all the PC teachers gathered for five days of in-service training,
which started on Tuesday in Nouakchott. There are five teachers
in the group preceding mine and ten in my group, including one
Curriculum Development Specialist (CDS, my job title) in each
group. Also included in the group for the week were the teachers'
counterparts, most of whom teach English at the same school
as the PC teachers. My counterpart was inexplicably and blessedly
absent from the event.
A few people
arrived early and stayed with me at Château Jay. Volunteers
who live outside of the capital are allowed hotel vouchers for
seven nights per quarter when they are here for official business.
Three people who had used up their allotment for the first quarter
stayed with me.
One of the
other nights, I had a group over for dinner - homemade soup
with whole grain bread. It was an enjoyable time for getting
together with some of the people who don't get to town very
began with an explanation of the new curriculum and then went
on to share lesson plans and to talk about classroom management.
A large focus of the classroom management was on the problems
of cheating. This is evidently endemic here, and some of the
first-year teachers appreciated getting ideas from the second-year
teachers concerning how they can deal with the situation.
enough, when students are seated three to a (small) desk and
packed into a room with eighty others, it's hard to keep eyes
from wandering. Girls wear mulafas, which have yards
of material covering them; it is easy to slip pieces of paper
in there, and no teacher would ever ask a girl to remove or
loosen her mulafa.
problem is that many teachers do not proctor their own midterms
and final exams, which means that colleagues are brought in
to watch the students. Many of the Mauritanian teachers cooperate
with cheating students by helping them figure out answers and
by not controlling the distribution of papers.
One of the
popular methods of cheating is to get extra papers from the
teacher, which, in turn, get distributed to students in later
classes that will be taking the same exam. The PC teachers can
control this by passing out papers to one student at a time
and, in the event that a student asks for a new paper, the teacher
collects the old one before giving another one.
first day of the in-service, the focus changed to the topic
of gender equity in the classroom. One of the realities here
in schools is that the older the girls get, the more likely
they are to drop out of school and discontinue their education.
(Muslim holy man) addressed the group and explained that Islam
as a religion offers equality to both sexes. The problem, though,
in girls and women not being treated equally is not in the religion
but in the traditions of the society, in that they are asked
or required to be kept at home to work there.
of gender equity in the classroom is not a new one to the PCV
teachers, though it is a newer concept to the Mauritanian counterparts.
These two days of lectures, discussions, and proposals of action
plans were of more use to the Mauritanian teachers, whereas
the rest of us started to fall away from the event, one by one,
or some used the strategy of sitting in the back of the room,
physically present, but reading books or writing letters.
me wonder if there was something of a Global In-service Pact,
a worldwide treaty to which all participating nations agreed
that these required gatherings be as boring, as useless, as
repetitive as possible. There must be. It was like that when
I was teaching!
on Thursday, we went to the town of Boghé (boh-GAY) for
an additional two days. We arrived there in the dark, and shortly
after that there was a power outage, which meant that we had
to find our way around in total darkness, from the school to
with the host family of one of the health Volunteers who lives
in Boghé. In addition to the resident PCV, there was
another teacher with us. The mother of the family turned out
to be the aunt of my Mauritanian friend in San Francisco.
eight children in the family, two of whom are attending high
school in Nouakchott, leaving five boys and one girl at home.
In the evenings we had our dinner in the courtyard, with the
various small buildings of the compound surrounding us. We sat
in a dirt/sand area in which the chickens and goats roamed freely.
There is a garden, fenced off from the goats, but two of the
kids, in their relentless search for food, kept finding ways
to get in to eat the vegetables.
in my tent on the roof of one of the buildings. The evening
temperatures were pleasant, in the 70's, with a gentle breeze
two nights and a wind the final night. During the heat of the
day, it was not very comfortable outside, but the rest of the
time it was quite pleasant.
a PCV house where Volunteers from the region gather, and there
was a party there on Saturday night, with three people playing
guitars and lots of singing along. One of the Volunteers brewed
some wine, so we got to sample two batches of the home brew
- the "white" (looks like grapefruit juice, tastes
like Crystal Light) and the "red" (looks like Kool-Aid,
tastes like rubbing alcohol).
of our being in Boghé was to have Model School similar
to the one last summer during training. Some of our second year
Volunteers have created a collection of lessons called Lesson
Plans that Work. This was printed last summer in its first
edition for general use by all the teachers. During the classes,
teachers tested the lessons and came up with suggestions for
ways in which they can be improved.
