2010.09.05: Charles L. Kennedy writes: I entered my first class in early September 1963 as the history master at the Schlenker School in Sierra Leone, West Africa, as a Peace Corps volunteer

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Sierra Leone: Peace Corps Sierra Leone : Peace Corps Sierra Leone: Newest Stories: 2010.09.05: Charles L. Kennedy writes: I entered my first class in early September 1963 as the history master at the Schlenker School in Sierra Leone, West Africa, as a Peace Corps volunteer

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Charles L. Kennedy writes: I entered my first class in early September 1963 as the history master at the Schlenker School in Sierra Leone, West Africa, as a Peace Corps volunteer

Charles L. Kennedy writes: I entered my first class in early September 1963 as the history master at the Schlenker School in Sierra Leone, West Africa, as a Peace Corps volunteer

The first year for any teacher is challenging enough just trying to stay ahead of the students. Now, I had to teach three different sections of African history. African history wasn't an option in most American colleges back in 1963, but the midnight oil was burned, and the students and I survived. I learned many new names and many great leaders -- Mansa Kanka Musa, Bai Bureh, Osei Tutu, and, of course, Shaka Zulu. Prominent leaders of the fight for independence in the 1950s and 1960s were Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya) and Sekou Toure (Guinea). Great stories such as the "Legend of the Golden Stool" and the "Hut Tax War" still are appropriate examples for my current political science classes. Of course, any study of African history had to include William Wilberforce, the Englishman who led the fight in the British Parliament for the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. He was also instrumental in having Sierra Leone established as a colony for those who were freed.

Charles L. Kennedy writes: I entered my first class in early September 1963 as the history master at the Schlenker School in Sierra Leone, West Africa, as a Peace Corps volunteer

Guest columnist Charles L. Kennedy: Blackboard in the jungle

By CHARLES L. KENNEDY

Contributing writer

There is nothing more exciting than the first day of class.

I entered my first class in early September 1963 as the history master at the Schlenker School in Sierra Leone, West Africa, as a Peace Corps volunteer. Now that I am in the twilight of my career as an educator, I am immensely proud that I still greatly enjoy and welcome the challenge of being a teacher and the anticipation and exhilaration of the first day.

As the day of my last lecture looms on the horizon, I frequently recall those first exciting years as a teacher and as a volunteer, back in the days when I was young and Africa was young. Most of the African countries were just becoming independent nations in the early 1960s after centuries of colonial rule.

I taught five sections of history in high school -- two world history, two African history and one Sierra Leone history. This was in addition to teaching two physical education classes, running the intramural program and coaching soccer, basketball and baseball.

The first year for any teacher is challenging enough just trying to stay ahead of the students. Now, I had to teach three different sections of African history. African history wasn't an option in most American colleges back in 1963, but the midnight oil was burned, and the students and I survived.

I learned many new names and many great leaders -- Mansa Kanka Musa, Bai Bureh, Osei Tutu, and, of course, Shaka Zulu. Prominent leaders of the fight for independence in the 1950s and 1960s were Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya) and Sekou Toure (Guinea). Great stories such as the "Legend of the Golden Stool" and the "Hut Tax War" still are appropriate examples for my current political science classes.

Of course, any study of African history had to include William Wilberforce, the Englishman who led the fight in the British Parliament for the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. He was also instrumental in having Sierra Leone established as a colony for those who were freed.

We started our days in the assembly hall, where the headmaster read a verse from the Bible and made announcements. We then had a rousing rendition of the national anthem, "High we exalt thee land of the free ... land that we love our Sierra Leone."

Sierra Leone was a former English colony, so naturally the English educational system was used. Tests were to be all essay, and we were expected to teach to the standardized tests that were administered at the end of Form 3 and Form 5, our equivalent of 10th and 12th grades.

Students needed to pass a required number of subjects in Form 5 to be able to advance to Form 6 and college. I am very proud that the number of passes in history in my last year exceeded the number of passes for all the other subjects at my school combined. Not because I was a great teacher, but because I reviewed the questions on the exams for the past several years and noticed a pattern. I emphasized to my students that I was very confident the essay questions would deal with the partition of Africa, colonialism (direct and indirect rule) and the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The school was in Port Loko, a small village upcountry. It was an all boys' school with 60 boarders and 60 boys from town. The school compound was only a five-minute drive from town, but completely surrounded by the jungle. Besides the English headmaster, the Sierra Leone clerk and myself, there were three other Peace Corps volunteers and two volunteers from the British Volunteer Service Overseas. Our housing compound was on campus, a two-minute walk to class. We taught in English, although Krio, a form of pigeon English, was frequently spoken in town.

There were frequent interruptions during the school day. We called them WAWA -- West Africa wins again. During the rainy season, when the monsoons poured down on the tin roof of the classroom building, we learned to shout and keep teaching.

Classroom visitors were frequent. The driver ants, sausage flies and mosquitoes were omnipresent, but you ignored them. However, when a green mamba fell off the rafters or a black mamba crawled out of a desk, the kids would run out to the hall, get their sticks and return and beat it. The class prefect would dispose of the snake outside, and class would continue -- just another day as a teacher in the jungle.

However, if one of the monkeys stopped in the palm trees outside to listen to your lecture, you had better be good. You needed to have your A game if you wanted to compete with those little guys.

My goal as a teacher has always been not just to get the students interested, but to get them enthusiastic, excited and involved. I love to challenge them -- to get them thinking, discussing, arguing. My best classes have always been my loudest classes.

Over the years as a teacher, I have experimented with many different techniques and technology. However, I always return to the piece of chalk and the blackboard that I started with. I realize what works best for me now is exactly what worked best for me then. The old Sierra Leone proverb says it best:

Go to the people. Live with them. Start with what they have. Build on what they know.

CHARLES L. KENNEDY, a former teacher at Gannon University, is a senior instructor in political science at Penn State York.




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Story Source: Goerie

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Sierra Leone; Education; Speaking Out

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