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Mrs.Sirois' Farm - I learned in Lesotho that teachers are born not made
Mrs.Sirois' Farm - I learned in Lesotho that teachers are born not made
dventures of a Teacher
Teaching in a One-Room School
I had just returned from 4 years in the Peace Corps and had no desire to rush into modern Maine life. Of course that was over shadowed by the voices of my parents telling me to either go back to school for my masters or get a job. So after looking at the classified section of Sunday’s paper, it only seemed logical that I would teach K-8 in a one room school on a little island that I had never heard of before or go back to being a student myself.
Little did I know how unique the next three years would turn out, when I got the call for a ten o’clock interview at the Mount Desert office of the superintendent of Union 98. Part way into that interview the assistant superintendent jumped up and announced that we had to leave so we could make the mail-boat to Little Cranberry Island. We boarded the mailboat in Northeast Harbor and as I bounced along riding the waves, I began to question my fitness for island life. As the boat pulled up to the dock I felt as nervous as a three-legged cat at the county dog show. My heart was pumping wildly but I didn’t miss the beauty of Maine that engulfed me as I stepped on to land.
The head of the school board was there to greet us and take us to the school. As we walked up the hill to the school, Barb was our tour guide. She explained there were three docks. One was for the mail-boat, one for the lobster co-op., and the last held a restaurant that opened in the summer. People could eat there and look through the spaces between the floorboards at the water below. You could eat there but you couldn’t ride your bike down on the dock since there was a big sign that said any bikes beyond the sign would be launched. There was also a small sailor museum that was only open in the summer. On the way up the hill, we passed a home that Barb said sold hardware from a basement room and right next to the school was the grocery/post office.
By the time we reached the school, I knew I wanted to teach on Islesford.
At the school I met all 10 of my future students except Roy and all the parents not out lobstering at the time. The gathering also included all the other island winter residents. It was very informal and I soon lost track of who was who. Soon it was time to board the mail-boat and make the return trip to Northeast Harbor, a small village on the coast of the island of Mount Desert Island. Now I only had to wait for the call to tell me if I had the job or not.
I am sure that wait aged me.
I haven’t gotten my masters yet but I did get to teach in a one-room school on an island. My first year, I had ten students ranging in grades 1 through 7. These children were like a big family. Each one knew the others strengths and each knew all the others weakness. They treated each other like siblings but often not friendly siblings. They could be at each other’s throats in a flash. They called me Bev and often dropped by my house to visit. The first day I noticed the older boys wore knifes. I would freak out now but then it only made me a little nervous. That afternoon we went outside to play touch football and the boys matter-of –factly put their knives in the notch of a tree at the side of the playground. When school and the game ended for the day, I asked Roy about the knives. He looked at me as if I was a little simple and explained that the knives were important tools for a lobsterman. In fact this knife might save his life if his feet got tangled in the lines one day. I forgot about the knifes until the day I borrowed one while making peanut butter and fluff sandwiches. If we had been on a boat, I am sure I would have had to walk the plank.
My job was to teach school, be the daily janitor, burn the garbage, and start the fire engine in case of a fire on the island. The fire engine was housed in a building attached to the school. Fire on an island is no joking matter and I prayed every night that I wouldn’t get to start the engine. My prayers were answered and we were fire free.
I taught the regular subjects in much the same way that teachers in one-room schools have always taught. I used the older students to help the younger. We did a lot of neat things in those two years.
We invited all the senior citizens on the island to lunch. The admission was telling us about school when they were kids. The children selected molded salad and cookie recipes from my cookbooks, made a shopping list, and voted who would help me shop on the mainland. Then just before the event we baked cookies, prepared salads, and colored decorations. The next morning we stuffed finger rolls and practiced pouring ice tea and coffee. We were all nervous but once the guest arrived, everyone had a wonderful time and learned a lot about what life used to be like.
Every year the school went on a skiing trip for a week. I personally have the grace of a cow and the thought of being responsible for 10 children on skis scared me to death. I convinced everyone that what they really wanted to do was take swimming lessons. So for the next 12 weeks we traveled by mail-boat to Northeast Harbor then by private cars to the YMCA in Bar Harbor to learn to swim. I was amazed by how many people living 3 miles out in the ocean didn’t know how to swim.
We started a school newspaper, sold and delivered it to the people on the island for 25 cents an issue. We did this until we had enough money to go off island and have pizza at Pizza Hut.
We went off island to visit Norlands, an educational visit into 1850 school and farm life. We started with the school house experience. While the females cooked supper, the males did the farm chores. After supper, we had a hayride and played parlor games. The next day we experienced 1850-farm life before we headed back to the coast.
Another trip off the island took us to an Agricultural Fair. That night, we slept on the floor of a schoolhouse and got up the next morning to go pick apples. We picked over 500 pounds of apples and loaded them into my Pinto. We sold these apples on the island and used the money to pay for our trip.
Our attempt to beat cabin fever was holding Whist Parties every Friday night. For one dollar you could play all evening. If you were the winner you got a lobster from the co-op. The families made refreshments, the kids sold them, and the families bought them. We made money to finance our many trips off island.
The next year my 7th graders were 8th graders ready to graduate from the one-room school and head off to the mainland for high school. We now had two kindergartners in school. This was to be my last year since I longed to be reunited with my car. I wanted to jump in my car and go somewhere without thinking of a boat schedule. It was fun but now I was ready for modern Maine life
Peace Corps Lesotho
I was upset with my school board in West Virginia so it gave me great pleasure to write in my letter of resignation that I was leaving to broaden my horizons and increase my salary by joining Peace Corps.
