All Things Kenyan

More Teaching Challenges

There were some interesting things that happen in a Kenyan classroom – especially when an American is teaching.

The first day of class I passed a piece of paper around to my forty-five(!) Form 2 (sophomore) students. I wanted them the write their names on the paper so I could start learning names. I had wanted them to write their name in the place where they were sitting – you know, a seating chart. Well, that idea didn’t work. So, I simply tried to learn names when I called on the students. How hard was it to learn the names? It can be fairly difficult. You see, all the students were wearing uniforms. They all had black skin, dark brown eyes, and short dark hair. I learned their names by where they sat to start with. If a student was a trouble maker or particularly intelligent, I learned their names more quickly. Later on, I learned other cues instead of hair and eye color to recognize my students by. I would recognize them by the shape of their head, ears, and nose.

That first day I handed around a pad of paper with the instructions “If you need a piece of paper, please take one and pass it on.” Well, that pad didn’t make it through half the class. I know there was enough paper for the student who truly needed a piece. So I ended up handing out more paper. What had happened, and always happens when you hand out paper, is everyone takes a piece or two whether they need it or not. Paper is relatively expensive in Kenya. (Paper is a major import.) So you grab what you can when you can.

This idea was also applied to the posters I hung up in the classroom. I hung the posters up with duct tape. I brought a roll with me and found it was the only tape that truly held things on the whitewashed walls. About a day or two after the poster was hung up – a corner would be missing. A day or so later, another corner gone. Within two weeks the poster would be gone completely. Nibbled away at the beginning, and then suddenly the rest would just disappear. I know it was my students – I’d find the duct tape holding together a book or notebook. I’m sure the paper was used for scrap work or notes to each other. One time I actually gave out pieces of duct tape as a reward. Hey, it’s neat shiny gray tape. These students had never seen it before.