# 14 School Days

July 10, 2018

I spend every day at school, doing various things, meeting kids in the library during their very limited free time, teaching classes, teaching the teachers, meeting with the principal, or sometimes just working hairy problems.  

Three Form 1 students come for consultation almost every day after lunch.  We discuss the problems they are having and I think mostly go away with questions answered.  They are very earnest and really want to learn.  They have a practice teacher, who seems to be mentored by the other form 1 teacher, but that teacher is busy too.  Yesterday I taught both form 1 section, each time with the teacher present, as I was teaching a method (FOIL) the teachers didn’t know about, but liked.  The kids love the variety of having someone different teaching them, plus there is still a bit of a cache about having an American come teach them.  I try to keep it light and fun, but I was more than a bit concerned that girls in their 2nd high school year couldn’t combine integers.  Example  –6 + 9  or 6 – 9.  In fact, today after the last class I went to one of the form 2 rooms where about 12 girls had stayed to “revise” this topic.  We thrashed it though, but some find it hard to move from the very old-fashioned number line method of adding, to what I think is much easier.  Ex: – 6 + 9   “do you have more positives or negatives?”  “More positives”  “How many more?”  “3”.  “Right, answer is  + 3.”   It’s so easy that way.  When I explained that to the teachers they agreed it is a much better teaching device.  

The 4 math teachers are all new.  That makes it hard with no continuity.  On the other hand, they are young, enthusiastic, eager to help the students and willing to think about how I teach some topics.  So often I see one or 2 of them sitting, surrounded by students, on a bench outside the math teachers’ office, answering questions, explaining, freely giving of their time.  

In fact, I see much more of that than in the past.  For the last few years, the teachers and the (then) principal were virtually at a standoff.  The whole atmosphere was toxic.  I didn’t write about it because there was nothing I could do and I knew the principal read my blog.  The new principal is an energetic, positive, enthusiastic, problem solver.  Everyone seems so much happier, students and staff alike.  It’s like a whole new school.

There is just one teacher who is a real drag, but he will shortly be replaced.  He disappears for a week right after every pay day.  Rumor has it he’s on a major toot.  I’ve been aware of his ineptitude for several years, but got no ears from the powers that be.  This new principal is having none of that!!!  He will go.  Just like in the US, it’s hard to sack a teacher, but there is plenty of evidence of his failure to report, bad performance of his students and a terrible role model.  He sits at his desk, either reading the paper, talking loudly to other teachers (for which I spoke to him 2 weeks ago, before his most recent disappearance) or doing nothing.  ARGH!!!  I don’t know how he can call himself a teacher.  Loser is a much better description.

I have tried to schedule time when all 4 math teachers would be free for an hour to have a graphing calculator workshop.  I think tomorrow after lunch will be it (but I’ll have to abandon my form 1’s).  They are all salivating over those great calculators, but I’ve refused to give them out until they learn a bit about how to use them.  In fact, the form 4 teacher wants his own so badly he is willing to teach in our August “tuitioning” in exchange for mine!  It means I’ll have to get a new one (actually used) on ebay when I come home, but it will be really good to have him working with the form 4’s.  

Mary continues to love working at the District Hospital despite the many shortcomings she sees.  She loves working with Sr. Dr. Carren, whom she describes as a bright, caring, efficient and no-nonsense leader there.  Yesterday and today she has worked in the palliative care section and has come home full of tales.  Palliative care has a broader definition here, including people, especially children, with major disabilities.  She describes the devotion of the parents who never leave their children’s side.  She is what I call a born nurse.  She adores what she does, just as I adore teaching math.  She comes back in the evening, tired, but eyes sparkling with news and a sense of accomplishment.

Kathleen shares her time between Life Bloom, where she loves going on home visits to mostly single moms, or sometimes abused women.  She is inspired by the work LB is doing and by the wonderful staff.  She, too, has much to report out over our dinner table.  At SFG, she has found a niche, just listening to girls, who flock to her.  She is helping the new form 1 teacher revive the peer mentoring program, which had been allowed to wither away.  Evidently the girls had asked the new teacher the very first day on the job (about 10 days ago!) whether she would take that up.  Since she is also the counselor, she readily agreed, despite being on total overload.  She and Kathleen have huddled together to share ideas and plan.  Today they met with the girls who want to be the mentors and who have asked for more training, to begin that process.  It’s a wonderfully sign of the shift in spirit from the negative to the positive.  Heretofore, I’ve seen a punitive atmosphere, versus now a helpful, supportive atmosphere.  It gives me great hope for the future under this new principal.

As you see, all 3 of us have found our places in this milieu, sharing our loves and our passion for what we do.  It’s turning out to be a great year.  

As I was preparing to leave Menlo Park, a month ago, I wondered whether I would have the energy and endurance to do this again.  Even the first week or so, I wasn’t sure whether I could pull it off one more time, but I’m hitting my stride now, aching to keep going when the time is up, still feeling upbeat at the end of a long day.  This is where I belong each summer.  I am content.  

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