The alarm went off at 6 AM, but I was already awake. It was the day I’d been waiting for for months, preparing for this day. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, playing out the day in my dreams, sometimes successful, sometimes an absolute nightmare. Literally. The first day of school. As I walked the five minutes to my “Lycee,” and through the courtyard, thousands of eyes were on me, watching my every step. I only hoped they weren’t looking at my shoes, which were far from spotless after picking my way awkwardly through the mud.
After a solemn flag ceremony, the bell rang, and children went flying in every direction. As a soldier going off to war, I had prepared for the worst. Everyone had told me over and over again the chaos of the crowded rooms, where over 100 students waited to be “taught.” I knew that after my experience in Model School, teaching a massive class can sometimes make your head hurt and your voice scratchy, not to mention that your lesson plan can go flying out the window, despite your best intentions. I took a deep breath, stepped into the room, and opened my eyes…..to 25 cute, smiling 6th grade students. Apparently they didn’t get the memo that they were supposed to be monsters, and about four times as many.
The first week of school in Cameroon appears to be a sort of trial week, where teachers and students start trying out the academic waters for the year. Teachers come and go freely, and students appear to be happy enough hanging out in their classroom, waiting for several hours for someone to come in and give them something to do. That is, the half of the students who have shown up, and not the half who are still vacationing somewhere.
You would think this might be frustrating for an ed volunteer, freshly posted who wants to get things done right, but actually I felt a sense of relief. Just like it is a trial run for the school, I let it be a trial run for me too. Rather than diving in head first, I slowly got used to having more and more students each day, figuring out a way to organize my class so that rather than sitting and talking to their friends, the children have something to do, that is not only interesting but useful to their education. Not only are the students going to learn this year, but I will be learning too, how to teach in a new environment different from any other I’ve encountered in my 3 years of English teaching abroad.
And worry not. By the end of the week my 6ème C class had multiplied their numbers to become 90, and the noise level rose several decibels, despite my best efforts. With four kids already sent out to pick up trash for hitting each other in class, and a massive number of hands raising, yelling “Madame! Madame!” I realized that now I was actually teaching. No need to pinch me, this is actually happening.