It was surprising
to see how many students signed up for and attended Model School,
especially considering the circumstances: (1) that it was held
not only on a weekend but that (2) it was the first weekend
of the spring break.
six classes a day: four in the morning (8:00, 9:00, 10:00, 11:00)
and two in the afternoon (3:00 and 4:00). I began by observing
in one of the classrooms. I lasted about fifteen minutes before
my body was not able to take sitting in the uncomfortable desk
and I had to leave the room. Most of the time, then, I spent
in the large assembly room with the PCV organizers of the event,
either talking to them about the lessons or reading.
gave good ideas for revising the lesson plans. Kristen (the
other CDS) and I will integrate these into the lessons that
we are writing in the textbooks and teachers' editions that
we are working on. Our work is cut out for us!
to Nouakchott with several new requests for visits to Château
Jay. The teachers are out for spring break and, of course, with
Nouakchott's world-famous reputation as a party town, I am sure
that there will be lots of action. We're all looking forward
to the wet mulafa contests.
Nouakchott also meant seeing all of the current second-year
Volunteers, even though it was briefly. They were assembling
here so they could all go together to their Close of Service
(COS) conference, which is being held in the far north of the
country in Nouadhibou. This event will help them make their
post-PC plans. When this group entered the country in June,
2002 there were 46 of them; 19 remain to COS.
It's time to review my latest reading material. I thought I
had been reading a lot, but when I was talking to other teachers
during the in-service I found that there were several - especially
those living at sites without electricity - who have read much
more than I. Two of these books are by Peace Corps writers.
Difference Engine: Charles Babbage and the Quest to Build the
First Computer, by Doron Swade. The author tells two fascinating
stories. First, there is the life and times of Charles Babbage
(1791-1871), whose machines, the Difference Engine and Analytical
Engine, are acknowledged as being forerunners of the modern
computer. Following that tale is the modern-day account of the
building of one of these machines, according to Babbage's plans,
from the inception of the idea in the mid-1980's, to the machine's
completion in time for the bicentennial of Babbage's birth.
The author masterfully kept the language of science within my
reach, as I am decidedly not a science type.
Elephants in the Sun: How Life in an African Village Let Me
Be in My Skin by Susana Herrera. The author was a teacher
in a village in the northern region of Cameroon. She entered
the Peace Corps with the legacy of a difficult childhood and
a divorce. Much of who she is and how she sees herself is a
result of her painful past. I admire her honesty for laying
herself bare as she did to the reader.
This is yet another book in which the Volunteer writes only
about what happens in the village where (s)he is working, with
nothing about Peace Corps trainings or vacations to other places,
as well as very little information about other PCVs. Perhaps
the publisher wanted that kind of story and filtered out what
was not related to the life in the village.
Exile: The True Story of Two Friends Separated (for a Year)
by an Ocean, by Hilary Liftin and Kate Montgomery. Kate
and her husband David head off for the Peace Corps in Kenya,
leaving her dear friend and former college roommate Hilary in
New York. It's hard to imagine a more disparate juxtaposition
of world views and daily lives than those between New York and
a Kenyan village. They really are worlds apart!
It's easy to see from the title that Kate did not finish her
service, so I was curious to know how it would come to its premature
end. After the first four months, Kate and David complained
about the color of the drinking water (brown) and the chunks
floating in it (!). The water was tested and the Peace Corps
deemed it unfit for consumption, which led to their getting
a site change. They were high school English teachers. School
was crowded and difficult in both places, but it was in their
second location where the students went on strike, leading to
a chaotic situation, including the suggestion that they leave
town. They were offered yet another site change but, having
done that already, decided to pack it in and return to the USA.