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Quitter (Tuesday, 2010 July 27)

July 28th, 2010

(N.B.: Quitter ("kee-tay") is one of the many French verbs for "get out".)

Camtel is in the process of selling me another key. It cost 45,000 CFA ($90 USD), plus another 1,000 for a blank SIM card. I will be picking it up today. This is most of them money I have "saved" to date. I will have to wait until the next paycheck before buying the next month of Internet access, or else forego eating.

Today was the best day I’ve had as an educator. My 5e class was completely and utterly disruptive; accordingly, I sent about 20 students to the discipline master. It was actually pretty interesting. You can really see the lack of critical thinking here:

  1. Student A is braiding Student B’s hair. This isn’t really allowed in class.
  2. Other students bring to my attention that Student A is braiding Student B’s hair. I glare at Student A.
  3. Student A meets my eyes. Then, as I continue to watch her, she moves to continue braiding Student B’s hair, but then changes her mind. Then she changes her mind again. In this fashion she eventually finds herself with her hands on Student B’s hair.
  4. I notify both students A and B that they are now entitled to visit the discipline master.

When I first got to class, three students were in the middle of having a fight — full-on physicality, including a headlock. Not my problem. See the discipline master.

But despite all of this, I came out of it smiling and cheerful. Why? No idea — possibly the fascinating ways the students behaved, possibly the fun of saying "You: bye!". Either way, I got to lunch feeling, as Timothy said, like a million CFA (approx. $2,000 USD).

In the clear light of day I think there must have been something I could have done differently. I started my lesson with a review of the lab class some of them had yesterday, but apparently not all of them had, because the teacher who was supposed to be there during one of the periods (was it me? I don’t think so, but who knows?) was completely missing. I would have thought those of the students who were so intent on asking me how to make corrections yesterday would want to know how to make them today, but not so.

At the end of the lesson I had about 30 students, which was much more managable, and they were pretty quiet, especially when I mentioned there was a test Thursday. Oops, should have done that at the beginning of class. Not like I know what I’m gonna put on the test anyhow.

3e by contrast was completely baffling. I gave them this assignment.

  1. Create a column of numbers from 1 to 100, as follows: put 1 in the first cell. Select all the cells. Select Edit->Fill->Series. Activate the "Progression" checkbox and then OK.
  2. Install a macro package, as follows: click Tools->Macro packages. Activate "Analytical macros". Click OK.
  3. Create a column of numbers which are the binary translations of the numbers in the first column, as follows: put the formula "=DECBIN(A1)" in the first cell. Choose Edit->Copy. Select all the cells. Select Edit->Paste.

Naturally, not a single person followed even one direction. Most of them copied the "sample table" I had on the board, which went from 1 to 6. Some went as far as to hand-fill numbers up to 100. Some even attempted to hand-translate their numbers to binary, getting as far as 12 (which naturaly corresponds to the binary "300"). I told them to erase everything and start over. I had to even demonstrate quickly on one student’s computer what I wanted. It’s not a 60-minute assignment — it’s maybe a 10 minute assignment for someone who has a little experience with Excel. OK, some of this can be chalked up to inexperience, maybe not having seen checkboxes before, stuff like that. But really, there’s only so much illiteracy you can forgive. Grr.

OK. Deep breath. The trainers have mentioned that here there is a "culture of literacy" which we Americans have and the Cameroonians don’t. I thought that was a crock of shit, and to some extent still think it’s a crock of shit. I think what you’re really seeing is a deeply-ingrained respect, I would say fetish, for hierarchy, which puts other people above papers and documents, combined with an information-poor environment, where the only way to learn something is to ask someone else. Naturally people don’t read because something someone else tells you is more important, and anything you read is bullshit anyhow. I am going to have to think thoroughly about how to encourage that to change a bit.

Does this dovetail with the way that nobody will explain me anything, and instead everyone insists on doing it for me? Not sure. Maybe people here just prefer to learn things from watching.

Last meeting we had for model school, Julia asked whether it was OK to have students bringing misbehavior to your attention, disciplining each other, etc. This gradually morphed into a discussion about the peculiar habits bred into the students here: standing when a teacher enters the room, standing up when asking or answering a question, and so on. It’s all to show "respect", but the more I think about it, the more I think there’s such a thing as respect poisoning, and this country has it. I don’t want my students to not look me in the eye and speak too softly to hear. I want them to think! I want them to do things I never would have expected! But then again, I guess that little girl who was braiding hair was doing exactly that, and I threw her out of my class.

Fuck, being a teacher is hard.

Lastly, gave myself a pretty sincere shock plugging something into the wall last night. Sat for a while wondering if I was alive, wondering why I wasn’t in more pain. Answer: rubber-soled slippers? My arm doesn’t hurt, it’s functioning and it’s not numb, so I guess I’m doing well.


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