I now have 3 months of teaching at Rift Valley Academy under my belt – the first of three terms of this school year ended around Thanksgiving. Compared to my time teaching at Beaver Falls High School, my tenure here only gives me 1/15th of the experience I had there (pre-algebra students: can you deduce how long I taught at BF from this hint?)
Despite this relative lack of exposure, it is probably the best point in time to reflect on a few comparisons between the two systems – one, a public school in a majority low-socioeconomic, quasi-inner-city environment in Western Pennsylvania, the other a Westernized Christian boarding school in the middle of a third world country in Africa. Clearly, there are going to be differences!
I tried to keep a few notes as the most obvious contrasts revealed themselves throughout the term. Here are a few random ones for your reading pleasure :)
1. The first and maybe most unexpected was the two-hole punch. You read that right. There are no three hole punches in Kenya, or at least available here at RVA. I was completely blindsided by this one, and although its seemingly an insignificant difference, it was really hard to get used to! Believe me when I say that the three hole punch system for binders, notebooks, folders, etc. in the States is far superior – educators and others, be thankful for that!
2. On a related note of classroom materials, all the paper is A4. No more good ole’ reliable 8.5” x 11” standard paper. A4 is 8.5” x 12” – drives me crazy! Go ahead, call me OCD.
3. Ok, so the first two seem like non-issues. I get it. “What’s the big deal? So you’ve got one less hole and paper with an extra inch! Cry about it, why don’t you?!” Here’s one that will blow you away. Every Thursday is “Bring your knife to School Day”. I kid you not. Can you imagine my reaction the first time I saw a kid sharpening his pencil with a pocketknife in the middle of my class?! That was nothing, because it was only Wednesday. Thursday rolls around and several students showed up brandishing all types of weapons – machetes (they call them pangas) were the most common, but I saw all types: pocketknives, switch blades, daggers of various sizes, hunting knives, and even a few swords. The vice president of the student body (his title is actually vice-chairman here) reassured the new teachers in his opening day speech before the entire school not to worry about this tradition. A portion of his exact words were “it’s not considered a knife unless it’s a foot long anyway!” The fact that this is allowed with no concern whatsoever from the administration or the veteran teachers speaks volumes to the overall atmosphere of this school. In light of several recent and unspeakably tragic events in the U.S., it’s sad but true that many of us feel much safer here, teaching in Africa.
4. Although not too common, it is possible to receive a demerit.
5. Today is December 18th, I haven’t taught since November 30th, (but I did teach on Thanksgiving Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day and Veteran’s Day) and I won’t teach again until January 3rd.
6. I have yet to hear the acronym “PSSA” or discuss“Eligible Content” or “Common Core Standards” and for this I praise the Lord (not kidding). My colleagues back in PA will understand and be just the tiniest bit jealous, I’m sure. Sorry guys!
7. There are more students here than there are lockers available. Exactly the opposite problem in Beaver Falls, and many other public high schools in the States, from what I understand.
8. I have posted in my classroom two Bible verses – right up front, on poster paper and have referred to them in class. Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” and Philippians 1:27a, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
9. This one caught me a bit off guard and still hasn’t quite become the new norm: Some students (not all, but enough that it’s a theme) will regularly say “Thank you, sir” when leaving the classroom. Ha! I teach Algebra! Anyone else find this funny? I still have not figured out a good response – mostly because I’m still so caught off guard every time I hear it! “You’re welcome” seems the most appropriate I guess, but it just doesn’t sound right. I appreciate any suggestions!
10. Football always reigned supreme at Beaver Falls in the autumn. Each year that I was there, they always put together a very competitive team. Football is big here at RVA too – in fact, football in Kenya might even be called a national obsession. But the team of 7th and 8th grade boys that I coached didn’t have helmets or shoulder pads. Instead, most of them wore shin guards and weren’t allowed to touch the ball with their hands. The fact that I played a small amount of soccer in high school was the only reason I was anywhere near qualified to coach them!
I think 10 is a nice place to stop. There are certainly more – and I may reflect on some in a future post. Despite some of the obvious differences, though, it is still teaching teenagers, and most 9th graders still cringe at the thought of quadratic equations, and there are still discipline problems, and I’m still dead tired at the end of the day. But it’s comforting knowing that my God has directed my steps and has me here, like He had me at Beaver Falls, for a season, for a reason, and for His glory!