Tuesday, January 26, 2010

First days of school

Today was the first real day of class here, sort of, if you can call it that. We started off school last week with planning week with most of the teachers. Several of the teachers were not around yet. The only boat traveling to my island is currently stuck in Tonga for a repair and for a legal review. There is only rumor about the Pulupaki at this point but it appears that it is not up to safety standards and will not be moving in the near future. This is really sad for me because my washing machine that I got as a Hanukah present is supposed to be on it, but I've digressed. So several teachers did not show up for school planning week because they were stuck in Tongatapu and a few others did not show up because...umm actually I don't know why.

I often get bogged down here when I compare things here to the way they are in America but I have realized that I cannot do that because the two are simply different and will never match up to each other. But if one were to compare planning week in Tonga to planning week in America, one could say rather little was accomplished. We came up with a mission statement and a vision for the year and covered a few policies, the key one being annual leave. I believe last year teachers got twenty-eight days off during the school year. Yes, that is twenty-eight days other than school breaks or holidays to simply take off for any reason and usually without prior notice. This year some of the teachers were a little sad to hear that they now only had twenty anytime vacation days a year. It is also important to note here that there are not enough teachers to teach all of the classes already so when a teacher takes off there is nobody to replace them and no substitute so the class simply sits there. After planning week we got ready for the kids to come on Monday, well I'm not sure if ready is the right word for it, but we made sure that we knew that in fact the kids would be coming to the school compound on Monday.

So yesterday Monday came and the kids came as well. School is a little different here. School does not exactly start on the first scheduled day of school like in America, it is more like a rolling start or soft opening. The kids were each instructed to bring in some supplies since funding is a big issue here and the school cannot afford many basic supplies. The kids each brought in a large mat that we often use to sit on here, a broom and a roll of toilet paper. During a short assembly we collected the items and the teachers were all introduced. I loved getting to sit in front of all of the children on their first day of school.

The youngest kids were very cute and I could tell how excited and nervous they were to start high school. There is no middle school here just primary school and then high school. The youngest kids here are just twelve years old and the high school is in the big city on the island. There is no school bus here and the kids have to hitchhike to get to school and it can take up to an hour for the furthest away students. It is definitely an intimidating journey for the younger students. So after the assembly we went to our homeroom classes. I am sharing a homeroom class with another teacher named Tupou and the class is filled with the youngest students. Each grade is called a form here. The youngest are called form 1 and the oldest are form 6 and the rest fill in between. Tupou is an amazing English teacher and the head of the English department here. She'll be helping me a lot with my classes and lesson plans and has a gazillion ideas for secondary projects to do with me. After homeroom yesterday we just let the kids go and got ready for the next day, sort of.

When I asked the deputy principal yesterday what I would be teaching he still did not know and he told me not to worry about it. I just went with the flow and tried to not let myself stress out about going into the first real day of school without an idea of which classes I would be teaching or lesson plans. I wrote down a few ideas for introductory activities but there was not much else I could do. This morning when I came to school the schedule was up. I had four different classes. I would be teaching form 1 English -my homeroom students, form 4 English that my homestay brother Amoni is in, form 4 economics and form 4 accounting. So I got my classes and that meant it was now time to teach. It felt exactly like my first day of high school. Where do I go? Wait, what am I teaching? I thought I was supposed to be teaching that class with another teacher, what is going on? I did not know quite what to do so I just figured out where my classes were, walked in and introduced myself. I am somewhat confident my students understood me. I had the students all sign in and introduce themselves to the class and then I took pictures of my students so I can memorize all their names. Maybe I'll be able to actually pronounce their names later in the term. With almost no planning or foreknowledge of my classes I somehow got through them and it was not even that bad. As I type this blog I am waiting on the curriculum handouts so I can get an idea of what I am supposed to teach the students and what they already know. At the very least I will be able to make a lesson plan for tomorrow. So that's school so far. I've got some great projects planned with the school which I hope to tell you all about next update.

I also just heard in that the only boat that comes to Ha’apai, the Pulupaki is being sent to Fiji for repairs. After seeing the boat I am surprised it still floats so it could be stuck in Fiji for sometime. Almost nothing is produced here so it is a little scary not having the only boat that restocks this island currently out of service. I did a major restocking a few days ago in case this happened but it looks like I might have to go out and get some more basic supplies like sugar and flour just in case.

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