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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

South African Culture & The Classroom

(In case you missed my first post from August - http://bcteachabroad.blogspot.com/2014/08/grahamstown-south-africa.html

I cannot believe I am already over half way through my time in South Africa! I have visited each school eight times so far, and while it can be time-consuming, I thoroughly enjoy both placements! Victoria Primary and The Good Shepherd School teach me so much about South African culture.

My visits to VP and Good Shepherd have taught me that religion is very important to most South Africans. While both schools are not religiously affiliated, VP and Good Shepherd have a strong Christian ethos. Even in public schools like VP and Good Shepherd, prayer is incorporated into the daily routine. Staff members are expected to lead students in prayers before meals. This is one of my favorite parts of visiting Victoria Primary! Every day before snack the Grade R girls are told, “Line up, hands together, eyes closed”. Then in unison they sing a little prayer…

Thank you Father, thank you Father,
For our food, for our food,
And our many blessing, and our many blessing.
Amen. Amen.

Then they repeat the prayer in Afrikaans and isiXhosa. It is the sweetest thing to see the little girls singing together! Instead of having everyone sing separately in their first languages, they sing all three versions together.

Language is another major way that South African culture is reflected in these schools. Most of the students are bilingual here. Nearly all of the students from Good Shepherd do not speak English at home. I am in the English classroom at Good Shepherd, so the teacher must constantly remind the students to speak in English. All of the teachers at Good Shepherd speak Afrikaans. In the staff room it can be hard for me to keep up with the conversation switching between English and Afrikaans. My CT, Mrs. Herring, is nice and will usually translate if I look confused. At Victoria Primary, the teachers incorporate the other languages into the curriculum through Afrikaans and isiXhosa lessons.

In both schools, it is clear that the children are taught to respect their elders. Whenever a teacher enters a classroom, the students rise and greet the adult. In the hallways, students from other classes refer to me as “mam”. At my first pre-practicum in Newton, the students realized that I was only a student teacher. They knew that they could get away with things when I was in charge. While they did treat me with respect, I do notice a difference in South Africa. Here, the students listen and follow all of my instructions as if I am their real teacher.

Tea time is another cultural difference I would love to bring back home! In the U.S. teachers typically have free time during the day for two reasons: planning and lunch. Here, the teachers’ tea time is just a short 10 to 15 minute break in mid-morning. It really helps everyone start the day right. Both schools’ staff rooms are stocked with tea, coffee, and rooibos (a decaffeinated herbal tea, native to South Africa) for the teachers to enjoy. I use this time to talk to my CTs about what has happened in the class during the week. Other times they help me finalize lesson plans.

When I arrived in South Africa, I had to adjust to “African time”. South Africans are much more relaxed about time. It is not uncommon for events to start late, or for things to go overtime. At Victoria Primary, my Grade R girls stay in the same classroom all day so it is easier to stay on schedule. At Good Shepherd though, there is a very complicated 10 day schedule in which grades 4 through 7 rotate classrooms and subjects. I use this schedule when I plan my lessons. For example, I usually go on Day 5 & Day 10 of this cycle (Fridays). On Day 10s, I am supposed to see half of Grade 5, then the other half of Grade 5, all of Grade 7, and half of Grade 6. This means I need to plan three 45 minute lessons. However, I need to bring enough materials to account for the different class sizes and repeating the Grade 5 lesson. After planning these very specific lessons, my plans typically go out the window when I arrive at Good Shepherd! Even though there are bells signalling the end of a class, the schedule is rarely followed. Lessons are always shorter than expected because students take a while to switch classes. With the complicated schedule, students often don’t understand where they are supposed to go. Sometimes other teachers will hold whole classes behind to finish an assignment, cutting into my time with the students. One time, another teacher took all of Grade 7 on a field trip to a museum down the street without warning. This was something I was not used to! In the U.S. teachers are forced to stick to much tighter schedules, and field trips take months of preparation. When I first started going to Good Shepherd, I would get annoyed over schedule changes and loss of instruction time. I spent valuable time planning lessons, and did not want them to go to waste! Now, I have definitely gotten used to African time. I have learned to plan more flexible lessons with multiple stopping points. I think to myself: If we have 20 minutes, I will end the lesson here. If we have 30 minutes, I can stop here. I also see each week as an opportunity to gain experience lesson planning, even if I do not have the opportunity to actually teach the lesson. The fluctuating schedule used to make me stressed. Now, I am much more easy-going. I know that the important things will get done when they need to get done.  

The biggest way that I see South African culture at my placements, is by how welcomed I have been at both schools! Both of my CTs have been so kind and welcoming. My students always seem so happy to see me. I cannot express how excited I am to go the schools every Thursday and Friday! This week, both schools are off for midterm break, and I miss them already! I dread the goodbyes that are only six weeks away! 

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