When the gods want to mock us, they grant our wishes. I had said to myself “I wish I had more time with a class”, and, well, I got it. One bright Friday morning, the headmaster approached Helen and myself and said “Grade 2’s teacher is out. We’ll split the class in two – Helen, you take the girls, and Niall, you take the boys.” School finishes early on Friday’s, so this was easy. We put on a video to get us as far as first break, then we did some maths, some drawing and played some football to get us to the end of the day. And being a Friday, we were able to coerce the boys with the promise of lollipops if they were good.
On Monday, we arrived into school, excited about getting to work on our projects. When we arrived, we were told that not only was the Grade 2 teacher going to be out, but that she would be out for the whole week. And we were going to take her place. For the whole week. While you can get away with lollipops and videos for a half-day, you can’t do it for a whole week. Not only is it not fair to waste a week of the kids’ time, but there are only 4 DVDs to choose from, so they would get bored before the end of the first day. Helen had done some work with this class before, so we had a rough idea of where they were in their books, and we decided that we would carry on. We kept the class split on Monday, and I brought the boys to Helen’s nascent library, while she kept the girls in the classroom.
We actually survived Monday OK – the kids were still tired out from the weekend, and we had some residual good-will from the DVD session on Friday. Helen and I took some time after class to plan the next day’s lessons – thankfully the textbooks pages are marked by term and week, so we were able to pick up “Term 3 – Week 7” and run with it. Tuesday morning dawned dull and damp, but we were not deterred. We’d had a good day with the kids on Monday, and we thought could build on that on Tuesday.
We were wrong. Tuesday descended rather quickly into bedlam. I was attempting to teach the 2/3 of the boys that were paying attention in a loud voice while the other third just wandered around messing. I should mention that in this class, there are 48 kids, so there is a full class worth of boys and a full class worth of girls. I was trying to teach some maths to the 15 or 16 boys who wanted to hear. But even that wasn’t working out so well. The kids who understood the sums would finish them quickly, and bring them up to get marked. From that point on, I was trying to do crowd control, mark books, stop people from copying the answers out of a book that I’d already marked, and finally, help the kids who didn’t understand. I did none of those things particularly well. At the end of the day, we were physically and emotionally drained. We went home, ate triple dinner (Cape Malay Cuisine is divine, and served up in large portions at home), and went to bed early.
On Wednesday, Helen was sick in bed, so I ended up taking the whole class together. So that I not be slaughtered in a gruesome re-enactment of Lord of the Flies, I had Mr Momberg, our headmaster in with me. We played a tag-team game, with him running crowd control, and me trying to do the teaching. This actually worked really well. The kids have a relationship with Mr Momberg, and they respect him well enough to behave when he’s around. And with a general air of studiousness in the room, I was able to get some teaching done. I had also brought my guitar with me, and having learned my lesson previously, I played a few songs with really good call-and-response structures. This went down a treat, and when the day was over, I felt like we might actually make it to the weekend.
On Thursday, Helen was back. We kept the kids together so that we could take turns teaching and doing crowd control, but for whatever reason, the kids started the day unhinged. In the 150 minutes between class starting and first break, I had broken up 10 fights. Kids who normally sit beside each other and play as pals had one another by the throat; one kid farted, and that was enough for his neighbour to throw a punch at him; another kid tried to referee a fight that had started because someone swore about someone else’s mother (and not the sort of swearing that you would hear on HBO – apparently the offensive phrase was “your mother has a big bum” or something like that), and then ended up fighting both of them when a wayward punch hit him. I even had a kid try to fight me because I tried to stop him fighting someone else. Thursday was grueling. We felt like we had lost the kids and would never get them back enough to teach them anything. If we got through 15 minutes without a brawl breaking out, we considered that a success. I can see why Arthur Dent never got the hang of Thursdays.
On Friday, we just focused on surviving. I had a cold, and we were both shattered. As Fridays are half days, and we could bring out the DVD player, we only had to get through the morning session. Just that little bit was tough enough – we were ragged both physically and emotionally. The day ended, and we went into town and had a well-earned pint.
Most days, this class is run by one person. She doesn’t have the option of just putting on a DVD because she can’t get the kids to shut up, and she doesn’t have a second pair of hands to help out when things get tough. She has to try and teach as many of these kids as much as she can. I’ve another post brewing about why I think this is so tough, but this is long enough already. We survived our week with Grade 2, but only just…