Passing the baton

Thursday morning, 7:00 am

My internet cut off last night and I wasn’t able to post my blog entry. Here it is–enjoy.

Wednesday, 10:15 pm

Today marks the day when I finished my overt teaching for the tutoring program. From now on, I will be a support, but no longer the main teacher. I was awash in different emotions today: gratitude for the connection we have built with the students, excitement about the program ahead, sadness at the thought of leaving, and heartache at the realization that these bright, capable students would be extremely unlikely to even start high school without our program. How can this be?

Friends, this is one of those things that I don’t think you can truly understand without having experienced it. I know that for me, the realization is different now that I’m here. Of course I believed that these girls were just as capable as my students at home before I came here. Of course I understood that they just needed a few tools to help them move forward.

Yet somehow, I think my vision was still blinded by my own image of a rural village in Cameroon— kids who work in the fields and live in houses with dirt floors, kids who don’t have access to libraries and books, kids who had already failed the entrance test for high school and might well fail again.

Is it possible that when we in the United States think of “developing countries,” we make the grave mistake of thinking that peoples minds aren’t fully developed?

Jacqueline pointed this out to me as I was noticing how incredibly quick and bright the girls in our program are. She told me the story of having been in a class at the University of Maryland where she was listening to people talking about “developing countries”—and she spoke up to say that her mind, and the minds of those around her, were very well developed, thank you very much!

Again, of course I knew this!

Yet, without this experience of learning and exchange with these girls, and with all of the people I have met here, I couldn’t really know this at the deepest level of my being. I couldn’t know how often I’d find that the less educated folk here are actually highly aware of power dynamics, of people’s intentions, and of the importance of education. I couldn’t really know at the deepest level of my being how much we truly are one. Ironically, we have often had the experience that the educated elites here are less able to connect with our program, less able to understand its importance.

The mothers in the village, and the girls in our program? They get it. And now, maybe I get it, too.

***

We started our program today with free voluntary reading—Lydie spread out the books I’d brought in my suitcase, and the girls were allowed to pick up a book and start reading. The reaction was both quiet and joyful. This is how the program will start each day throughout the year—the kids will arrive in the classroom (the same classroom where we’ve been meeting this whole week), and they will pick up a book and read.

Then, after exchanging the now-iconic “Bonjour/comment ça va?/quoi de neuf?” questions and answers, we jumped into the question for journaling which, this time, was: “What do you do well and also really enjoy doing?”

After the ten minutes of journaling, each student found a partner and shared the story of what she’d written, and I asked a few to share with the whole group what they’d said. Then we turned back to the All Kinds of Minds constructs—the LEARNING SOUP sheet from yesterday. I asked them to go ahead and read the rest of the constructs together, to ask questions for clarification as needed, and then to try to figure out what might be a strength that they have.

I was really impressed with the ability of these students to engage in abstract thinking. Here we had a series of highly abstract concepts, and they were fully engaged and ready to ask questions about anything they did not understand.

The teachers circulated through the class to answer questions as needed. Finally, when everyone had found their way to the end and had had a chance to have a discussion, I asked them to put the sheet away (knowing that these are concepts the teachers will be returning to with them throughout the year), to put the chairs back into the circle, and to take a five-minute break.

Thus ended my over teaching time. After the break, Patric took over the explain the literary circles. I helped write on the white board, but he was in charge. The girls separated out into three circles, each with her own role, and we circulated to help where needed. Tomorrow, we will finish the literary circle experience and then jump into math. On Friday, we will introduce Bryce Hedstrom’s Special Person concept for English. And then, the program will be fully launched.

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4 thoughts on “Passing the baton”

  1. I really love the literature circles. You mentioned that the girls had a role, is this not customary? I am just curious. What are mind constructs? Are these like mind shifts? You look like you are having a ton of fun. I finally circled back to the blog and shared the URL with our amazing French department. Keep up the good work! You are sowing seeds of greatness!

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    1. It’s totally customary in literature circles for each member of the circle to have a role… but that’s not something that the teachers and girls we are working with had experienced before. Thank you so very much for your support! I’m planning to post a new blog entry this week–stay tuned. 🙂

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