An unforgettable journey part 2

The following Monday after I arrived in Lesotho, I began my work at the primary school. In the geography of things, the mission was built at the end of a ridge before the sides of the hill begin to steepen toward the river. Further in on the ridge, about 100 feet from the mission house is Paster Moletsane’s house, the pastor of the LEC church, which is also about 100 feet further to the north than his house. Then about 50 feet from the front of the church is the first building of the school, and it is one of the newer buildings on the school property. So I was not far from the mission and had little problem making it to school on-time those first few weeks. That first morning, I walked to school, uncertain of what to think or how to feel. I had never been in a school in Lesotho before. I didn’t know what their schedule was like. What would the kids think of me? Would they speak English? Would they care that I was there?

After the morning assembly, we went to the school office where I was introduced to the entire teaching staff. I couldn’t pronounce anyone’s name, and I soon found out how difficult it would be to learn Basotho names. So lets stop there and cover one important thing about the Sesotho language and the Basotho people. This is very important. I became a Mosotho while I lived among the Basotho who are the native people of Lesotho, and they speak Sesotho, which I also tried to learn. Similar to American, I am Mosotho. Similar to Americans, then, we are Basotho. Also, please realize that the “th” sound in Sesotho, the language of the Basotho, is a hard “t” sound.

Back to the story, after I was introduced, Me Malintle, which is the formal way of saying Mrs. Mantutle, told me and the other teachers that I would be helping in the Standard 5 classroom. Almost all of the other classrooms had two teachers in them, and it was decision that was made by the government as to how many teachers a school had, so I went into the standard 5 classroom. When we walked in, my colleague, Me Makolobetso, asked if I liked to teach math, and I said I did, so she said that I could start teaching math right away. Within ten minutes, I was trying to introduce fractions to a group of 64 Basotho students, ranging in age from 11 to 16. I soon found out that my accent was not one that they could understand well, so within a couple of weeks my colleague actually took over for me. It sounds ridiculous now, but I felt even in those first few weeks like I had failed already. How could I not teach a class about fractions? What was so difficult about that? A difference in language can make all the difference in the world in terms of respect and understanding in a classroom.

In the school system in Lesotho, students have to pass national exams at the end of their 7th grade, 10th grade, and 12th grade years. When a student takes the exam, they will receive a 1st, 2nd or 3rd class pass. If you receive a 1st class pass, you are ready for high school. If you receive a 2nd class pass, you could go to high school, but it might be kind of risky. If you receive a 3rd class pass, you should probably retake 7th grade. All of the exams are written in English, except for the Sesotho exam, and they include an exam for all of the following subjects: math, science, English, Sesotho, home economics, social studies, and religious studies. The type of class pass that a student gets is very important because while primary education is free for all children who can attend, secondary education is not free, so the high school system works similarly to the college system. Children can move away from home to live with family who live near a respected high school.

In those first few weeks, I also had to start getting used to the proper form of Basotho discipline, which is a swat on the hand with a stick for all misbehaving individuals. I was kind of mortified the first time I saw it. I was wondering about what could have prepared me for such things before I left. I wondered who had got it wrong on my job description, not to tell me right away that I would be teaching. My journey had started in Akron, Pennsylvania, and the people there had offered two sessions to people who were going to different places to teach. The lady in charge of placements told me that I would not have to worry about managing a classroom by the looks of my job description so I really didn’t need to go to any of the sessions. In those moments in the classroom, watching children get hit on the hand and trying to teach children even though they understood few of the words I was saying, I was wondering why I hadn’t just gone to the training sessions. I am not sure now how I did not expect these things to be different. Corporal punishment is commonplace all over sub-saharan Africa in schools and was not all that uncommon in the United States not too many years ago. Either way, I was stunned. Even though I was reeling from all that was happening around me, the support network that MCC provided as a part of the program was very helpful throughout the time as overwhelming as my initial encounters were with Lesotho.


~ by randallkoehler on October 23, 2012.

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