Things Fizzle Out
5 December 2003
The school year is finished now. I've marked my last set of exams, recorded
the marks, wrote reports, gave them to learners, then came home and started a
Jane Austen novel that I'd been saving for a reward.
This year ended kind of weird. Things just sort of fizzled out. The problem
was that I unexpectedly left for Windhoek before my classes were finished. By
the time I got back, everyone was just writing exams, so I never got to wrap up
my classes, or bring them to any sort of conclusion.
When I reflect on my first real year of teaching, I oscillate between
feelings of success and failure. We could start by looking at the statistics:
All my grade 9s somehow passed English (35% is considered passing here). All but
one of my grade 11 HIGCSE (honors level) learners passed. But 18 of my
non-honors 11th graders failed their IGCSE exam. Herein lies the problem. I
don't know what to do to help the ones who are struggling with English.
But on a positive note, I now have my token "one person" that I have helped.
Prepare yourself for an inspirational success story (soon to be turned into a
made-for-TV Hallmark Special). For the grade 11 continuous writing exam, one of
the prompts was to "Describe a person who has influenced your life in a
significant way. How did they influence you?" John wrote an essay about me. It begins: "There is no doubt,
she is indeed my role model. As my English teacher, she has really changed my
life completely and I think she is exactly the type of a teacher who I always
wanted in my school life. She is supportive, tolerant, and above all,
academically brilliant." (I swear I'm not making this up.) He went on to
write three pages about all the ways that I have influenced him. Among other
things, he reports "she has really had a profound impact on my life by
transforming me into being an omnivorous reader" because "her love of
books has encouraged me to read and expose myself to a variety of
information." He goes on to say, "my curiosity about life and the
world around me is growing incredibly every day. Therefore, Ms. Sera has really
changed me from being a mere student into an amateur philosopher."
However, this isn't a real success story because, as you can tell from the
language that he uses, John wasn't exactly dumb to begin with. But I am quite
honored, nonetheless, to have awakened his intellectual and philosophical
curiosity. It is especially gratifying because this is exactly why I became an
English teacher in the first place. I have no great love of English in and of
itself, but rather I value the language as a means to a greater end.
Coincidentally, it was also my 11th grade English teacher who initiated a
turning point in my life, ultimately resulting in both where I am and who I am
today. In her World Literature class, she opened up a whole new way of thinking
about and understanding life. I wanted to be an English teacher because although
you can never really repay your teachers, you can try to do for someone else
what they have done for you.
And actually, it seems that John is already doing this. Petrus
wrote four pages about how John has influenced him to improve his English by
reading more books. He said he was afraid at first, but that "John says
that it is only difficult to do something which you are not interested in."
He goes on to say that, "John's influenced make me to improve in English
and now I am 90% better than what I was. So I would like people to be interested
in their books and take reasonable advices from friends, so that we can be
successful in our works."
Now for an uninspiring story of failure. December 1 is World AIDS Day. While
I was still in Windhoek, the AIDS club decided to do a program for the day. When
I got back, I didn't do much, just provided teacherish support and gave bits of
advice here and there. The first problem was that whoever decided on Dec 1 as
World AIDS Day clearly didn't consult the Namibian school calendar. By Dec 1,
all of the grade 10s and 12s have already finished school. The last day of exams
was Dec 2. However, since there were no exams on the 1st, none of the day-schoolers
came to school so our audience was only 8th, 9th, and 11th graders who were in
the hostel. We were originally going to do the program at 10am, but then a nurse
that they invited to sit on the panel said she couldn't come until 2pm, so we
moved the program to that time. She came late, of course, so we finally started
around 3pm. They did the panel discussion first. The two teachers who were
supposed to sit on the panel conveniently disappeared at the time they were
expected to sit on the panel. One of the learners, Tuna, walked up on stage to
join the panel 5 minutes late. After the panel discussion, the learners did a
drama. In the middle of the drama, the bell rang for supper time. We were
discussing what to do, when another teacher came and, quite rudely, informed me
that we had had our time to play all day, but we had to stop now because the
learners needed to go for study right after supper. Which was of course true,
but I didn't appreciate the implication that we were just goofing off all day.
If nothing else, it was a real life illustration of one of our vocabulary words:
We've had a few good rains lately, giving rise to a yard full of weeds. The
chickens are doing well, and it's enjoyable to watch them run around the yard
Take care everyone.