Thursday, November 1, 2012

Blind Side

I have spent the past two weeks at school with my counterpart teacher; he teaches Grade 6 English, which is what I'll be teaching next year. My Peace Corps assignment says that I must spend the day with him to get a feel for what being a teacher at a rural South African school is like. He also teaches three classes in Grade 7, so I've got to know the Grade 7s pretty well in a relatively short period of time.

This blog post is about one student in particular whose nickname is Blind Side. Blind Side is just under a year younger than my brother Derek. Derek is 18 and just began his first year of college in late August. Blind Side is nearing the end of Grade 7, which he will not pass. He is 17 years old.

The nickname comes from the 2009 movie of the same name. My Blind Side is slightly taller than his peers and has a much manlier voice. In the movie, the character "Big Mike" is huge in comparison to other kids, especially those in the family he is taken in by. He plays with and protects the smaller, younger children. He's like a big teddy bear. He works hard, and is awfully quiet.

My first day in Grade 7, I asked my counterpart about him because you can tell that he is older than the twelve year olds he is surrounded by. He told me, "that one is never going to proceed. He was in an accident and missed months of school. He suddenly came back one day and was put in Grade 7. He will never pass this grade." There are other kids at my school who are way too old for the grade they're presently in. There's a girl who has to be almost 10 in Grade 1, a boy who must be just about a teenager in Grade 3, and a 16 year old in Grade 4. How these things happen without intervention or some way to help these kids along, I'm not sure. So I've kept an eye on Blind Side these past two weeks to get a better idea of what he's all about.

He surprises me a little more everyday. The first time he stood out to me was on a day that has become all too common nearing the end of the fourth term: teachers write the exams that they will give their students during class time, and they tell the kids to "work on preparing for _____ exam." On this particular day it was "discuss your arts&culture exam." Why and how a class on arts&culture can have an exam, I'm not sure. "Discuss" is key for "talk about whatever you want for an hour." Most kids broke off into groups with their friends and did just that. Blind Side's seat is in the very back row during class. During this discussion period, he sat in the front row and worked with four or five other boys. They wrote notes in their exercise books and even stayed for five minutes after the bell for break to finish what they were doing. At one point during the period, a member of the group was distracted by another boy who thought it would be fun to start a small fight in class. Blind Side grabbed his group member's shoulder and hauled him back into their circle to keep working on their project.

Later in the week, I was told "you teach class today!" and given only a few minutes to pull something out of my ass to work on with these kids for English period that day. I went over to the cabinet (falling apart filing cabinet whose doors don't close) and pulled a book from the very back. It was a Grade 7 English book that had probably never seen the light of day, for reasons I can't understand or explain. I told them to open to a story about the importance of rainforests, particularly the Amazon in this story. Each learner read a paragraph and I wrote reading comprehension questions on the board after we talked about vocabulary that they weren't sure of. This didn't take the full period, and I left the books on the desks until the very end of class to see what the kids would do. I was pleasantly surprised to see many of them flipping through and reading stories that they found interesting. I was especially surprised to see Blind Side doing just that, mostly because his average in English class last term was 12%. He later took out a dictionary and flipped through that too. My mind = blown.

Two days ago was Career Day in Grade 7. You may be imagining what "Career Day" means in an American context, but it's not like that here. This version of Career Day was a day where learners were to dress up as their chosen career and speak about why they were interested in that career to the rest of the class. The largest group was educators (maybe because they all wore street clothes and because it was the easiest profession to pull off on the spot?) followed by social workers. Other careers depicted included doctors, police officers, nurses, farmers, TV presenters, electricians, traffic cop(per), and a nature conservationist. Blind Side had to be talked to by the principal and the other teachers in the room; not because he was misbehaving, but because he had to be told that he couldn't have more than one career. He wanted to be an electrical engineer and a carpenter, and even brought in an example of one of his woodworking projects to show. My counterpart told him he was "a jack of all trades" and he smiled really big.

His grades are low. And without proficiency in English, he will undoubtedly fail everything that comes his way. At Grade 4, testing turns over to English. It breaks my heart to think of him dropping out of school to find work because he gets stuck in the last grade of primary school. I'm going to try to pull him into my Grade 6 English class in January. I teach in a much different way than most others at my school, and I stop to explain things to individual students if they are struggling. I'm also planning on having a session after school once or twice a week for any learners that are having difficulty in English. His talent and passion are too much to let go to waste. I wanted to take the time to write about him because this job is frustrating. And some days I don't feel like going to school. But when you have learners like Blind Side, they make it worth every minute.

1 comment:

  1. I would love to meet Blindside. He sounds like a truly strong wonderful person and you are there to guide him in his own journey