Peace Corps offered me a position as intern supervisor for the National Teacher Training College in Lesotho, Africa. I jumped at the chance to go even though I didn’t know where Lesotho was or as it turned out how to pronounce the country’s name.
Lesotho is about the size of New Jersey. It is the only country in the world completely surrounded by the same other country. It is an agricultural kingdom that can not support its self agriculturally. Their biggest exports are people to work in the mines and as domestics in South Africa. Sesotho is the first language but lucky for me English is the second language.
Before I tell you about my Peace Corps job, let me explain about education in Lesotho. First in order to be a teacher you have to pass the grade. In other words, in order to teach second grade you had to have passed second grade but that is all.
The government decided it would finance education. So the officials climbed into their Land Rovers and went to each and every school. At each school, they took a head count and declared they would pay for a teacher for every 50 pupils. They had all ready decided that a class of fifty was the ideal size to provide a good education. If your school had 200 students the government would pay for 4 teachers.
After visiting all the schools in Lesotho, the officials happily returned to the capital where the declared from then on primary education was to be free. Of course at this great news, all the parents were overjoyed and decided that now they could afford to educate their daughters as well as their sons. Schools that once had 200 pupils now had 800 students enrolled. Class sizes grew pass overwhelming. The headmasters headed to the capital to demand more pay for more teachers. The happy officials simply stated that they could not increase the amount of teacher pay allotted to the schools since they had just made a visit. So the headmasters headed back to their schools with no hope of ever having “ideal class sizes” again.
By USA standards these schools were not only overcrowded but also lacked in everything we consider essential. Most were merely large rooms with no furniture. The walls were crumbling, the thatched roofs leaked and the dung floors needed smearing weekly. Classes were scattered around the room with often only a small path between grades. During the rainy season, more than a few of my interns had to teach with an umbrella over their heads.
In one room you might have 6 classes, 6 teachers and upward of 300 students. The parents furnished books, but since the average yearly income is about 100 dollars, they were at a premium. Teachers really had no teaching tools. Many teachers saved empty detergent boxes to break apart for paper and spent hours burning the ends of twigs to make pencils. Some very lucky teachers had pieces of broken blackboards salvaged from the secondary schools.
A year or two before the education officials made their trip around Lesotho; they had closed all teacher-training colleges and opened the National Teacher Training College. This college had the backing and financial support of the United Nations. There was a three-year program in place. During the first year students were at the campus and took regular education courses. The second year had them in the field assuming full responsibility for a class. This is where the Peace Corps volunteer worked with them as an intern supervisor. Part of the role of the Intern Supervisor was to learn the strengths and weakness of each intern and write a prescription for them. During the last year at NTTC each student’s course of study was based on this prescription of study.
Peace Corps volunteers were requested to be intern supervisors while in-country people were trained for this position. A volunteer had to have either a master’s degree in education or at least 5 years teaching experience. I was happy to be part of the first group of intern supervisors. Since most of us had jobs we could not leave until U.S. schools closed for the summer. Our training group did not arrive in Lesotho until late July. While we waited for the first group of interns to go out into the field to teach, we were assigned jobs at N.T.T.C. One of the courses the students were required to take broke down a lesson into 10 or 12 components. Each student learned about each element of a good lesson and then they had to prepare a lesson in which they highlighted one of the components and taught a lesson to a group of children from a school near the campus. These lessons were video taped and then the students watched themselves on tape as Peace Corps volunteers talked about their strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately most of the students interpreted the assignments as teaching a lesson using only one component. When they were working on non-verbal skills, they taught their whole lesson without a sound. I saw many dental health lessons taught in mime. When they were learning about introducing a lesson, whole lessons were nothing more than introductions and the same with closure. These sessions were very frustrating to volunteers although entertaining when you looked back on the experience.
I often wondered at the value of some of the courses. One course was in the use of an overhead projector. Sounds great until you realize that all most all of the schools were with out electricity.
Once the students were out in the field they were in complete charge of a class. I had 15 interns with class sizes of 55 to 178. When we met together at my rondoval the young girl who only had 55 first graders in her class was teased because the other interns said she really wasn’t working if all she had was 55 children to teach.
I soon learned to observe my interns Monday –Thursday because Friday was set aside for the gathering of firewood and the smearing of floors. When I asked why the floors had to be smeared weekly, one intern did a lesson where the students jumped out the answer. By the second problem I could no longer see the teacher through the dust in the room.
Three Saturdays a month we met at my house and I gave instruction in educational methods. It was here that I learned about Basotho time. Everyone was to be at my house at 9:00 that first Saturday. At 10:00 no one had arrived including the three interns who shared the big house next to me. Finally by 1:00 everyone had arrived. As it was explained to me -meetings were held when people got there. That was Basotho time. Say the meeting was at 9:00 and expecting people there at 9:00 was US time. From then on I told everyone to be there at 7:00 and we had our meeting at 9:00. This system worked like a charm and everyone was on time for the 9:00 meeting.
My interns were stationed at 8 different schools near. Since my United Nation issue Honda 100 street bike was always broken down. (Nearest pavement was 100 km away) I rode the buses and hiked. I climbed mountain paths and squeezed onto full buses. I was rewarded as I observed these interns teaching. They had nothing but the desire to teach and they were very successful. I learned in Lesotho that teachers are born not made.