Thursday, December 12, 2013

What Next?


This morning, I woke up in my double bed, and turned over and grabbed my iPhone. I had 3 text messages and two social network notifications. I got out of bed, and brushed my teeth, using the water from the sink to wet my toothbrush and to rinse my mouth out. I put a hat, a coat and my slippers on, grabbed my keys and stepped out of my house. There was snow on the ground. I drove to the deli and entered to the smell of eggs and the sound of complaints from people who say the Knicks suck this year and people who are cursing Mother Nature because it’s supposed to snow this weekend. The man in front of me thinks it is ridiculous that the young girl behind the counter put sausage on his sandwich instead of extra bacon. Doesn’t she know he has places to be? I don’t know if he knows how to smile. I order a “hungry man” – three eggs, bacon, ham, sausage, and cheese on a hero roll. I don’t need this much food, but I can get that much food, so I got it. I go home, turn on the TV and ate until I couldn’t move. This all took about an hour and a half. This hour and a half was so drastically different from any hour and a half during my trip to Ghana.

It has been a week now, and I’m still not used to anything. I lived in Ghana for six weeks, and now that I am home, I feel like I’m in a foreign country.

I sit and I think about my trip and my experience every day, and I am having so much trouble processing and digesting everything that happened and what I just did. I’ve had people tell me how proud of me they are - how impressed they are that I was able to move to Ghana for a month and a half and live and teach. At the time and even a little bit now, I’m having trouble understanding what is so impressive. Then I remember what my friends and I said to each other every few days: “Hey Emmy, we’re in Africa,” or, “Hey Jenna, guess what? We’re in Africa right now.” I spent six weeks living in a completely different world! Every day I worked with adults and students who look different than I do, speak differently and believe in different things. Six weeks! Looking back, the most impressive part is that we all became acclimated with our surroundings, and what I experienced every day became normal:

Bumpy dirt roads. Taxis and taxi drivers that get really excited if I bring up soccer. Hearing people speak Twi. Trying to learn Twi. Lizards… everywhere. Latex foam signs and latex foam beds. The sound of the teacher using a cane to discipline a student. Negotiating prices. Rice. Being called “Sir Michael.” Writing tests on the white board. Allowing children to carry my books to class. Hot classrooms. Overcrowded classrooms. Two students to a desk. Little children in the villages screaming because they saw a group of “obrunis.” Being called big, large, strong, or fat. People eating all meals with their hands. Only having internet and electricity sometimes. Sweating. Club Ghana Beer and making sure to return the glass bottles. Squeezing 14 people into a tro tro. Being stared at because I am white. My students laughing at how I speak Twi. Answering endless questions about America. Asking endless questions about Ghana. Watching and discussing the football I am not used to. Students rising to greet me as I enter the classroom. Being hugged and holding hands with young primary school students that I may have only met once. Using cedis and pesewas to pay for things. Drinking water out of bags. Students glowing over even the smallest praise.

One thing I had trouble getting used to and am still struggling with is an idea that concerns privilege and the guilt I have stemming from that. On the first night, as we left the airport, the group was approached by several men who wanted to help us with our luggage. I was so excited to be in Ghana and so excited to meet people that I introduced myself and talked to the guys. Soon after, they asked me for money because they helped me out. I was shocked and upset. I was na├»ve and thought these people were just being kindhearted and friendly. It became obvious to me: they saw this group of white people from the United States as a group of dollar signs who would have the money to tip, and further, that they obviously need the money. At that time, I asked myself why I even decided to take the trip. Wouldn’t it be offensive to stroll into this country and parade around and see poverty and struggling families and then whip out my iPhone to check the time? I was worried that I would offend people and flaunt what I have unintentionally. In the markets and villages, people would ask me to buy their goods and I felt bad saying no. How much would that one cedi (less that 50 cents) mean to them, and what does it mean to me? Although I was struck with these thoughts of guilt nearly every day, I was fortunate enough to meet Ghanaians that are some of the kindest people I have ever met, who assured me that being around and having what I have is nothing to feel guilty about. A philosophical teacher and friend, Callistus, explained to me that he feels that being rich is being able to be happy while being able to live within one’s means; just because someone from the United States may have more money that some people in Ghana, that does not mean he or she is happier or better off than anyone else. Most importantly, the teachers who work at the school I taught at saw me as colleagues, and the students respected me as their teacher.
Walked on some rope bridges constructed between trees at the Kakum National Park.
Just by applying to be in this program, I knew I was stepping out of my comfort zone and creating an experience that not many have the privilege of having. In these six weeks, I have pushed myself to my limits physically and emotionally. I have made lifelong friends, both American and Ghanaian. For the first time, I have immersed myself in a culture completely foreign to me and learned about it first hand. I have learned about the Ghanaian educational system, and have learned from the many teachers I had the pleasure of working with. It is hard to believe that this trip, beginning with the months of planning, preparing and learning and culminating with the trip itself is actually over. I will never forget my students, and I can only hope that everything I taught them, both about their English curriculum and about life, will stick with them, and that I have made a lasting impact.

