Tuesday, October 23, 2012

School Update

Well, it's been a very long time since I last blogged, and once again, I have failed to write another blog about the food here.  This is now the 8th week of school, and I am behind schedule in all of my classes (I'm thinking and hoping that this is typical).  I'm going to give you a brief recap of everything I can remember from each week of school, but after such a long time who knows how well this will go.
Week 1 (Sept 4 - 7): This is the week of manual labor at almost every school in Ghana.  Our trainers warned us about how much the teachers just sit and do nothing, but I was thinking that maybe I could get some real work accomplished.  HA! Only about half of the students show up, and the ones that do are put to work sweeping and weeding the compound, and making it presentable and ready for "effective teaching and learning."  I've heard from other volunteers that this is a good time to review previous tests and determine how much the students remember/know, so I'll try that in the future.
Week 2 (Sept 10 - 14): This week I went to school bright and early at 7:20 so I could prepare for my lessons and show the students that I was serious about teaching and helping them learn.  I was the only teacher there until at least 7:50 every day; some days the other teachers wouldn't come until 9.  Morning assembly (think lining up in your class like you do in elementary and middle schools) is at 7:45, but some days it doesn't happen until almost 8.  Classes are supposed to start by 8:00 every day, so to the culturally insensitive observer arriving to your job at 9 when it is supposed to start at 8 would seem absurd.  Good thing our trainers told us that tardiness was commonplace in Ghana, even by teachers and other professional workers; it's just part of the way of life.  Sign-in times are adjusted somewhat so it doesn't look so bad that a teacher missed the first hour or two of school.
On Monday, the new Form 1s arrived from the primary school, and that was a treat.  Only half of the 10 students promoted could read!  I'm not really sure how the ones who can't read were promoted to JHS, but I guess it's pretty common because there are still some Form 2 students who struggle reading.  On my first day of teaching I met with each of the classes and introduced myself and had each of the students introduce themselves to me and the rest of the class.  By my second class we started serious learning.  I thought things were going well and I had lots of energy and positivity. 
Friday the 14th brought a serious message: three of the four Ghanaian teachers at EP JHS were transferred to new schools!  The letters were from the district office and they were signed and dated September 6th, and they informed the teachers they should report to their new schools by September 1st.  I thought this was funny in a terrible sort of way.  I was sad to see the teachers go because I had gotten to know them and had just finally memorized their names.
Week 3 & 4 (Sept 17 - 21 and 24 - 28): These two weeks merged together in my mind because it was mostly the same thing for both of them.  The three new teachers who were transferred to Bodada EP JHS trickled in and said hello and logged that they visited the school.  Of course none of them did any real teaching because they had just been transferred and were just trying to figure out what will happen moving forward.  (In my mind this was honestly excusable, but I did feel pretty bad for the students.  I even gave each of the classes some English assignments just so they would have something to do.)  I was still full of energy at this point, and each morning I hoped that the other teachers would start showing up for real. Yeah, it sucked that they were transferred to a new school, but they all only lived 5-10 min away in Jasikan...is it really that hard to commute? 
It was damn near impossible for me to control all of those students.  There was one day when my counterpart Godwin had to go to a meeting with the Form 3 students, so I was left with the Form 2 and Form 1 students all to myself.  That was too much for me.  They don't fear me because I don't use the cane to discipline them, and at that point they all thought my accent was hilarious.  (Note: I'm sure they still think it's hilarious sometimes, but they don't make fun of it when I'm around as much.)
I also had my biggest crisis to date during the 4th week.  The night before my crisis I was reading one of the A Song of Fire and Ice books (which are awesome by the way) on my Kindle Reader program and when I finished I closed my laptop and set it on the ground.  I didn't drop it, but I didn't particularly like the way it sounded when I set it on the ground.  Whatever, it had definitely taken bigger hits than that in the past.  Then next morning when I pressed the power button, nothing.  I was crushed.  I tried to plug it in, and I pressed every button that should have made some light come on, but all I got was more nothing.  I took as much of the case off as I could comfortably do without freaking out more.  I actually took quite a lot off because I'm a jack-of-all-trades/handyman and I know more about computers than most people.  (My bicycle mechanic and car mechanic skills are my most valued random skills.)
Nothing I did changed the fact that my computer showed no signs of life at all.  That was definitely the lowest I've felt during my four and a half months here.
Week 5 (Oct 1 - 5): The new teachers all arrived and on Monday we hashed out the new schedule.  We had to change a few classes around to accommodate the classes each teacher would teach.  Apparently when the transfer people, they don't pay any mind to the teachers' preferences and specialties.  Last year Godwin was the only math/science teacher, and they didn't have an ICT teacher, so they got me.  After the transfer, we had four people (myself included) who taught science, three who taught math, and two ICT teachers.  I was posted to Bodada EP JHS because they needed help teaching math, science, and ICT, but now they would be fine without me.  Luckily for me, the teachers were pretty cool about changing their subjects, and we ended up with a teacher for every subject except French.
This week the teachers were all very good about attendance, and one morning three teachers beat me to school.  I was really looking forward to working with the new group of teachers because all of them were [Aside: should I use "are" here? Someone please help me out. I've switched it at least 5 times now, and it still doesn't look right. Also, I don't proofread this so sorry about the other mistakes.] under 40 and seemed to be looking forward to starting classes.
