I, Erica Wherry, am officially a teacher. I moved into my permanent site about a month before I actually had to start working. I was supposed to be settling into my house and acclimating myself with the community, but for the most part, I was just bored and doing a lot of nothing. But, school has started and has added some fun to my life again. Somewhat surprisingly, I really do like teaching. I was not so sure that I would actually enjoy teaching English to a group of people who understood little to nothing of what was coming out of my mouth. I had some practice with that when I interned/volunteered with the IRC and at times it could be really very stressful. So, needless to say, I was a bit apprehensive of my new job. My first day of school sucked horribly. But, I was expecting that since speaking with Ana, a PCV who lives in the north of Madagascar, and a good friend of my sitemate. She told me that day 1 would be horrible, but it would get better and it did.
I am teaching 6 classes in total, making for 16 hours of class time a week. I have the entire 6th grade equivalent and the entire 10th grade equivalent also. There are between 60 and 75 students in each of my classes, so that makes for a grand total of over 300 kids. How do I learn that many names, especially Malagasy names?? I discussed this problem with some fellow ED PCV’s who told me that they were planning to give their kids English names. Others said they would just call them by their school assigned numbers. I knew that there was no way I was calling people by a number and initially I was not a huge fan of giving them English names either. But, when I found out that I would have over 300 students, I decided to try English names because there was no way I was learning 300 Malagasy names when I couldn’t pronounce them anyway. So, I make a list of names to write on the board for my students to choose from. I really enjoyed making my list and actually laughed a bit while doing so.
I borrowed the names of my college and high school friends, family members and even biblical names to make my list. On the first day, with my first class I explained the classroom rules and consequences (which had been translated into Malagasy so they would clearly understand). I am playing no games. I told y’all it’s over 50 of them and I am only one person. I can’t have a misbehaved class. Can you imagine 60 bad 6th graders in one room?? It’s not happening. So after they copied the classroom rules into their notebooks, I tried to explain the name game. For the most part, it was a miserable failure, but for those who caught on, I had some really fun combinations (Robyn Simone, Lindsay Nicole, Adrienne Jane, Samara Ann, Rachel Louise, Eleisha Gina, Christine Ashley, Malcolm Jamal, Timothy Marcus, Brian Andrew…). I am still figuring out how exactly I will do grades because I am not about to grade 300+ tests/ homework assignments/ projects 4 times each before Christmas either.
One good aspect of having the entire 6th grade and the entire 10th grade is that neither of these levels are tested nationally. Therefore, I do not have to follow the national curriculum so closely and I also do not have to keep up with other English teachers because I will not have to do a combined final. So, I can pretty much schedule my class exactly how I want to. I can skip the vocabulary which no one uses anymore and I can teach only what I want. Everyone in the 6ieme is on the same level (with English competency at zero) and really excited to begin learning the language. The kids see it as a sort of game, “let’s try to guess what Ms. Erica is talking about”. They will shout out the French or Malagasy equivalent and have a lot of fun matching the languages. They were a bit confused one day when I wrote the date. At home, the date is written month/day/year, but here it is written day/month/year. During one class, I wrote the date on the board (November 15, 2010) and a students sais “tsy meti, Ms. Erica”. He wants to show me that I had made a mistake somewhere. I looked at the word “November” again to make sure I had spelled it correctly and I had. Then I motion for him to come to the board and hand him the chalk to fix my error. He promptly erases the date I had written on the board and writes 15 November 2010. I tell him thank you and then explain in Malagasy that in America we write the date with the month first. I tell them that I will always write the date in this way, but that it is acceptable for them to write the date with the day or the month first. It was cute; I do know how to correctly write the date even if I am not completely fluent at speaking Malagasy or French.
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone! I have to work. We do not get American holidays :(