Friday, January 25, 2008

Finally, work!

Brace yourself, this is a long one.

I bet you were starting to wonder if we had joined the Peace Corps to take some sort of strange extended vacation and when, if ever, we were going work again. Well, finally, it begins.

Cale had the excitement of starting work last Thursday and Friday. His school had a workshop with the Sāmoa Qualifications Authority. They are working on becoming an accredited institution. This accreditation process is a new effort in the country.

I finally got to work this Monday when the Methodist School Board held an in-service for all the teachers. Both Cale and my schools were there, as were the primary and pre-schools and our sister schools in Savai’i.

When we got there that morning, Cale, Alo, Nao (the JICA volunteer) and I all sat together near the back. I quickly noticed that everyone else had sat themselves by gender with the women on one side of the aisle and men on the other. I was on the wrong side of the aisle. No one said anything and the next morning Cale and I mixed it up by sitting on the lady’s side.

Almost immediately the power went out (the power here is fickle and goes out maybe once or twice a week, usually only for a couple of minutes to half an hour). The power stayed off for a while. So after the opening prayer and speech, we broke for tea and waited for the power.

At first I was pretty nervous, mainly because it seemed obvious that things were going to be conducted in Sāmoan (and why shouldn’t they be, we are in Sāmoa). I was worried I would have no idea what was going on. However, I soon discovered that if I stood and looked confused long enough my pule would come and tell me what to do.

We broke up by education level and subject area. Cale went to his school, the primary teachers went to my school and we secondary teachers stayed in the hall. In my group there was the head of my department, a computer/business studies teacher from my school (who won’t be teaching this year, but will be going to the national university to get a degree in computer studies) and a computer/English/maths teacher from our sister school. Last year the sister school had a Peace Corps volunteer teaching computers and this teacher will be taking over for her, so she will only be teaching computers this coming year. She had some interesting insight about being a counterpart* from the counterparts perspective that I may write about later.
*Speaking of counterparts, I will write about that later.

Each subject group was supposed to be meeting with a representative the Curriculum Materials and Assessment Division. I am not sure if they are government affiliated or what. I assume they are a division of the ministry of education.

Unfortunately, the computer studies representative wasn’t there. She lives on a village on the other side of a river that was swollen with rainwater and couldn’t get out. We were supposed to be creating an annual plan based on the school calendar of 30 teaching weeks. The three computer teachers and I looked at the resources I had brought with me that other Peace Corps volunteers had supplied me. We also talked about some ideas the teacher going to university had for the year. At the end of the day, each group gave a report. Some how, I ended up with the responsibility for our group.

Side note: I narrowly avoided a conversation on teaching evolution in American schools by being ignorant of the news item the minister was talking about.

On the second day we had a presentation on professional development by the director of the Oloamanu Centre for Professional Development and Continuing Education. The presentation was in Sāmoan, but I could grasp some things since the PowerPoint presentation was in English. Also, all the Sāmoan-speaking presenters used English for emphasis, so I caught those words.

One thing that came up repeatedly during the presentations was improving the status of teachers. One of the solutions that came up often was requiring teachers be certified and that they have a background in their subject area. As it is right now, you don’t need a degree or teacher’s certificate to teach in Sāmoan schools (I guess that is good for me, since I was never trained as a teacher).

Side note: Everything at the conference was presented in the form of a complex grid created in Word tables. The schedule of the conference, the school calendar, the prescriptions for each test, the lessons plans — everything. Sāmoans seem to love a good grid. I imagine it is a holdover from colonial bureaucracy.

There was also a presentation by a representative of the ministry of education on teacher appraisals. Granted, I couldn’t understand what he was saying, but he seemed to be questioning how all the government-school teachers in the country received satisfactory or very satisfactory ratings, but the students were doing so poorly. He didn’t seem to think the appraisals were representative and that there should be more continuing education for teachers.

On the second and third days our computer studies representative was there and we talked about yearly plans and lesson plans.

On the third day there was a presentation by a Sāmoan vice-chancellor from the University of the South Pacific on professional development as a tool for quality teaching. He had a lot of good things to say.

“Teaching is an essential profession; it makes all others possible.”

He talked about what makes a profession — accredited education, licensing, etc. He also frequently referred to a speech or initiative by former President Clinton that I am not familiar with.

And that, in a giant nutshell, was the teacher in-service.

School starts Monday. I better get ready!

— Sara

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