On Oct. 3 I decided to try turning on my computer again just for the hell of it, and as if by magic, the thing started right up.  Elation!  It came on and acted like nothing had ever happened, except the speakers don't work, but I bet I can fix them with a little elbow grease.  I was feeling awesome heading into week 6.
Week 6 (Oct 8-12): Test week in science and math!  I gave large review assignments on Tuesday, we reviewed during the second class, and had tests on the final class of the week.  In science the best score was 64% and the worst was 8%; in math the best score was 83% and the worst was 12%.  In both cases I graded extremely generously and gave out tons of partial credit.  Also, I thought the science test was quite easy, but if you can't read "See Spot run." how can you answer questions about science?  Anyway, I gave the top half of both classes stickers, and the people who did very well got more than one.  I think they really liked the stickers. 
This week was when I started to lose my energy and positivity.  At school my students were failing, and at home I felt pretty isolated.  The other teachers don't live in Bodada except for Godwin who stays here 4 nights a week, so I don't get out of the house nearly as much as I should.  It sounds so simple to just take a walk, but it's so much more than that here.  It is really quite draining to walk around.  It's not that anyone is mean, if fact it's the opposite, everyone wants to talk to me.  Even just walking a few houses down to the store to buy some bread can take me 15-20 min.  I'm not the most naturally outgoing person ever, but I can put on a pretty good front.  However, there's only so much positivity a person can have when he has the same conversation with every person he sees because he can only speak a few lines of the language. 
I should mention that this is a common feeling among PCVs.  The first 3 months at site are pretty rough once the honeymoon wears off.  Some days I just don't have a lot to look forward to, especially when my students are misbehaving (which happens a lot), and the teachers decide that they only need to come to school three or four days per week.  That being said, I know that it will get better, and the most important thing I can do is stay positive.  Thankfully, I have a great support group of family and friends who will let me complain when I call or email them.
Week 7 (Oct 15 - 19):  I was feeling pretty low last week.  All of those things I just mentioned were still with me, I was catching a cold, and just not feeling good in general.  I needed to talk with an American.  Unfortunately, I didn't until the weekend. 
So what did I do during this week when I wasn't teaching?  I tried to print off and send in my absentee ballot (failed because the power was out and no one wanted to fire up their generator to print off 4 sheets of paper).  I watched seasons 2 through 4 of "Parks and Recreation" which is hilarious, and my favorite character is Ron Swanson.  I've also read a lot during my time here.  I finished the five published A Song of Fire and Ice books; I read the last 2 books of the Hunger Games series (not as good as the first book); I even started reading The Bible.  I'm really looking forward to my Kindle Paperwhite arriving in the package my mom sent to me during this week.  I'm hoping that it arrives in early November even though I won't pick it up until Thanksgiving when I stay with an American family living in Accra and have Thanksgiving dinner with the Ambassador and all the other PCVs.  It should be a good Thanksgiving.
On Saturday night the pastor came back.  He had been staying with his family in Ho because he broke his arm when I first visited Bodada.  He wanted to be close to a hospital until he got the cast off, and on Friday the cast was finally removed.  He's got a bunch of rehab to do because he broke is humerus and his arm is more or less frozen in place right now.  I'm glad he's back, and it will be nice to have some other people around the house now.
Also, I've gone to church every Sunday except for one.  Church officially starts at 9:30am, but in reality starts closer to 10, but it lasts until at least noon.  I now just head over at 10:30 because none of it is in English, and that way I don't have to sit there for more than three hours even if it's a really long service.  They usually have three donations (one time there were five), and everyone gives something each time.  There is a lot of dancing and singing to accompany the long services, but the pews are very uncomfortable and it can get quite hot in the church.  But going to church is a great way for me to participate in something, and everyone gets to see me at church.  They love the fact that I'm there every Sunday.
Week 8 (Oct 22 - 26):  Yesterday, Monday, I went to Hohoe to print off and mail my absentee ballot.  GO OBAMA! I also visited the market there and loaded up on vegetables and peanut butter.  I searched for an Obama shirt, but apparently they are only available in Accra.  For those of you who haven't been to Ghana and seen the Obama shirts, they are awesome!  They are red, white, and blue; they have a bunch of stars; they say "44th President of the United States: Barack Obama;" and they have a great picture of Mr. President himself right on the front.  I was really hoping I could get a sleeveless one just because they're so good.
Today, I woke up with a pretty sore throat after a night of fitful sleep.  I was feeling chilled and feverish, and I genuinely thought I would be sick this morning.  After drinking some water and eating an egg sandwich, I made enough of a recovery to get psyched up for school.  Classes actually went pretty well today, and I laid down the law in my math class.  Almost half the class now has a nice sized portion of grass to weed because they were being a little too talkative.
So phew! That's a brief synopsis of the last eight weeks.  Thanks for reading, and it's great to hear that people enjoy my blog.  Please let me know if there's anything in particular you want to hear about because I do take requests :)
PS. I bought some chicken sausages yesterday in Hohoe and cooked two of them last night.  I ate them with ketchup and onion on some bread.  I'm pretty sure it was the best hotdog I've ever had.  I miss American food.  Especially meat and junk/fast food.