These stories come from my Volunteer Reporting Form, where we are required to write a story about one of our successes, no matter how large or small. I enjoyed writing it, hopefully you will enjoy reading it!
When I first arrived at Lycée Classique in September last year my first assignment to my students was to come and introduce themselves to me in person. This was so essential for multiple reasons: first, I had no idea who my students were or anything about them, and with almost 100 pupils per room and 4 classes to teach, it would be impossible for me to get to know all of them during my lessons. Secondly, I also wanted to know what English they already knew, since theoretically they have been studying the language for years. I was slightly disappointed when I discovered that universally all of the students who greeted me couldn’t get past “how are you? I’m fine, thank you.” I knew that part of it must be my accent, but even asking questions like “how old are you?” or “where are you from?” could surely be distinguishable even in crazy American speak. Yet each and everyone stared at me paralyzed, as if I had pointed a gun at their heads.
Therefore, setting the schemes of work aside, I went on a campaign to teach ALL of my students how to at least get through those basic conversation starters. We tried writing dialogues, reading emails from my friends, even drawing cartoons, attempting anything and everything that could help them in conversing in basic English. My classroom would fill with noise as every single student would be conversing with their partner, eagerly trying out the English, which I noted as I walked around the room. As a rule, any student who saw me out of class knew I would only speak to them in English and had to try their best to communicate with what little language they had. I was pleased to see that instead of running away from me my students would seek me out and greet me in town, at the market or along the road as they worked selling groundnuts and fruit. Soon I could hardly go anywhere without hearing a chorus of “Miss Preston, Miss Preston!!”
Although the test scores were continually disappointing throughout the school year with a fail rate of about 50% per class, I tried not to be too disheartened even though I was convinced that somehow I had failed my students. Then one day, I was walking to school with my fellow Peace Corps Volunteer Jodie Pelusi, who was coming to speak to my class about HIV. Up ran one of my students from one of my weakest classes, Zintchem to greet us. “Good Morning Miss Preston!” She said. I greeted her and introduced her to my friend. As we walked I noted that Jodie had taken to heart my plea that she only speak in English. “What is your name?” she asked Zintchem. I walked with bated breath as I listened intensely to their conversation, wondering what my student would be able to manage. I was shocked when Zintchem not only answered the first question, but continued answering questions, so poised and so confidently. I couldn’t believe it as she told Jodie how many brothers and sisters she had, where she was from, and how old she was. When Jodie said, “Your English is very good!” Zintchem replied, “Thank you madame! Goodbye madame!” and we parted ways. Jodie continued walking as if nothing had happened but I was amazed beyond belief. Something I had taught had worked. I didn’t need a written test score for that!
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