|Bill Gates and Billgate|
Pictured to the left is Bill Gates. Pictured to the right is Billgate. Yes, this boy’s name is Billgate. Billgate is writing his unit test with a blue Papermate pen that I gave him the day before. While he was writing his notes, I saw him violently shaking his pen, trying to get every bit of ink out of it. He was pressing the pen so hard into his notebook that I thought he might even rip through the page. My first thought was, “Why wouldn’t he just use a different pen?” I soon after put together that he did not have another. I reached into my backpack and grabbed the first (of many) pens I had on reserve, and put it on his desk. The boy looked up at me and smiled from ear to ear. I saw him after the class showing his new pen off to some boys around him. When the period ended, he came up to me with the pen, and tried giving it back. I asked if he needed it for the rest of the day, and he looked up at me with the same smile he smiled earlier and nodded. The next day when I walked into class, he showed me that he was writing with the pen, and looked just as excited as he was the day before.
Before leaving for Ghana, at one of the many preparation meetings I attended, a Ghanaian student who is studying at Geneseo told us that he wishes we would go and teach in one of Kumasi’s outer villages, because they are the ones that need the most help. This made me think a lot about the meaning of this trip. I am going on a trip to a foreign country to learn about its culture and to complete my second student teaching placement. Of course, I figured that I would certainly be helping some people in this third world country with resources that I am bringing, some ideas I will implement, and the positive attitude I possess, and I looked forward to that. This student’s assertion that we were merely “the rich helping the rich” upset me quite a bit.
At the time, I did not know much about the villages around Kumasi, nor did I know much about the school I am teaching at. I now have experience in both. After visiting the village of Asuofua, it is evident that this area is significantly more impoverished than other parts of Ghana I have seen, specifically the KNUST campus. It became very clear, that, as our professor assured us, there would be no way to ensure safety and a sound student teaching experience in this environment. While we would all love to help any way we can, this is a trip for student teaching, not for mission work. The KNUST Basic School began as a place for professors to send their children, but has become more public. Currently, there is a mix of both professors’ children, and children from the surrounding area. At first glance, it seems that the Ghanaian Geneseo student was right, compared to the villages, these students have it made. However, when I had this encounter with Billgate, I found that this is not completely the case. By giving him that blue Papermate pen, I can tell that I did “help,” and in doing so, gained a rapport with him and his surrounding students.
When I asked Billgate why his parents named him Billgate, he shrugged, and said, “I guess my parents want me to be like him.” I told him that everything comes with hard work. Again, he looked up at me with the smile that I already know him for.
Who knows? Maybe one day he will be.
There are not many posters that adorn the walls of the KNUST Junior High School. There is usually nothing more than some penned graffiti on the four walls that enclose the forty-five students and their creaky wooden desks that are arranged in cramped rows. However, there is one poster in one of my classrooms, and in bold, block letters that reads: “RESPECT THE TEACHER.” This rule is embedded in students from an early age, and is remarkably apparent in each of the first days I have spent in this country and at this school.
In my philosophy of education and during my first placement, respect is something that is referred to often, and is seen as imperative to the learning process. The respect that I believe in, and will always believe in, is a mutual respect between the teacher and the student. No entity is stronger or more important than the other, and as long as the students respect the teacher, the teacher will return that respect. When I first saw this poster that says, “RESPECT THE TEACHER,” I was glad to see that respect will be a big part of the classroom culture. However, in my few days of learning and watching, I have found this respect to be very one sided: the students do respect the teacher, but the teachers do not outwardly reciprocate the respect.
The respect of the teacher can be seen in the classroom and all over campus. When a student sees a teacher, he or she always offers to carry what the teacher is holding to the classroom. When a teacher enters the classroom, students stand up, greet the teacher, and stand at attention until they are allowed to sit. If a teacher asks a student to run to the canteen (small market on the JHS campus, a kind of cafeteria) for a bag of water, or something to eat, the students do not hesitate. I have had students doing some of this for me and I have only been present for a few days! It is sad to see how little respect students get in return. Students are rarely thanked for the aforementioned favors. Some teachers pick on students about their weight, skin color (a light skinned boy was called a “white boy”), and religious affiliation. Most obviously, students are caned (hit with a wooden stick) for offenses such as wrong answers or talking out of turn.
Now, I must make it clear that is neither my job nor my intention to fix this system – this is the system that is employed by this school, and reflects the culture of the country. What I plan on doing is taking what I have done and plan to do in the future, and add it into the classroom. I will show the students that if they respect me, I will respect them. The first way I showed the students I respect them is by going up to each student, shaking his or her hand, and learning his or her name. This took me quite a while, both because of the number of students and because of some difficult names, but the students were able to see that I am truly interested in them, and invested in their success. After, I told them that when they see me on campus or around town, to say hello to me, and that doing this would help me to remember their faces and names even more. I was greeted many times after that on campus, and even ran into a few students at Tech Junction. I hope that even a small implementation like this can help teachers see that students need to be respected as well, and hopefully how well the students respond to being respected.