I guess the only thing I have left to say is… What next?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Cape Coast


 We didn’t have internet all weekend, so I wrote this on Monday night and am posting it now:

Our placement is complete. There are no more classes, tests, students, notes, or khaki pants in the Africa heat. We left our home in Kumasi for Cape Coast and arrived Saturday evening. We stayed all of Sunday and Monday on the coast, and it was an amazingly relaxing sort-of-vacation. 

We woke up and had breakfast early on Sunday at a beautiful outdoor restaurant owned by some Europeans. I had crepes and I am not sure why I have waited this long to have them. I had mine filled with fresh pineapple and it was perfect. I also got eggs and toast (don’t judge, I was hungry and knew I was skipping lunch).

I spent the entire day at the beach. Aside from some little Ghanaian boys running around naked (I didn’t really get it, and was very scared from them when they were swimming near the sharp rocks), the entire beach was ours. We lounged and unwound and took in lots of sun. I did absolutely nothing but lay in my chair. I didn’t read a book, didn’t listen to music, didn’t play games, and it was perfect. I was in a very comfortable place in my mind, and in person. My mind was and is still completely blown that I was swimming in the same ocean that I swim in at home and that I have now been in either side of the Atlantic.

Unfortunately, I totally forgot that I was in Africa and not at Robert Moses or Gilgo, and that the sun is the Africa sun. I baked to a boiled lobster shade of red. I wore my SPF 50 even though I usually only use 15 and let my Italian skin do the rest of the work, and yes, mom, I even reapplied once. Somehow I got the worst burn on my stomach, so sleeping is not very easy. I also stepped on a sea urchin while I was out swimming. I thought it may have been a rock, but upon the examination, I found a bunch of little spikes stuck in my foot. Luckily it wasn’t poisonous, or else I would have had to go to the hospital. I tweezed most of the little spikies out, and I’m hoping my body can push the rest out with some help from a little Neosporin.

I felt like I was in a Corona commercial.

Pretty killer sunset.

At night on Sunday, we decided to drink and be merry. We were, and made some Ghanaian friends, who insisted on calling me Mr. Michael just like my students. It was great having all the time during the day and at night for some reflection on where we actually are, what we just did, and how truly amazing it is. I am having a lot of difficulty putting all of my thoughts together. There is so much that I saw, experienced and learned and it is so overwhelming to try and process. Hopefully I’m able to gather my thoughts and write one final post that expresses a lot of what I feel.

We spent another day at the beach today, but this time I stayed in the shade. I am exhausted and am getting a good night sleep tonight, because we leave for Accra tomorrow and depart Wednesday night! It is hard to believe that something I have planned and prepared for this long is coming to an end, but I am excited to get back on the Island and see my family and friends.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Last Day of School and Thanksgiving

The day snuck up on all of us, and yesterday it was finally time to say goodbye to the KNUST JHS and Primary Schools. We were all eager to finish up our lessons, give our teachers gifts, and say goodbye to all of our kids. Before we could do that, we were told, there would be two assemblies for us.

