Saturday, April 2, 2011

Verb Hats

There have been certain moments the past few weeks at school where I look around my classroom and really truly feel like a teacher. As someone who graduated college not intending on being a teacher—my degree was in liberal studies—I’ve certainly had many days where it has felt normal to be one.

This year I’ve had the opportunity to work more with the younger grade levels. Last year it was mostly just 7th and 8th grade, however this year I’ve been spending a number of days with 4th, 5th and 6th grades, and some days, even 1st grade. Students in Samoa’s public schools receive an education much different than their counterparts in the United States. To summarize the situation most simply, teaching styles are very different here, and in most situations, involve teachers drilling answers with their classes and then having them copy assignments from the chalk board into their notebooks. For most students in Samoa, that’s the only thing they’ve ever known.

As a result, this puts me in a unique situation to share so many of the teaching practices which I grew up with as a student myself, and help show these children and teachers, that there are other ways to learn the needed materials.

Early this past week, I was watching all the kids file out of the school at the end of the day and run up the hill to the road to head home. While sitting there watching them, the Holy Spirit put an idea in my head. I suddenly realized that these kids were leaving school empty handed (aside from their notebooks which they take with them every day.) I pictured myself as a 4th, or 5th grader and remembered taking art projects home on the school bus, and sometimes decorative hats I had made in school. Our school here in Samoa does have the resources to make those things, and although I’ve used those materials for daily lessons, I had never thought to send these kids home with something they had created.

So Monday night, with a general idea in my head, I had to put together a lesson that I would use for the 5th and 6th grade classes I knew I would be teaching later in the week. I had been working with those classes on verbs, and they were struggling, so I decided we would make “verb hats.” One evening I stayed after school to test a hat out for myself. With a template lined up, I cut the needed materials from our construction paper with hopes that it would bear much fruit.

Wednesday was the day! The kids came in and were ready for my usual way of going about things, but then I put my verb hat on and explained what we were going to do. We began by brainstorming verbs and then doing some other short activities, but moved quickly to the hats. They were to pick three pieces of colored paper and write three different verbs on each paper in crayon. On the headband part of the hat, they wrote the word “verbs.” They were allowed to decorate their hats with their crayons drawing other simple designs and pictures. I think they were slightly confused at first, but once I started handing out materials and they started coloring their hats, I could see I had them hooked on the lesson. At one point the room was so quiet that you could have heard a pin drop. It was so unlike anything they normally do, that they were devoting their complete attention to the project. At our interval (recess), one of the teachers came into my room and complemented me on the hats, and asked if she could wear my hat. I didn’t refuse.

That afternoon, I sat in the exact same spot I had a few days before, when I had first gotten the idea for the hats, except this time I watched them as they headed for home with all these creations on their heads. At that moment, I got that feeling that I was a teacher, as though I had helped pass on a part of what it’s like to receive an education in America—an education that is superbly unique to many other nations around the globe.

Of course, whenever I took home an art project from school as a child, it was displayed on the refrigerator or put away in a memory box. But not so for my students! On Thursday morning I saw all my kids come bouncing down the hill wearing their hats they had made the day before! I made a compromise and told them they could wear them before school and during interval, but not during class. I also asked that they be cleared out of my room by Friday, because they were creating a mess. I explained that they can be worn outside of school for fun.

When I’m not busy making verb hats, I always seem to be keeping busy with something else. I arrive at school by 7:45a.m. and many days stay as late as six or seven, with only an hour or two of break in the afternoon to eat lunch and do laundry. Living next to my school gives me a unique situation that many other volunteers who live farther away don’t have. I’m able to hop over to school from 3-6 and work on lesson plans, without it being a huge inconvenience. Last year when I was still adjusting to being a teacher, as well as just living in Samoa, I wanted to leave school and not think about school after it was over. However this year I have this new urge to keep working there, thinking up new lessons, organizing papers, or grading. I take my small radio over with me and tune it to the Christian broadcasts that come from Southern California. It’s great company while I work and great for the soul! Some days, like this past week, I’m even kept company by rats in the staff room while I work. It’s all a part of the daily challenge!

Throughout any normal school day, whenever I have free time I’ve been having kids come into my room and read to me. I started this program last year where they each receive a “Reading Book,” and after they read to me they receive a stamp. After they have five stamps accumulated they get to pick a sticker from my huge collection. This program has proved to be highly beneficial for all of my students. I’ve seen their reading abilities jump so high just after the short amount of time they spend with me. Last year I did the reading books with grades 6, 7 and 8, but this year wanted to reach more kids so included 5th grade. Now some of my most enthusiastic students are in the 5th grade, with a couple boys asking to read to me nearly every day. They don’t even seem concerned about the stamps or stickers, but I can tell they love the one-on-one attention they get from sitting down with me. It makes me smile.

This year when I get ready for bed at night, I’m excited for the next day to begin. I look forward to seeing those kids come walking into my room with huge smiles on their faces as they say good morning and ask to read a book from the box I keep on my desk. And at the end of the day when they stop by my room to say goodbye, I’m sad to see them go. Some days I have to kick them out of the school because they won’t go home, they just want to be there in that atmosphere. I could go on for 10 more paragraphs about the changes I’ve seen in my students during the past year: ways I’ve seen them grow, ways I’ve seen them mature, ways I’ve seen them gain trust in me. No matter how many times I see it, it never gets old. Each time I’m blown away! I’m reminded of how I’ve been able to be there for them, and how they’ve been there for me. We’re there for each other!

My mom has been a teacher for 31 years so I now know what a messy desk looks like! My normal neatness escaped me this day and I realized how easy it is for a desk to get out of control.

I laughed when I found Charles, a 6th grade student of mine, smelling one of my new books I brought back from America in January. As some of you may know, I have an obsession of smelling new books (or old books that still smell good). So I'm happy to know I'm not the only one with this weird quirk!

Here is Neueli leading a bingo session for the year 8 kids. The boys are often told by the principal to climb a coconut tree during their interval (recess), so that the staff can have a drink. Although I love the coconuts, all that climbing is hard on their shirts and thus keeping a button on is nearly impossible, as you can see!

This is the pipe under the sink outside the school. It serves as a foot washing station for those muddy feet after the torrential downpours we get.

I've been intrusted with the care of the keys for the school since I'm the first to school and often the last home. So when I locked them in the library after school one day, I had a bit of a problem.

Luckily, the keys were near the window, so scheming a plan to get them out, this is what I came up with.

Lucky me! I won't make that mistake again!

This is in my room. When it rains heavy water comes in around the board at the bottom. It's also an entrance/exit for the rats that roam about in the evening and after dark!

Here I am after school marking the students with good manners for the day.

A random exam schedule from 2006, still up on the wall in the staff room.

Kids from my 6th, 7th and 8th grade classes are writing letters to middle school students in America. Look for a future blog post about this!

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