Lessons Learned in Model School

The one of the last hurdles of our training before we are deemed worthy to swear in as Volunteers is to survive Model School. For weeks we’ve been hearing from Volunteers about the train wreck that is Model School, and we were dreading our first experiences imparting knowledge on the Rwandan children who have been shouting, “Muzungu, what is your name?” at us since September.

Last week was the Rwandan students’ last week of school, but some grades have been taking national exams this week at the secondary schools. Each year, Peace Corps arranges for us PCTs to take over the local primary schools and teach the students who aren’t taking exams. These students volunteer to come to class with us since they are technically on break. Some of them volunteer because they actually want to learn English. I think most of them just want to hang out with us white folk for two weeks.

Model School is our chance to practice writing on a black board, to learn to manage a class, and to try out lesson plans ideas or games we might want to do at site. I’m partnered with Casey so we can plan lessons together and observe each other’s classes and give feedback. We teach Senior One, roughly seventh grade, for two periods (100 minutes) and one period (50 minutes) of Senior Three, equivalent of ninth grade. Overall, the first week went relatively smoothly and without any totally disastrous lessons. I feel like I learned a lot of helpful information over the past few days. Here are some observations after week one:

•Rwandan students do not know how to take notes. Unless you specifically tell them, “This is important. You need to write it down. Please copy into your notebook,” they won’t write it. As soon as they finish writing the notes, the notebooks disappear back into their desks.

•“Special English” is key. Some things are common sense like speak slowly, don’t use slang, but some of it takes time to get used to. For example, Rwandans phrase some things really differently. For example, if you ask, “Do you understand?” ironically they won’t understand. Instead you have to say, “Is it clear?”or “Are we together?” Don’t call the eraser for the blackboard an eraser; it’s a duster. Notebooks are known as copy books, and if you call it the wrong thing you will be met by blank stares. It feels so unnatural to speak like this so I’m definitely grateful for this opportunity to practice.

•One Volunteer who is here training us taught a lesson for us to observe about positive and negative commands- drink milk, don’t smoke, etc. As an exercise, she put sentences on the board for them to complete appropriately as either positive or negative commands. The two funny examples that students wrote on the word were: don’t wash your hands after using the toilet and speak when the teacher is speaking. Umm, not quite, students. Kim took that as a teaching moment to explain more than just grammar.

•Students don’t raise their hands quietly here. Instead they practically jump out of their seats, snap their fingers violently at you, and yell, “Teacher, teacher!” Envision that but with 30 students in your face all at once. It’s intense! Half the time they’re really excited and just want your attention, and when you actually call on them, they totally blank and go dead quiet.

•Students generally know a lot of vocabulary, but they are unable to translate individual words into full sentences or thoughts.

•Students also do not know how to analyze things. Many Rwandan teachers teach by coming in to class, writing notes on the board, and leaving. Rwandan students can regurgitate information like no one’s business. I was quizzing my host sister on her biology notes one night, and she would recite information word for word off her study sheet. But if I phrased a question differently than the teacher had on the sheet, Diane had no idea what I was asking.

•Teaching the equivalent of seventh graders is fun because they are cute and eager, but it’s exhausting because you have to be the center of attention for all 100 minutes of class time. And it’s not just teaching, you have to be goofy and entertain them to keep their attention. Teaching the equivalent of ninth grade is refreshing because they can work more independently. It’s also frustrating because some of them have attitudes and act like they know everything. I’ve kicked several girls out of that class for that, and I must admit it was incredibly satisfying.

•With the younger class, I taught them adjectives to describe people (tall, short, good, bad, intelligent, etc.) At the end of class, I asked them to draw a picture of a family member then write five sentences to describe the person using the adjectives we went over. Several of them drew anatomically correct pictures… I guess I should have seen that coming when I asked 12 year olds to draw pictures.

It’s been eye-opening being in front of a real class. The week went by so much faster than in the past since we have real work to do now. I’m really glad Peace Corps gives us this training because I feel so much more prepared for site!

In other news, for our Swear In Ceremony I volunteered to be in the group performing a traditional Rwandan dance. I’ll let you know how this goes… Also, I get to pick up my new dress on Monday! I bought some awesome fabric and went to the seamstress two weeks ago to have my measurements taken. I can’t wait to see if my dress comes out how I envisioned it.

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2 thoughts on “Lessons Learned in Model School

  1. Being a teacher has to be the hardest job there is….never mind hormonal teenagers! Good luck! Thinking of you everyday. Stay safe. Happy Thanks Giving – got turkey?

  2. Awesome! Good luck in Week 2. Sounds like you’re learning some great lessons so you can start out on the right foot when you get to your site. Looking forward to pics. of you in your new orange and blue dress. 🙂

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