All Things Kenyan

The Challenges of Teaching in Kenya

Teaching in Kenya was a bit of a challenge.  I went to Kenya as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer.  I had my teaching certification in high school mathematics.  Some how I ended up teaching math to Forms 1 and 2 (Grades 9 and 10) along with English and physics to Form 2.  How did I end up with English and physics?  Clearly, in the U.S. I was not qualified to teach English or physics.  However, since English is my ‘mother tongue’, as the headmaster put it, I could certainly teach it.  I was given physics since there wasn’t a physics teacher at the school.  Now, that was a strange thing for me to teach as I had manage to evade physics all through high school and college myself.  OK, so I didn’t want to take that class.  Fortunately, the curriculum for the Form 2 physics class wasn’t too complicated.  I recall teaching about eclipses, electricity, and I had my class make their own batteries.  Most of this I had learned in my junior high science classes.  My junior science teacher was tough!

On the first day of school, the headmaster and all the teachers got together and picked out the classes they would teach.  The headmaster would simply ask who wanted to teach this class or that and usually a teacher would say they would.  If there was a class no one wanted to teach the headmaster would simply assign it to a teacher.

After classes were picked out, we went into the library and got the textbooks out for our classes.  The textbooks were stored there during break.  The library was simply a back room off the teacher’s room.  I counted up the books I had for my classes.  I had fourteen books for the Form 1 class of sixty (!) students, seven math texts for the Form 2 class of 45 (!) students.  I found the teacher’s book for the Physic class I was going to teach, but no student texts.  That meant everything I taught would have to be written on the board and the students would have to copy everything down.  Fortunately, I had around 22 English books for my Form 2 English class – that meant the students could easily share them.

I wasn’t surprised by the lack of textbooks.  During my Peace Corps training, I had been told that we probably wouldn’t have enough textbooks for all of our students.   I was told by another volunteer that I may want to figure out a way to rotate the books among my students.  What I came up with is I randomly handed out the math books the first time.  After each test I would redistribute the books to the students with the highest grades.  One would have thought that the students with the textbooks would have consistently received the highest grades.  Not so.  I found the text books were making their way through the students nicely.

The lack of supplies was a constant problem.  One term, the school ran out of paper so the term ended about ten days early.  I kept my own personal stock of chalk and paper so I’d have enough supplies to continue to teach my students as long as I could.  I would ‘loan’ chalk to my fellow teachers, they had to return the chalk after their class, if there was any left.  I was careful with my stash.  If it got out that I was generous, I would have been bombarded with requests.  Being an American I was perceived as rich, although I wasn’t.  I was given a $100 stipend a month to live off from which is what an average teacher in Kenya makes.  I had a little more money than my fellow teachers since I didn’t have to support a family.

I actually enjoyed teaching in Kenya.  The teachers rarely complained about the conditions of the school or lack of supplies.  We all simply made the best of what we had.

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