching my own language has taught me more than any class in high school did. Patience has been learned along the way. Acknowledging each and every students’ intelligence and uniqueness is a conscious effort that makes the world of difference. These students don't have fancy smart boards, good lighting, projectors, heavy textbooks with hundreds of pages of information, comfortable desks, or inspirational quotes on the walls. They have drive, ambitions, intelligence, humor, and a desire to learn just like the rest of us. Just because the only materials that they have are a notebook, pen, blackboard, and chalk doesn’t make them any less of a future global leader than a high school student living in a developed country.
Overall, my experience with teaching English in Senegal has been an incredible learning experience. As my time as Mademoiselle Aïcha comes to a close, my hope is that I may have opened a door of opportunities for some of my students. In exchange, they have opened my mind to a new perspective of the world and they’ve shown me that there really are people that can change it for the better.