First, our whole group walked over to the primary school where we were greeting with a huge group of students singing songs and welcoming us. This was probably the closest I'll ever feel to being a rock star - as we walked around, and eventually walked through the crowd and up onto a ledge where the headmaster was standing, we were cheered for, touched, jumped on, and screamed at. If the kids weren't 6 or 7, there may have been a problem. The headmaster expressed his gratitude for our work at the school, and how he wishes the program can continue well into the future. We presented a computer, our gift to the school, and they presented us with bracelets that some of the girls in the primary school made themselves.

Patrick, Dr. K and I present Headmaster Francis Asaari with this computer

After their little marching band played us out, we went over to the JHS. Things here work on what we call "Ghana Time," so if they said we would get started at say 8:00 or 8:15, it is good to be ready, but it is realistic that we won't do anything until about 9:00. I hustled to my class so that I could hand out the pen pal letters from my students at HF-L. Assigning the pen pal letters is going to provide such a cool cultural experience for these students who may not know much about the other's country, and it provides a very unique opportunity for me to connect my two classrooms. When that period was over, assembly was called, and we were honored once more - this time at the JHS.

The headmaster expressed his appreciation once more, and then honored the student teachers from the JHS. They absolutely showered us with gifts. They called us up one by one, and as they did, sections of the huge group of students gathered exploded with appreciation of their teacher. The administration gave me a kente weaved bow tie, a pen holder, and a carved wooden pen. Additionally, my students all contributed money and bought me three Ghanaian shirts which they presented to me as well. All of my colleagues and I couldn't stop smiling. This was the perfect send off. As they closed the assembly, each teacher in the school came up to give us a handshake, and if we grew close with him or her, a big, sweaty, Ghana hug.

The crowd was out of control. Almost had to call in extra security for me.

The rest of the day consisted of a lot of goodbyes to students, some last photo opportunities, and a farewell to the school. I got lunch with some of my students, and when we walked into their cafeteria together, I think everyone thought they were getting in trouble because it got really quiet. I gave my cooperating teacher, who insists everyone call her Princess Dinah, her gift, which was a whole bag of school supplies and some pictures and a calendar from Long Island. She is sort of scary, so I was nervous at what she would think, but she absolutely loved it all. The consensus was the same for everyone - for a sad goodbye, it was the best, and happiest way to go out.

There was a photo shoot at the end of the day. Most of the pictures look like this,
but worse because a student said he was a good photographer, but was actually awful.

The Princess herself.
Now, AMERICA... Thanksgiving! There was no turkey, no football, no turkey pants, no pie, and no family for anyone, so the day was difficult (I did have a few brews). I would say that for what we had, we had a great celebration. We went to a hotel/restaurant where we sat outside at our long dinner table and enjoyed each other's company and enjoyed our meal. Before the meal, we had a special dance performance, and a dance group that has been giving us lessons performed some prominent cultural dances. It was certainly different entertainment than I am used to at home. They entertained us, and then after a few cocktails, we were able to entertain them, I'm sure, when we performed the dance that we had prepared.  Our meal consisted of a bunch of pastas and spring rolls, and although not Thanksgivingish, it was quite good.

No matter where I am, I am thankful. I'm thankful for the opportunity I have to take this trip of a lifetime. I'm thankful for all of my friends and family at home who I cannot wait to get back and see. I am thankful for all of the new friends I have made here, both Ghanaian and American, because this trip would not be the same without them. I am a very lucky person to have all that I do, and to have so much love surrounding me, and I do not go a day without remembering that.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Week 4 Photojournal

I'm a little late posting this week's photojournals because I totally thought I was dying and I had malaria yesterday. No worries - it was a false alarm... I'm still alive and kickin'.

