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End of the First Year Teaching in Namibia

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: fiasco.

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 chasing insects.

Take care everyone.

Love, Sera

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