Tag Archive for 'teaching'

My Last Day Teaching the Little Kids

There it went.  Two years of teaching “Creative Arts” has officially come to a close.  It’s a melancholy feeling, and it’s only amplified by the circumstances.

The way my schedule works, I teach both Classes 2 and 3 on Thursday, one after the other, before lunch.  Today, the Class 3 classroom was being painted courtesy of a local bank, so all the students from both classes were crammed into the Class 2 classroom.  I walked in, ready to teach Class 2 for the last time, and there were all my students from both classes, thrilled to be stuck together, in a room that had just been painted the day before, just glowing white from all sides!  They shrieked and hollered and we all played vocabulary bingo together… a common event for each class, but never before together as one big group.  We played to the end: that is, until every last student had “won,” so that everyone got a prize.  This was easy to do, since class length was doubled due to the painting.  It was quite a ruckus, and normally I would have done some hushing, but since this was my last formal “class” with them, I tired to just revel in it: the hooting and whooping and laughing, and the pride that I feel in their ability to fingerspell, something that I have focused on for quite some time with bingo.  I didn’t want to take pictures throughout the class, which would just be distracting, so I just focused on individual moments and told myself, remember this.

The kids using rocks as bingo markers.  The same rocks they threw at each other on my first day in the classroom.

The ridiculous dances they do when they get a point.

The howls I hear when I trick them into thinking I’m doing the sign for scissors (similar to a peace sign), but then I twist it around at the last minute and so the sign for fork (using the peace peace sign to stab food on a plate, and eat it).

These are things I don’t want to forget, so I tried to stretch them out today, make them last just a little longer by focusing on their details.

And then I took an actual picture at the end, of course.

We finished a bit earlier than usual, with not enough time left for another full game, so I set up a few kids with cards to play slapjack, and just milled around with the other kids, fixing the pirate-themed party hats that I had given away as prizes, and which promptly broke in their destructive little hands.  The kids asked if I would be back in class on Monday, but I had to explain that this was the last week of classes, so no, although I’d still be around and still be around until their parents come to pick them up.  I saw some sad faces, especially on my favorite students.  A sad face due to my absence is flattering, but mostly, just sad.

Tomorrow will be my last formal day of teaching in the vocational school, and it will likely just be business as usual; we’ll just read books for an hour and ten minutes, as we’ve been doing this entire term.  Next week I’ll be out of town for the Nairobi Project, which is scheduled to come to a close, at which point I will write about it in greater detail.  The week after, I’ll be back in Mombasa to give a final exam to my vocational students, and then that’s it.  Finished.

I won’t be saying goodbye to my students for another few weeks, when their parents will come to the school to pick them up, so it’s a bit early to get all caught up in the emotions of the whole thing, but I think there’s something about the formality of classes ending that brings it out.  Also, the fact that it was raining, unusual for this season, probably only served to exacerbate the whole thing.

Well, perhaps I make it sound like it was a room full of sad faces, which is not the case, since it was really just me, so here’s a picture to show the kids in the class last time:

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1 Response to “My Last Day Teaching the Little Kids”


  • Paul

    I really enjoyed reading your blog entry.

    Sounds like it was a good way to end classes.

    Hope last few weeks are enjoyable.

How Does Corruption Affect Volunteers?

Corruption is part of day-to-day life in Kenya, and it’s a topic I’ve largely avoided, since as a Peace Corps Volunteer blogger, it’s important to respect the Peace Corp’s partner organizations by not talking about the terrible things they do.

I will say this, though: corruption lowers my motivation.

Corruption in education exists on different scales, and both have been in the news recently.  This is great, because rather than citing my own experiences that might get me (or others) into trouble, I can just talk current events.  Let’s start with big time corruption.

Britain just announced that it is halting a payment of $30 million that would have gone to the Kenya Ministry of Education.  It wasn’t that long ago that they withheld $16 million, claiming that Kenya stole a lot of the last round of money, which triggered the Kenyan government to “look into it” and fire some middle management.  The upper levels of government, including the Minister of Education, were left untouched.  Apparently unsatisfied with the token effort, the US followed England’s lead and halted their own $7 contribution.  This is a total of over $50 million dollars being withheld because England and America are pretty sure that the Kenyan government will just steal it.

To put that amount of money in perspective, I spent a recent afternoon crunching numbers with my counterpart, and we concluded that the amount of money collected by our school in order to house, feed, and teach a student for an entire year, including their dorm fees and three meals a day, was about $200.  At that price, England and the US are withholding enough money to cover over 250,000 such students!  Of course, that number of students would imply that Kenya doesn’t steal the money, which based on the accusations, it seems they would.

As a volunteer teacher here, these numbers depress me.  I sometimes fantasize about building a computer lab for my school, for example, but I feel silly and naive when I consider the fact that, if money actually was used correctly year after year, which it would be if people actually cared about education, the school would already have a computer lab!

