Stage is a French term for training. We refer to ourselves as stagiers who are doing a formation, or a course of training. As I have mentioned, we have language training every day, and a couple of blocks of time devoted to the work we will be doing. Until now, this training has been rather abstract. During the past couple of weeks things have become more hands on. In small groups we are doing clubs with students in the summer school program at which the volunteers who will be teaching English, science, and math have been doing their practice teaching. Three trainees meet with groups of students on their free days or times and we practice the kinds of activities we are going to be doing with girls clubs when we get to our sites. We are also going to be running a four hour “day camp” type session next Saturday. Thursday we met with some of the officers of the equivalent of the PTA to see what they do at schools.
A word about school here.
It is hard to believe what teachers and students face at the elementary school level here. It is normal for there to be 120 (yes, that is not a typo, one hundred and twenty) students in a classroom with one teacher. Student desks are designed for three students to sit side by side on a wooden bench which is a board about 8 inches wide, and the desk is only a bit larger. They put three rows of desks across, ten deep in the classroom. If you are in a village, the only light comes through a few small windows with shutters. The blackboard may be green or black “chalk board paint” on the wall. In rooms that have real chalk boards, there are often holes in them, and usually several cracks. A chalk tray is not a concept, nor is an eraser. When the teacher has finished with a section of the board, some lucky student gets to take a sponge or rag from a bucket of water and wipe off the writing. Teaching is primarily the teacher writing things on the board and students copying the information into a notebook. It is kind of hard to have a class discussion with 120 kids, I guess. There are times students are asked to give an answer. Volunteers snap the fingers of their raised hands to attract the teacher’s attention. I have not yet seen a class room full of students. At the Model School classes are very small and the students are those who are eager to learn, or those who have parents who are eager to have them learn. I’m sure I will have more to say on this when I do observations of real classes in the fall.
Getting ready to get on with the job
Many of my fellow trainees are feeling tired of training and eager to get out to their sites. While I have some of the same eagerness to know where I am going to be and exactly what I am going to be doing for the next two years, I know I am not quite ready for this in terms of language skill. The language of the school and the educated population is French, and I am doing better are expressing myself in that language, although I really wish I had my dictionary with me most of the time. What I have just started to learn is Moore, the main “local” language here. There are really quite a few different ones, which is one of the reasons the schools are all in French. It is also the case that there is very little written material in most local languages, because they only have a written form because Christian missionaries created a written form so they could put Bibles in the language of the people. Moore has a few nice features. There are no congregations. The verb form is the same for I, you, he, she it, we and they. The past and future tense are exactly the same except for putting “ne n” before the past tense form. The problem is that there really are no cognates and I am having trouble getting vocabulary to stick in my brain. In other words, I need more time to get my head around this new language. Be that as it may, we are to be sworn in as volunteers at the end of August. That is coming very soon.