"Technology"

           For the second student teaching placement at Geneseo, all teacher candidates are required to
My 8G class listens in on my unique example
of poetry.
complete a technology lesson – one based around technology or that allows students to use technology throughout. For the candidates in Ghana, this term was used very loosely. Above, you can see part of my “technology lesson.” Students are huddled around my computer, straining to hear the rap song I created and was showing them as an example of a lyric poem. I did not have any speakers to enhance the sound, and even huddled around it as close as the students are, not everyone was able to hear. Luckily for them, after I had them listen, I performed the rap myself, and received a standing ovation. This picture is truly indicative of the lack of technology present in these classrooms, and how necessary it is for students growing up in the technological age (even in Ghana) to have access to working with technology as often as possible.
            What saddens me the most is that this is not just apparent to me, and all of the visiting teachers, but it is also apparent to the students. They know that technology exists in classrooms elsewhere, and they know they do not have the access to it. When I read speeches students wrote about what they felt their school needs, almost all of them said Internet access, and many more said more access to computers in general. When I pulled out my laptop this day in class, students’ eyes widened, and they were so anxious to see what I would do with it. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much I could do with it other than walk around with pictures and examples and try to play the song. Even though I was disappointed in the way that lesson panned out (the technology aspect at least), the students still loved it.
            Another difficulty I ran into while teaching that could possibly be aided by technology in the classroom came while the students were writing the aforementioned speeches. The teacher asked them to bring their notebooks home and write the speeches in the notebooks instead of typing on a computer, which I completely take for granted. When the students arrived to class the next day, they were asked to copy the speeches they wrote over into another notebook so that it was all neatly written. I was amazed that that seemed like a fairly normal act to the students. The copying took them nearly forty-five minutes and took away from learning time in the classroom.
            I wish I could walk in and fix these issues, but I do not have the money or the power. Instead, I had to give in to their ways. I write all my notes on the board, and even wrote a full test on the board for students to take. It is now a lot easier for me to understand the stress of learning the ways to use technology properly as an educator in the United States; it is not just something that could be helpful for the kids, it is something that they need.

"The Right Classroom Environment"
           I believe that one of the most important, if not the most important quality I bring to the classroom is one that I have not been taught by the Geneseo School of Education and one that I have not read in any textbooks. I have not taught for very long, but I believe it is plain to see that in order to be a successful teacher, I must have an positive attitude in the classroom and provide an environment where students feel comfortable learning.
The students love my positive attitude and fresh Ghanaian
fashion sense.
            When I arrived in the classroom, I noticed that a lot of the students in the classroom seemed intimidated by the teacher and did not want to participate or answer questions in front of the class (I would probably be the same too, if there was a possibility of being caned if I answered the question wrong). Because students were not participating, sharing, and asking questions, they were not learning to their fullest potential. I knew from the start that one of my goals would have to be getting the students to feel comfortable enough with me that they would become eager to participate and ask questions.
            Much to my surprise, helping students understand that I want them getting involved, being creative, and taking risks was not as easy as I expected it to be. I gave them the “think outside the box” box, did my best to learn some of their native Twi language, discussed football (their football), wore my new Ghana style shirt, and even had to literally sing and dance at times. Finally, the students have become very comfortable with me in front of the classroom, and I am grateful and proud that I was able to do so. The only issue? Now the students have to transition back to their teacher and her ways of teaching, which are VERY different from mine. All I can hope is that from my few weeks in the classroom, and about a week and a half of direct instruction, the students will be able to take some of the things I have taught them and implement them through the rest of this year and throughout their schooling.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Thinking Outside the Box and Pito

I mentioned in a previous blog post that I wanted to experiment with positive reinforcement, and how I began to use the "Think Outside the Box" box. It worked. It worked SO well. I was amazed at how much response a silly paper box drew from these 13 and 14 year olds. Whenever I saw a student modeling the creative thinking I wanted them to use, they got the box and a round of applause from their classmates. I had students come up to me before class, after class, at the canteen (cafeteria/market/foodstand place) and tell me that they wanted to get the box. I told them that they have to earn it, and they did not disappoint. Students who were not as engaged and do not usually participate were raising their hands out of their seats. My only regret is that I did not have more time to implement this, and even more strategies like this. Here are some pictures of my silly students who thought outside the box: 

I was very impressed with Richard. He's very quiet and has a lot of trouble with English.
When he shared his example of imagery, the class gave him the box and clapped before I could even say anything.

Dariad told me he neeeeeeded the box, and he came through with a great interpretation of a poem.