This brings the topic to small-time corruption, recently dubbed “Quiet Corruption” by the World Bank in their assessment of the abysmal state of the on-the-ground education effort in Africa.  It’s a great essay and I highly recommend reading it.  It quantifies what most volunteers already discuss with each other constantly: Kenyan teachers don’t care.  An estimated 20% of teachers are absent at any given time.  An additional 12% are on school grounds, but not in the classroom when they should be.  The study doesn’t even get into what percent of the teachers are in the classroom, but talking on the cell phone, reading the newspaper, conversing with the teachers who are avoiding their classes, or sleeping.  I imagine if they could quantify that, it would paint an even more depressing picture.

I believe these numbers, and if anything I think they may be optimistic.  This is the other problem when considering a project like building a computer lab: if the teachers don’t care enough to teach, why would they put in the time to make use of the lab?  And for that matter, as is discussed in the World Bank essay, the computers themselves have a good chance of being resold by the teachers after I leave, so why bother?

This report not only confirms my own doubts, but it makes me think more specifically about the sad state of early education here.  When I was training in Loitokitok, I read a book called “The First Days of School,” which introduced me to the concept of “Academic Learning Time,” the idea that you have your scheduled class time, and then you have the percent of that time that the teacher and the students are actually there together, and a percentage of that time when the teacher is actually “teaching,” and then a percentage of that time that the students are paying attention, and then finally, a percentage of that time where they are actually learning anything.  When you consider that before fourth grade, the school day here ends before lunch, that the teacher likely is not familiar with the students’ first language, that the teacher is often absent or tardy, the “Academic Learning Time” approaches zero, even if the teacher is motivated, which is unlikely.

So I must admit that my motivation for build a computer lab, just like the “Academic Learning Time” concept, also approaches zero.

I hear this struggle from other volunteers all time, with questions like: “Why should I work my butt off if I’m surrounded by teachers who don’t care enough to even show up?”  “Why aren’t they just fired?” (The World Bank blames the teachers unions for that one.)  “Why should I bring in money from the US if they’re already pocketing the money that’s supposed to go to the kids?”

Well, the short answer is to do what you need to do to motivate yourself.  I can only speak for myself, and I admit that I’ve psyched myself out of doing big projects like the computer lab.  I refuse to feed money into a system I don’t trust, and that’s how I end up putting so much time into a floppy disk I can use in the old computers that have no value rather than into buying newer computers that might be locked up or resold after I leave.

I do, however, find that I can put my time into the classroom without feeling like I’m being taken advantage of.  (Other volunteers are given a heavy load so that the teachers can have more time to relax in the break room—I’m lucky that’s not my situation.)  I can also do after-school activities without feeling like my time is politicized, and that is perhaps the biggest safe haven for the de-motivated volunteer who sees corruption all around and starts feeling more angry than hopeful.  After-school activities help no one but the students, and for that reason my daily library/computer time is often the most pure, and most satisfying, part of the day.

If this topic interests you at all, go read the World Bank essay!

2 Responses to “How Does Corruption Affect Volunteers?”


  • Amen Paul, thanks for saying what we all feel. Although I must say I do know a few ( well more like one and a half) teachers who actually go to every class, and are never tardy, and actually teach, I wonder how in the world they keep up their motivation, considering they have been at this for years! This makes a bit more motivated. PS Answer your phone!

  • 🙁 i feel u. just do the best with what you are given, change what you can, and accept the rest as what it is.

ErinRose in Kenya, Part 3!

Before we resume our regular programming (meaning longer, rambling, more verbose passages of text), here’s another round of pictures, courtesy mostly of ErinRose, who was here until Sunday.

This one’s for you Elise, from the Nairobi nature walk:

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ErinRose and I ate lunch near the rhino and saw dozens of baboons wander past us:

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The guide told me I didn’t tip enough after being led into the cheetah cage for this pic.  Apparently the eight guys who sit around the cage need to split the tips between them.  I’m mean so I still didn’t tip more:

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Back at school, ErinRose and my counterpart and I handed out various undergarments that were sent from America by a previous volunteer’s friends and family:

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Doing what I do best in a plane to Lamu:

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Me taking a picture in Lamu.

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Here I am “explaining” a science experiment (poking holes in paper to reveal the crescent-shaped spot on the shadow caused by the eclipse) to my vocational students, another teacher, and some others.  I had never heard of this trick and wasn’t even aware that there was an eclipse happening, but another volunteer called me during the eclipse and explained how it worked and insisted that I must go show it to some students.  ErinRose knew the trick, too, so she poked the holes.  It was pretty cool, and I still don’t totally understand why it works at all:

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0 Responses to “ErinRose in Kenya, Part 3!”