Sunday, June 30, 2013

Class dismissed

Well, it’s over. I’ve finished my first term of teaching at the YMCA.

The department head called a special class for me to finish, since I’d originally been told I had six weeks instead of four. Driving there, dodging bodas and potholes big enough to hide one of my kids, I breathed prayers of both fervent petition and penetrating frustration. This trip placed the final bookend on months of so much going into this class, Saturdays and copies and posters in felt-tip marker. Many of my hopes had limped their way back to me in failed quizzes, blank stares, giggling conversations I had to shout over.

Once I arrived—up the six flights of stairs, down and up again upon reaching another locked gate—I sat sweating at five minutes after class time, with no class area remaining  in the gym-sized room swarming with students (none of them mine). I admit to preparing a firm speech for my supervisor in my mind that I knew I’d never give--one with lots of pointing and lifted brows. Instead, I placed a polite call. 

Supervisor: “They will come! I told them to come.” 


Then, “I will come.” (He didn’t.)
Three ladies showed up at ten after; at one hour into class time, I had fourteen out of the ninety; 26 when all was said and done.  But I did relish the intimacy of the class time, the dedication of those who simply showed up when they could be snagging a day off from their teaching practicum.

Thankfully, I’d picked up a few tips those three weeks of cancelled class. I’d found a way to break down a “creative teaching process” of goal setting, brainstorming (new to them) and gathering ideas, designing an idea, and evaluating its effectiveness. We took most of class time to try out the process over and over, to make sure we were all grasping the concept. In chalk, I outlined basic steps to search the internet for ideas. I also swiped a concept from John and stopped class every 20 minutes to ask for questions: Culturally, asking questions can be considered disrespectful—leading to a lack of understanding and true learning.

During the whole class, the ladies assembled file folder games for their classes. When they found out the games were a gift to them (maybe they were expecting I needed ninety of the same file folder game for myself?), a collective whoop and round of applause went up. And I have to admit, my spirits were lifted by their disappointment that I wouldn’t be teaching them again, by what seemed like genuine gratitude and their feedback about what they’d learned. Maybe it wasn’t all as dismal as I feared in my disillusionment—and honestly, anger.

I’m convicted that I've got a good starting point. I’ve got lesson plans, a method, learning centers assembled with bottlecaps and beans and rice. Yes, it all needs some sort of giant cultural tuning fork, with me pressing my ear to cultural nuances and underperformance. I can't just let this whole thing go. But I’m not sure I’ve got the right venue. A lot of these students are coming in from villages, with very limited, rote education resembling memorization and regurgitation. Culturally, I am trying to teach a number of concepts—namely creativity—that are intensely different and complex,  in a period of only six weeks, with ninety women.

John's welcomed much more success at Kyambogo University this year with an extremely small class for which they interviewed--eliminating some entitlement, turning it into a privilege. Perhaps I’d have more success with a diploma class (as opposed to certificate students), who have more time and money invested, and about half the class size. Even more, I could start with just a handful of promising young ladies, rich with the potential to truly launch them into their field.

But I also feel niggled by the poorest of the poor, not just the strongest-- the ones who naturally get help in an impoverished society (another reason why teaching learning disorders brought me a lot of confused looks). But that may well be beyond the scope of what I can do in a class. I find myself just praying about where to take this, at times just avoiding a jaded shell. Perpetually, I find the line paper-thin between a “hand up” and a “hand out”, between empowering and enabling.

So much of poverty relief or missions or God-centered work is wondering, trusting, working out this mystery. No matter where we are, our faith is clustered, waiting, in a mustard seed.

Do not depend on hope of results. When…doing…essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no results at all, if not perhaps results opposite … The big results are not in your hands or mine.… All the good that you will do will not come from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God's love. –Thomas Merton

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