Joshua! 
On a completely different note, I had one of my favorite experiences of the trip yesterday. One teacher from the school, Callistus, goes above and beyond for the student teacher he has, and is always willing to share, help, and learn from everyone who made the trip. Callistus took my friend Patrick and me to a place that he called "Pito Base,"which is located in a local village - somewhere I likely would not go without Ghanaian accompaniment. We walked into Pito Base, and were given a wooden bench to sit on next to some locals. This was all outside, and there was nothing but the benches, the orange dirt ground, the people, and the Pito. Pito is a drink native to the northern part of Ghana, where Callistus is originally from. There is a long brewing/fermenting process that goes into the creation, and the final product tastes like nothing I've ever had before. If I could compare it to something, I'd say kind of a hard apple cider, but different (sorry, it's hard to explain). We took our seats and were given bowls and lids. Soon after, a woman filled our bowls with Pito. Before drinking, we poured a bit out so as to honor our ancestors and give back to the earth. It was dusk, and the night was growing dark, but there was still a little orange left in the sky. We drank the pito and talked about life in Ghana, the United States, and just in general. This experience was incredible, and was like nothing I have ever seen or done. I did not take any pictures because I did not want to take away from what I was doing. I believe that life is made up of a series of eye-opening and defining moments, and I know that at that moment, the simplicity of drinking my pito out of a bowl, and talking and sharing with new Ghanaian friends while the sun was setting will be a moment I never forget.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Quick Points


  • I thought I was invincible while climbing rocks, but days later, I am still hurting. 
  • Some of the older women in the teacher's lounge call me "baby cheeks." Take that however you want to.
  • It's sad to admit, but I was experiencing some serious McDonald's withdrawals yesterday. 
  • I performed a one of my "Daydream Project" raps for the class and got a standing ovation.
  • I got a sweet shirt made from some crazy fabric by a tailor, and I am going to wear it to school tomorrow (I'm sure there will be pictures)
  • The malaria medication makes me have crazy dreams. I don't have malaria though, so I am okay having the dreams. 
  • In about a week, I will be incredibly homesick because all of my friends and family will be home celebrating Thanksgiving (but about a week after that, I will be home!).
Some positive feedback from students after my lesson.

I swear I don't make them wear the box on their heads.





Monday, November 18, 2013

Beginning of my Unit and 8th Graders Being 8th Graders

The "key assignment" for this part of my student teaching placement is the completion of a unit plan. In the United States, I would have this planned out weeks ahead of time with my cooperating teacher, and it would be organized to the point of sickness. At HF-L, my unit lasted a little bit over two weeks. I had time on my side, and a lot of time to bring forth my ideas. 

Ghana is not this way. My unit will consist of three 80 minute blocks over the span of a week. I found out last week that I will be teaching poetry, and that I can do what I want for the unit as long as I follow along with a book and teach what my teacher tells me to teach. In other words, I am not teaching what I would like to, as far as terms, elements, and what I feel is important; but I do get to teach what I must teach in my own ways. This makes me excited. This happened as a result: 

Kwame thought "Outside the Box" and was
....rewarded? 
While reading poetry, and while thinking about how to teach poetry, one must always "think outside the box." In order to help kids grasp the idea of "thinking outside the box" (they had no idea what this meant), I reached into my bag of tricks, did some origami, and made a box out of paper. At the time, the Jets were down 20 in the second quarter, and I thought paper folding would calm me down. It didn't. ANYWAY, whenever I felt a student was thinking outside the box, I gave them the box and had the students cheer for them. This way, other students would see how he was thinking and have it serve as a model. Kwame turned the box into a hat, and I am totally cool with that. It showed me that he felt comfortable with me and was on the same page as me. Let's face it, I would have done the exact same thing. In my first lesson I think I began to unlock some creativity and I had some fun. I allowed the kids to be kids in a supportive learning environment. 

Another "fun" thing that happened today that screamed puberty was when I asked students to practice rhyming words. This was harder than I thought because with their accent, students pronounce a lot of words differently than I do. For instance, they thought that "cut" rhymed with "cat," and the way that they pronounced the word, it did. One boy did not have any problem rhyming words. When I asked him to tell me some rhymes, he told me: "cart, fart, shart." 

I told him he was totally correct, and was laughing too hard to say anything else.