Knowledge is Power

Alec Yeh - Senegal


April 1, 2010

I’ve begun teaching Oule’ye French. It’s a little peculiar that I would be teaching her French considering how angry and upset I get teaching Muhammad French. And it’s also peculiar that I would be teaching French at all since I’m terrible at it. But, then again, Oule’ye has never had a formal education, and she desperately wants to learn. And how can I say, “Oh no, I’m not qualified to teach you anything,” when in reality, I know more French since coming here than she will probably ever know. So I agreed. But that slowly began to include Muhammad. Except Muhammad knows much more than Oule’ye so I pretty much ignore him in the lessons. I’ll start teaching him once Oule’ye has caught up a little bit.

The first thing I thing to do was teach her the alphabet. I started by just writing it out and asking here to memorize it, but I realize that was just not effective and didn’t work. So what I did was I kind of turned my room into a little classroom. I taped up the entire alphabet on my wall. That way I can make teaching a little more interactive, but pointing to the letters and showing her how they are written. As soon as the actual teaching began did I realize how little she actually knows. I usually speak French to her when I need something, and somehow she gets it. Now, I realize she usually just guesses what I’m asking for. I figured teaching her the alphabet wouldn’t take too long. It’s so simple. So I thought. It was SO difficult. It took multiple days to teach her the alphabet. I just wanted her to know the thing first, so we just went through the alphabet over and over. But for some reason she couldn’t remember “u.” It was SO frustrating. I just kept on moaning and groaning every time she got it wrong.

Out of my frustration, I ended up pleading with her. Pathetic, I know. At one point, I got so upset I actually threw the book I had in my hand across the room. Oule’ye never cried, but sometimes I wasn’t sure if she was on the edge of it. She also seems to be a little sick, so I couldn’t tell. And she would always laugh at me when I got angry, so I’m thinking she wasn’t actually on the verge of crying.

But after a few days, we finally made the connection that her name, “Oule’ye” makes the “u” sound. The “ou” part is the same sound. So that FINALLY had her going. And what was the most amazing part was seeing her reaction when she finally learned the entire alphabet. I mean, she still has pronunciation issues, but that’s because French is not her native language. So her pronunciation might never change. But when she finally got it all done, she was so incredibly happy. She had her own little celebration and you could see it in her eyes how proud she was and how grateful she was. It really goes to show how empowering learning can be.

Knowledge is power, and for Oule’ye, she felt so uneducated, and thus powerless. I’m so happy I could do my part in giving her some sort of education. Obviously, I’m far from giving her anything that useful, but we’re on the right track. Next thing is learning how to write each letter, then what sound each letter makes.

But teaching her so far though has taught ME at least one thing too. I can never be a teacher. Well, I feel like I could be a professor, but never a high school teacher, and sure as hell not a middle school teacher (all that teenage angst). I’m not saying because it’s “below me” or anything, but I feel like I’d be an awful teacher. I get frustrated so easily, and I can see myself blowing up at them. I feel like I would be a very unproductive teacher. And I would never want to subject my students to that. The reason I could teach college is because kids, for the most part, choose their classes, so the students who take your course have some desire to learn what you have to teach. In high school, most classes are forced on you. Since being here, I’m not sure I want to be a doctor anymore. I’m not sure what I want to be at all. It’s made me more confused about my profession, but it’s made me surer about what I want to do, and that’s help. But there’s at least one thing I can cross of my list, and that’s teacher.

Alec Yeh