LTP Arusha Week 6: reflections by Jenny Sherman

We began our week at Shalom, returning to show the students the posters we had made from the work they did with us last week. Shalom is an important place for us—I think we really came into our own as teachers there last week and now we feel at home among the supportive teachers and the incredible, creative students.

This is one group of the hundreds of Shalom students who rushed out into the school courtyard to look at their finished work. Standing in the midst of the chaos, I realized how important this part of the process is: following through to help teachers preserve the work of their students so they can create visual aids for future classes. I also noticed that among the many thrilled students, there were a few who looked disappointed. When I asked them what was wrong, they said that their writing or their favorite photo hadn’t been included. We had worked with eighty students each day and had small posters, just a couple per class, to work with. So we couldn’t include every photograph or every piece of writing. This is something to think about for the future: we shouldn’t take students’ work for granted and should think carefully about how to make sure everyone is represented when it comes time to present the finished result of an LTP activity. It is something really special to be a part of a work that will live on at your school.

On Wednesday, we held a teachers’ workshop at Meru School. I was nervous as I always am before teaching teachers, but I am learning to trust the importance of sharing new ideas and not to be intimidated. As an LTP instructor, I have something to offer and it’s important to be confident about that, just as it’s important to listen to where the teachers are coming from. This workshop was something of a turning point for me. As I took the teachers through an alphabet project, creating 26 photos on the theme of home according to the alphabet, I had the incredible feeling of knowing what I was doing and how to answer the teachers’ questions.

Even with the considerable language barrier, there were a few concepts I was able to communicate to the Meru teachers that I hadn’t been able to articulate before. The first was the idea that things are more than what they seem. We began the workshop by reading a photo, coming up with all the information communicated in the photo and thinking of possible stories. When we moved onto the alphabet, we created word association webs from a single word from our alphabet. I explained that just as we found stories in our photo that weren’t apparent at first glance, each word in our alphabet could also give us many stories if we dug deep enough. This idea seemed to really interest my group.

The other concept was communicating in a photo how each word related to the theme of the alphabet, in this case “home”. The photo above represents V for “vitunguu” or “onions”. The teachers initially wanted to take a photo zoomed in on several onions, but I pushed them to think about giving the person who would see the photo more information with more details in the photo. How do you use “vitunguu” at home? They then came up with the idea of showing the cooking scene that you see here. I was so impressed by the Meru teachers’ openness and willingness to try my ideas and left the workshop feeling proud of them and of myself.
We spent the rest of the week with Grade 3 at Meru School, working on another alphabet project. Meru is a government school, which means that instruction is in Swahili (as opposed to English in private schools like Shalom). While the Grade 3 teachers helped translate our instructions to the kids and we spoke a little Swahili, communication was still difficult. “Subiri” (wait) and “sikiliza” (listen) became the most important words in my vocabulary. Taking photos with the students was overwhelming, simply because of the large size of our groups and their boundless excitement. I include this photo of “orange” to illustrate this point. Notice in the reflection that this photo is being taken by not one, but ten people. I rest my case.

At the end of the project, I was worried that because of the chaotic lessons, the students hadn’t learned what we had set out to teach. My groups’ last photo helped convince me I was wrong.

This is a photo of Christmas (or X for X-mas to be exact). After much whispering and deliberation, the group led me to this spot behind their school and were very particular on how they wanted the photo taken: just the flowers. I’m still not sure exactly why they chose this photo and what the significance of the flowers is, but I know that when I see this photo, I see Christmas. Out of all the tired ideas thrown around—gift giving, decorations, feasts—my third graders chose to communicate a familiar concept in a new and creative way, one of the most important goals of LTP.

“Nothing you do for a child is ever wasted.” Last week, we discussed how this quote by Garrison Keillor relates to our work here, and I thought of it again at Meru. Trying to share new ideas in a system we don’t understand with a language and culture barrier can be overwhelming—sometimes I feel despite our best efforts, we are not always able to achieve what we want to in a given lesson. Instead of getting discouraged, I’m trying to think of it as a learning experience where each day we get a little better and learn a little more about teaching. We don’t know yet what our impact will be, and this is both a responsibility and a reassurance. There are so many things at work within our students that are invisible to us except for maybe a fleeting instant: lightbulbs going off, questioning norms, speaking up, etc. We have to let go of the idea that everything will go as planned and hold on to the knowledge that as we work to continue and improve LTP, nothing we do is a waste: everything has an impact.

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