From Classroom to Staffroom

High school was never my favorite place. I never really enjoyed it — never really thrived. In actuality, my high school experience is probably part of why I chose to take a gap year. From day one of freshman year I counted the days to my graduation, four years later. Somehow, don’t ask me how, I made it through alive.


The third of June was the long-awaited day that released me from the ties of high school. Just five months later, on the third of November, those supposedly ties bound me again — just on another continent this time.


This past Friday, I began my teaching apprenticeship; I teach premiere-level English (second year) at one of the local high schools. The school is a large, outdoor campus that has about 2,700 students. The high schools here are only three years, versus the common American system of four years. Very fortunately, my Wolof instructor is also my apprenticeship supervisor so we already have a solid relationship.


My day began by being introduced to every single teacher at the school; as I have mentioned before, the importance of greetings and introduction is not something to be ignored in Senegal. I took my seat in the staffroom — a place I had only ventured to a few times in the past — and engaged in basic conversation with my new colleagues. Turns out, I’ll be sitting in on staff meetings with the English department as well.


While sitting there I peered out the window and saw students — peers — ages 14 to 25, and I thought to myself, “Do I even know how to teach English, my own language? How am I supposed to stand in front of a class and teach them what I’ve never really studied?”


My thoughts were broken when Malick, my supervisor, and I began our trek across campus to the classroom full of students that awaited us.


As I entered, 60+ students scrambled up from their seats to stand and watch me enter. Apparently a sign of respect (they did it for the headmaster later in class), I was taken completely off guard and my thoughts went back to be being a student only five months ago and having to do similar things for those who were teaching me.


There I stood, wondering why I was going to be teaching these students while, likewise, they were wondering why I was going to be teaching them.


I was placed in the Hot Seat, a common game where one person sits and everyone else in the room has the liberty to ask any question to that person they want. My answers to their various questions were nervously sputtered out:
“- What’s your real name?
– Sarah.”
“- Where are you from?
– Chicago.”
“- Do you like ceebujen (rice and fish)?
– Yes, ceebujen is neex na torop (very tasty).”


Trying to make myself sound much more interesting than I truly am, I was the laughing stock of the entire class. I don’t know if it was my accent, broken Wolof, or my mere image that made the class so rowdy and rambunctious.


The two hour class was filled with stares from them and stares to them. I made so many mistakes that made them laugh at me even more, but I think that worked in my favor because they see me as some young dof (crazy person) instead of someone above them.


I think I won at least some of them over when Malick asked me to do an example of the past perfect on the board and my shaky hand wrote: I had never liked the taste of fish until I ate ceebujen in Senegal. The class went wild and I did a very dramatic bow for them all.


Even if working as a teacher will be tough, which I am already understanding it is because I am procrastinating writing sentences with various verb tenses by writing this blog, it will be nice to be surrounded by people my age again.


Time to survive high school, round two.