Not a Teacher in Site

Erin Lang - Senegal


March 19, 2011

Wednesday, 8:00 am

My stomach flipped over in disbelief.  Every door in the school was shut and dead bolted, except for one… the classroom to the left of the library.  There were at least one hundred children gathered in the doorway and outside of the classroom.  I walked over to the class and discovered many children fooling around in the class with no teacher in site.  The kids were on top of desks, wrestling on the ground, throwing paper airplanes, writing on the blackboard, and throwing the sponges drenched in water at each other when I arrived.  I immediately grabbed the meter stick and slammed it on the table loud enough to get the attention of the students in the room.  SILENCE! ASSEYEZ-VOUS! Croisez les bras, mettez les fronts sur les tables! Allez ! The students of that class did as told, sat down in their chairs, crossed their arms, and put their heads on their desks, without asking any questions.  The students from the other classes immediately left the classroom. They knew I wasn’t fooling around.  Days like these were not days to play games and waste time.  The teachers were striking, yet again, and I did not have the time or energy to deal with unnecessary pupil behavior.

You might ask yourself why I was not at home like all of the rest of the teachers.  In my apprenticeship, I have been learning how to teach kids to read.  I have the second, third, and fourth graders who are at a kindergarten reading level.  Due to the amount of teacher absences, I can see how the kids are this far behind.  But the government does not pay the teachers, and teaching is their living. And given, if the kids are not in class, my work, the students’ work, and the teachers’ work is pointless.  It is for this reason that I work the most when there is not one other teacher in sight.  The objective: to get students to read so that they can succeed in their studies, and continue on thereafter.  For it is sure that if the kids can not read, they can not function in school, be that in mathematics, science, language, or history.  Reading is the foundation of their schooling.  Reading is my job, and honestly, my life.

I began the class without further word or salutation.   The routine went as normal.  We started off with a review of the sounds from yesterday.  After, we learned the new sounds of the day together as a class.  I then had a strong reading student come to the board and help a weaker student practice the new and old sounds.  While this was occurring, I gave the students at their desks a handwriting assignment to occupy them while waiting for their turn at the board.  I took the kids in groups of five outside with the reading books, and practiced in small groups in order to really give each child attention.  At eleven, I gave the students a thirty minute break, very well needed.  We continued on thereafter until each student had succeeded in learning the lesson that day.  At one, I went home for a break, and fell down on my bed thinking to myself, Kids that can read… that would be nice… that’s all I want, kids that can read. Then I drifted off into sleep, knowing that at in two hours, I had to get up and go do it all over again with another class.

Thankfully, I have a group of thirteen high school students that are being trained to work with the kids after school in reading, math, and French.  To motivate them, we are training them in the computer lab and library.  They love this, because they do not have either at the high school.  The training is planned over a four month basis.  In the course of training, the students learn about education and its role in the world, basic children’s psychology and theories, and methods to be an affective teacher.  The course is not intended to make them professionals, but rather to make them aware of things that are crucial in education.  As the program expands, the students will be more aware of things like learning disorders, multiple intelligences, and affective leadership skills that will help build tomorrow’s generation of leaders.  To motivate the kids, I always tell them: You might be a child today, but the children of today are the voices of tomorrow.  You are the only ones who can decide your future. I really believe in them, too.  They are a great group of kids.  As a final part of the project, the students are compiling journal entries about their experiences in education that will be put into a small book at the end, with the help of my French teacher, Moustapha Seck.

The job is rigorous, but incredibly rewarding.  My favorite part of the job is sitting back and just looking at what they are learning.  Their eyes light up when I give them the meter stick to go to the board and teach their classmates.  Their joy of life is so rich, and is something that inspires me and helps me grow, even as their teacher.  The high school students are really learning what it takes to be an effective leader, and are impacting the lives of their brothers and sisters every day.  It is amazing what a bunch of teenagers are capable of doing.  And the best part is this project is theirs, for it is their work, not mine, that is making the difference.  My high school students are always there with me, even when the teachers are on strike, just so they can help the other kids. It is all thanks to one passion for change and education.  These kids are hungry to learn, and I am here to feed them their knowledge, even if there is not one teacher in site.

Erin Lang