#6 A Good Teaching Day

#6 A good Teaching Day                                                                           June 18, 2015

I didn’t do any math teaching today.  Rather I observed other math teachers and was so pleased with what I saw.  One was Nancy, who teaches one of the form 4 sections.  She is experienced, smart and well organized in her presentations.  I had gone to her class yesterday, where she talked about something that we don’t teach in the US and with which I have struggled over the years as I’ve worked out all the problems on the KCSE.  I sort of got it last year, but then it slipped away.  This time I finally understand, rather than just mechanically following a formula.  YEAH!  I do love it when I learn something new and learn it well enough to be able to explain it.

As always, when I observe a teacher, I see things that perhaps could be changed or improved.  So as I sit there, I make a little list, otherwise I forget.  After the class is over comes the part where I have to be very diplomatic.  I don’t ever want to be the gracious white lady who comes here to set the natives straight.  I hate that attitude and really try to be totally collegial.  Fortunately, I could begin by telling her I thought she had done a great job with a difficult topic.  The girls did seem to “pick it”, as they say here.  Then, “I do have a couple of ideas.  Are you interested?”  No one would say, “No, mind your own business!”  They are much too polite, but I sensed her assent was sincere.  She liked my suggestions and afterwards had a great talk about our teaching philosophies.  In the past she has seemed a bit aloof, not quite ready to accept this mzungu lady, but today I think we broke through the ice.  It helped, of course that I had had to consult her about that question, clearly acknowledging her expertise.

The other observation was a young student teacher, who is fabulous, despite being there for just 1 month.  In both cases I suggested short cuts that reduce the drudgery.  And because the whole math curriculum is focused on performing on the KCSE at the end of 4 years, I addressed the issue of not enough time.  I don’t know anyone who could do the complicated, multipart 24 questions in 2 hours!  So if one can shave 20 seconds here, a minute there, etc, 1 maybe even 2 more questions could be answered.  That appealed, particularly to Nancy, because her performance is judged solely on how her girls do.  She was very accepting and I think that’s when we became colleagues.  I had consulted her for her expertise and have shared my expertise with her.

Some years ago I realized that the focus of writing a math exam is very different from what we think.  We think it’s to get the right answer.  In fact, it is not.  The purpose is to convince the reader of your paper that you know what you are doing, which has led to the correct solution.  It’s an explanation, not a solution and as such, the writer needs to show exactly how he/she arrived at that correct outcome.  It’s a different focus.  With each of them, I could see the eyes light up with understanding.  Yes, that’s true.  When I say it to the students, “The purpose of writing an exam is not to get the right answer,”  – pause for dramatic effect – it definitely gets the students’ attention.  Then I finish the idea.

While I didn’t teach any math, I did teach Mr. Muchero’s form 4’s in social studies.  They are currently studying forms of government and in particular he wanted me to talk about the US form of government.  Well, the fact is that I don’t know much about it.  Whatever I knew in my US history/government class at age 18 has greatly ebbed away in the intervening 61 years.  Did that stop me?  Of course not!  I let them ask me questions and many of them were very good.  They weren’t so much about the form of our government, but more about what is it like in the US.  Is there poverty in the US?  Oh, yes.  That always shocks them.  Kenyans think all Americans are rich.  Why?  Because only rich people can afford to come here for Safari, which is what most tourists do.  What is the cause of poverty?  Primarily lack of a good education.  That gave me an opportunity to compare our universal education system to theirs, which leaves out so many, as well as the benefits and drawbacks of each system.  I talked about homelessness and that so many of the homeless were vets.  Why?  I talked about the trauma of war and PTSD.  I showed them my amulet from Another Mother for Peace, from the 60’s anti-war movement.  “War is not healthy for children and other living things.”  I wear it often.  I’m not sure why, but I like it.  I talked about why so many vets come home traumatized, particularly after Viet Nam, when they were drafted, regardless of their proclivities.  I think I made an impression there.

The book has pictures of 3 US presidents – George Washington, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.  Well, I couldn’t resist a little education on the latter 2.  But I did admit I was more than a bit biased in my response.  They asked about corruption.  In the newspapers here, there is hardly anything else but corruption.  If The Nairobi Nation is to be believed, there isn’t an honest politician ANYWHERE in the country.  That may be close to the truth.  Maybe honest politician is an oxymoron, but I can’t totally believe that.  Maybe I’m just naïve.  Nonetheless, I assured them that Kenya has no corner on that market.  Corruption exists everywhere and it will continue until the people decide they’ve had enough.

I have to say it was fun to present my totally biased, one-sided view of the US, but honestly I think they got a more realistic picture of the complications of our country than they had.

Last night I attended my 2nd Rotary meeting here in Naivasha.  There were a number of visitors, several of whom were mzungus.  I had arrived late, so I didn’t hear the introductions, but not 2 words were out of their mouths when I knew they were Americans.  That in itself is unusual, but then it turned out that I had met one of them several years ago at the Ashland home of my friend, Jan Boggia.  Her companion was a woman whom she has known since they were 8 years old.  That tops Judy’s and my friendship.  She was 15 and I was 14 – my first year in high school – when we met.  The lady I had previously met, Anne, has a small foundation which does much the same thing as does Kenya Help.  Not only that, but her friend, Mary, lives in Portland, where I grew up, she attended Portland State, where I taught briefly and taught at Forest Grove High School, where I did my first year of teaching and met Jim McAuliffe, whom I married the day after school was out.

In the course of the meeting they talked about the need for libraries and I told them about the African Library Project, based in Portola Valley, CA and what a wonderful job they do.  ALP requires 20 sites, each with someone to run it, to move into a country.  Then they will send a shipping container full of books, help set up the libraries and train the personnel.  They are currently in a number of African countries, but not yet in Kenya.  Naivasha Rotary will look into it, perhaps partner with other clubs to try to get it going.  Getting ALP into Kenya and Naivasha in particular, has been my dream for years.  While I’m on the topic, go to their website, see what they do and donate your good quality books, particularly children’s books.  Give them a donation too, because it costs a lot to ship here.

Just as I left home for the meeting it began to rain and by the time I arrived it was pouring.  Thus I was wearing my favorite fleece jacket (known here as a “jumper”) with the SFG badge covering up the KQED logo.  When I got home, well past 8 pm, I looked around for it but couldn’t find it.  OH, NO, did I leave it at the meeting?  I quickly tried to call the president, the only phone number I had.  No answer.  ARGH!  I did not want to drive down there again.  I’ll have to get up early and go before school.  Sure enough I was ready ½ hour early, (no small effort on my part), grabbed my water bottle and backpack and hustled out to the car.  Opening the door, there was my black jacket, lying on the back seat.  Couldn’t see it last night.  So glad I hadn’t contacted the president and set her looking for my jacket that wasn’t there.

As you might sense, I am happy here.  I’ve been here 11 days and already I’m thinking how soon I have to leave.  I feel so lucky to be able to come here, to know so many warm, loving people and to see first-hand, the differences between the west and the developing world.  Tell your kids to study math.  See where it has gotten me?

Margo

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