“Welcome Back to Prison, I Mean School” -DJ on the Radio

The first day of school was today. School started at 8:30, so I left my house at 7:30 and caught two buses out to the orphanage. I’m happy to say that I knew where I was the entire time, transferred easily, and had no issues giving the drivers directions or with paying. This is a small accomplishment and something that makes me feel a bit more like I know what I’m doing here. Perhaps it’s just an illusion, but it’s nice to feel as though I can master something in this strange land. Despite having to walk to and from the bus stops and commuting a few miles, my time door to door only seems to be about 30 minutes, so I’m appreciative of that.

I have to say, going into this job, I knew almost nothing about what I would be doing. Even at 8:45 I didn’t know what I would be doing. To kick off the school year, the head mistress held an “assembly” which consisted of all of the boys lining up according to class and then reciting a variety of prayers, songs, and pledges. It’s interesting to hear people pledge allegiance to Guyana. Obviously this makes sense, but it’s still an interesting mental note to make. When the assembly concluded, the students filed into their respective classrooms and sat at their desks. Even THEN I didn’t know what I was suppose to be doing, but I kept reminding myself that it is all likely part of the culture. At about 8:45, after all of the students began to settle in, the head mistress told me to teach fifth grade. I glanced around at the empty room. There were four desks in front of me, with four fifth graders staring back at me, a chalkboard in the front of the room (without chalk), and NOTHING else. It kind of felt like a nightmare coming true. How was I suppose to teach these boys without any materials AND without having anyway of assessing how skilled they are in each academic area? Not to mention, I wasn’t sure if I was suppose to be teaching or assistant teaching.

Anyway, in my head I said to myself, “what the heck, I’m just going to teach”…and if the headmistress wants to stop me at any point, she can. And so that’s what I did. I started off doing some reading comprehension, then transitioned into Guyanese history (interesting stuff), science, grammar, and then reading. To tell the truth, I felt like a boss by the end of the day. I was completely tossed to the wolves and I ended up doing OK. Each of the four boys work at a different pace, but we did a decent job staying together. We spent some time reading allowed out of some crappy text books I found, and I did eventually get my hands on some chalk, so by the end of the day things were looking up.

I think the most amusing part of the day is that the headmistress sat down at her desk in the room and fell asleep while I taught the lessons. She kept nodding in and out of consciousness, but she was definitely catching up on some sleep throughout the whole day. I envied her, but I didn’t let her distract me. She kept complaining that the heat was making her tired. In my opinion, that’s a pretty lousy excuse, you know, since she lives in Guyana and all. When the day concluded, I asked her if the lessons were OK and she said they were. Then I asked if there was anything I needed to know for tomorrow and she said there wasn’t. Like I said, this culture is taking some getting used to.

First day of school. CHECK!

In other news, I found out a fun fact on Saturday that I  thought was worth sharing.

When talking to some of the boys, who ranged between age 14 and 17, I realized that they didn’t know what Wal Mart was. I was pleasantly surprised by this, so I pushed my luck and asked if they knew what McDonald’s was. One boy shook his head in response and another started singing, “Old McDonald had a farm…” I thought it was pretty cool that they hadn’t heard of those places. Just a thought.

In other other news, it’s still really hot here, and I still can’t understand most of the things people are saying, but I’m getting there. Surviving the first full day of work means that I can do this. I CAN DO THIS!


2 thoughts on ““Welcome Back to Prison, I Mean School” -DJ on the Radio

  1. Glad to hear you are settling in well. I certainly would have freaked out without some kind of lesson plan, especially with the headmaster sitting there watching my every move. You never fail to fascinate, Matthew.

  2. Of course you can do this!

    Sounds like you have a pretty open opportunity to develop your own curriculum. What ever you do will benefit the boys and improve their life. I’m sure you will be a huge positive influence.

    It is neat that they are unaware of the big box aspect of our “culture”. Dominica recently celebrated the demise of the only fast food place (I won’t say restaurant) on the island. They got rid of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Now the island has no fast food and no casinos. Love it.

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