One of the cool things about Peace Corps is that you don’t have to come up with great ideas all the time to be involved with great projects. It is easy to get involved with awesome secondary projects that previous volunteers started so that is how I came to be an instructor for an English program for judges and court staff within the Rwandan legal system. There are four levels and each class meets three times a month, the first three Saturdays of the month from 9am-12pm. The way the program is designed I share my class with two other volunteers so that we are each only responsible for teaching once a month. Last Saturday was my first class and I was pretty nervous. All the volunteers assigned to teach that weekend stayed together at a hostel in Kigali so we could be ready to go in the morning and get to the supreme court building with plenty of time to prepare for the first day of classes. I spent the night huddled under my mosquito net reading my lesson plan over and over again and finally drifted off to a restless sleep somewhere between reciting my introduction speech for the tenth time and reviewing spelling rules for the simple present tense.
I am in charge of teaching the first level which happens to also be the smallest class. I had absolutely no problem with the fact that my original enrollment number was only five students. It actually ended up being around eight, but only five showed up the first day. Out of my five students I have one woman (there are two others signed up for my level) and four men. Within this group I have one judge, one lawyer, one prosecutor, and two chiefs of police. I was prepared to be super intimidated by my students but it turns out that they act just like my younger students in many ways. They ask permission to leave the room and are self conscious about speaking English. When they completed their exercises they handed over their books for me to check without me asking. They refused to write in their actual workbooks in case they made a mistake and instead opted to re-write each exercise in their notebooks and then copy the correct answers to their workbooks. And when I marked a 6/6 for a reading comprehension in the book of the supreme court judge I watched him accept his book back with an enormous smile on his face and he casually arranged his book on his lap so that the other students could bask in the glory of his success.
Despite the similarities there were also HUGE differences. My students were extremely interested in the lesson and motivated to succeed. They are part of a larger program that awards them a special certificate that they need to work within the legal system so learning English is a crucial component of their future success at work. The best difference for me is that they ask questions. A LOT of questions. We debated the different implications of using the verbs “can’t” and “don’t” when it comes to speaking languages since an example talked about someone that doesn’t speak a language. My students asked me if perhaps the sentence should instead include “can’t” since “doesn’t” implies that he knows the language but refuses to speak it. It blew my mind. I loved every minute of teaching them and welcomed their endless menagerie of random questions with pleasure. It was a welcome change from the blank stares of my younger students who almost never ask questions and never admit when they don’t understand.
At the end of the class my students were devastated to learn that I would not return for the next lesson. I must admit it was quite the ego boost to have them declare that they only wanted me to be their teacher. I considered it for a moment but it would be a huge time commitment and I would be stealing an opportunity from the other two volunteers who are sharing my class. I hope that they love my students as much as I do!
It was a really neat experience and I am looking forward to my future classes. For our first lesson we ended up working in the sitting room of the supreme court building because a set of keys went missing last minute so it will be an added bonus to use a real classroom next time- although the security guards will probably be sad to lose their free English lesson!
My actual teaching job doesn’t start until February 7th so I still have a bit of holiday to enjoy! I am working on moving into a new place (more on this to come soon) and writing lesson plans for the year. Being a teacher is a really time-consuming in case you didn’t know.
Given the date it seems fitting to end this post with one of my favorite quotes- hope everyone back home is having a wonderful MLK day!
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.