Little Things

Teaching in the Tiger Kloof primary school and staying as a guest of Kathy and Mark Boobemyer has made me appreciate little things I usually take for granted.

  • Power always on without fear of load shedding. There is a backlog of power plant construction so South Africa shuts off power if there isn’t enough. So far this hasn’t happened during my month-long trip, but every hotel room is equipped with flashlights and the one steak restaurant in town advertises that they have a generator so are open even during load shedding.
  • Sufficient power and outlets to have several things plugged in at once. They must unplug the tea kettle to plug in the toaster. Also there are fewer outlets available. My phone, wifi port, I-pad, extra battery, and camera all need charging, but I can only do one thing a day.  
  • Printing. Students must pay about $0.20 per sheet, and with their limited economic means, reprinting a 9-page science report (to include my suggestions) for the Science Expo is a hardship.
  • A well-equipped science lab. Actually, I do not take this for granted; too many science friends in the U.S. dont have what they need either. With a large number of students and limited supplies, sharing is essential, but makes it difficult for everyone to have the best opportunity for learning. The high school lab at Tiger Kloof is beautiful, housed in a complex of newly rebuilt buildings funded by deBeers, but the lab for the elementary students only had enough equipment to do a demonstration, not for every student to do hands-on investigations.
  • Small classes. Here I taught 29 Grade 4 students at once. Keeping everyone on task is a challenge. There is not enough space to put their backpacks, no where to set up equipment for prep, and not enough space to walk around the room.  
  • Stools. Tiger Kloof has lightweight plastic stools in the science lab, and many of them are broken. Only the lightest students can sit on them without double-stacking. There are four plastic chairs which are considered prime, so there was a lot of maneuvering to see who got these thrones.
  • Hot water. I have running water, including a hot tap in the sink and shower, but the heater is broken. In the afternoon it is a warm 70F, so taking a cold shower is like jumping into a cool swimming pool, best done all at once. The folks in the shanty town have only a communal tap. They must carry water in big buckets to their shacks to wash, bathe, and do laundry. It is so hot and dusty here, even in the winter, that I cannot imagine how they cope. Many of the children at the soup kitchen were filthy, but most shacks had clean laundry out on clothes lines to dry.
  • Honesty. Students and staff must carry their belongings at all times because theft is rampant. Given the desperate circumstances of many students, I understand their reasons. It’s purely a matter of basic survival. The school, hotels, and individual houses are all surrounded by razor-wire or spike-topped fencing.  
  • School Bells and Chimes. There is an annoying siren which goes off at the beginning and end of each period throughout the school day. I thought the clanging NPS bell was bad, but this sounds like an air raid. The teachers do not seem to have a universal signal for silence. A clapping pattern has worked for me once I taught them the concept, but I do miss my gentle responsive classroom chime.

There are some little ideas that I’d like to bring home though.

  • All staff morning meeting from 7:15 – 8:00. Much of this was the kind of announcements that we have emailed, but it’s a personal way to get the news of the day. It starts with a bible passage and prayer and ends with a blessing.
  • Break time from 10:30 – 11:00, with tea, coffee, and catered treats (egg salad sandwiches, bran muffins, and biltong have been on offer) for the teachers. It’s a great opportunity to chit chat with your colleagues. Two teachers monitor the students, also on break.