"A student by any other name..."

Trip Start Jan 25, 2012
Trip End Jun 30, 2012

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Flag of Haiti  ,
Saturday, February 11, 2012

I used to teach high school Social Studies and one of my favorite warm ups at the beginning of class was to play one of NPR's podcasts of "This I believe" and allow my students to free write after listening. My opinionated students always led a discussion and/ or debate after to get us going for the day. 

I remember a podcast where a woman was explaining that she believed we, humankind that is, have more in common than we think.  It was part discussion of DNA, part discussion of family and community.  A hot debate ensued within my classroom.  Would I love to be able to load those kids on a magic school bus and bring them to class with me in Haiti!

What my high school students might find is that elementary school students are just as antsy and goofy as they are in the States and that their Haitian teenager counterparts are checking cell phones before class, gossiping about another clique of students or late to class at all.

Some of our own American stereotypes about students reign true here as well.  The very well put together students at the Catholic school, St. Marc’s are incredibly well behaved and thought I was nuts to introduce “yon jwet”, a game, to play on the first day. 

The Secondary (high school) students who attend one of the poorest schools in La Croix are my roughest bunch.  Many of them stroll into class late and proceed to try to catch up in conversation with a friend.  They wear that “what do you got for me, teach?” look that any experienced teacher would recognize and that scares the hell out of a rookie first year teacher!  Luckily, I have enough experience to know how to handle the situation and keep them challenged.

The poorest school of all of them is a small one and once a week I ride a moto down the mountain to teach a group of teachers, students and the headmaster all together.  If THIS place isn’t the model for creating a positive and productive learning environment, I don’t know what is.  Teachers and students and headmaster all making mistakes together, learning together, laughing together, helping one another.  The students watch their teachers act out conversations.  The headmaster tries to silence the appropriate giggles, but ends up laughing himself!  All of this love in a school where there are no walls.  There is only the frame of a room built with wood from surrounding trees.  There is a tin roof.  No latrines.

Not everything is the same of course…

All school children must wear a uniform.  Primary school takes place from 8am-12.  Secondary students from 1-4 pm.  This is because space is shared in the same building structure… whatever there is of one.  Every student comes to school with one notebook in which they write an entire day’s lessons down as the teacher recites information from the one textbook in the room.   Understandably, the students here are confused by the idea of cooperative learning and individual participation.  You would hear a lot of classrooms reciting information back to the class, but ask a single student a question and you will hear a whisper.  No computer lab.  No art supplies.  No promethean or other smart board.  No library in any of the schools except for St. Marc’s.  No after school clubs or sports to play.

Save the Children just invested in a poor school near to this one and built them some very lovely and sturdy structures to hold class in.  Next time I see their SUV cruise through town I think I’m going to throw myself in front of it and force them to invest in this school down the mountain!!

After a week and a half of starting to adjust to life in general and hiking all over teaching classes, I took a step back to focus on the primary objective at hand: to help create a lasting English Language Program.  I had my first meeting with CEL this week to start discussing their ideas for ensuring a sustainable English language program is built here and lets just say for now, I have my work cut out for me.  The community is very excited to have a “blan”, white person, here teaching English for free, but I need to make sure this is not a one-time deal.  I’ll get into the appropriate business details in next week’s blog as the conversation has just begun.  Like Judy said, “If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.”




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Megan on

Shan! I'm loving the updates and so proud of you! Keep 'em coming. :) Love to you!

Dad on

Best of luck with the sustainability goal - I know that's your mission and if anyone can do, you can, Shan. Very proud of you.

Kate on

I echo daddy Jim's sentiments!

Katie on

Shannon, thanks for the update... It sounds like you are on your way to being an even more awesome teacher when you get back to the States than you even were before... is that a possibility? Keep the faith.

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