Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My Masterful English Instruction Begins!

For those of you who don't know, I am now an English teacher in rural Haiti.

When Jack and I first contemplated working in Haiti, teaching was one of the few things we were determined not to do. Indeed, teaching was a profession I had long avoided. As a History major, one of the questions you hear time and again is, "Oh, so you'll teach then?" To this foolish and unwelcome question, I always gave a forceful, "No!" I have no idea where my aversion to teaching originated. I always thought that the profession, in the abstract, was lovely and admirable. But for my career? I couldn't be less interested, especially in the context of Haiti.

Jack also had no desire to teach. We were thus dismayed when everyone we talked to in Haiti--whether an aid worker, law student, priest, bishop, teacher, or principal--enthusiastically supported the idea. Surely, surely someone would express reservations? I helpfully mentioned our lack of knowledge and experience.  Somehow this proved no obstacle.

I thus came with some reluctance to the only logical conclusion: Jack and I were not meant to work in Haiti.

It can be attributed only to God's persistence that Jack and I now stand before Haitian students expounding upon the basics of English conversation and computer operations.

The real miracle is that I love it.

I teach 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th grade. My classes have 56, 43, 33, and 48 students respectively.  My first class was the 7th graders. They have a set English curriculum and textbooks that are all geared towards the national exam required to enter high school.  Twice a week they are instructed by the former mayor of Ste. Suzanne, once a week they practice with me. Since they had had several English classes already, I was extremely curious about their proficiency. Class began promptly at 3 o'clock. The students stood as I entered the classroom and greeted me with an enthusiastic "Good morning!"

 So... they were going to need a little help. One of the activities I had planned was a game in which  teams of students raced to write down as many English words as they could. I thought this would give me some indication of their vocabulary level. I then planned for the class to correct and pronounce the words together.

Here is one of the lists:

Good morning
Good evening
Goo nigt

Good is goude
cood mornig
How mny
Good night
Good bye
Good morning
Very well
fine thank
Just fine thank

Vey welll thank you
I am sick
not veywelle

Other honorable mentions: "Fine just fine thank you," "consonants," "God is Goad," and "small lettre."

Frustratingly, I was undermined by one of the other teachers who had arranged with the principal to act as my "interpreter." He knows a little English, but imagines that he speaks quite a bit more.  I specifically asked students to write single words yet he gave them example after example of entire phrases. He then encouraged them to use their textbooks. Grr.

Despite his evil machinations, I was able to get some idea of their vocabulary and confidence levels.

The first 7th grade class was by far my most difficult.  I had been unable to ascertain beforehand what they knew and was therefore hesitant to insult the students by teaching them rudimentary vocabulary they may have already mastered. Forty minutes into the sixty minute class, I ran out of material. Emboldened by their vocabulary lists, I taught them basic classroom vocabulary. We also practiced introductions.

Since then, teaching has been amazing. My "interpreter" has left me alone. The students are incredibly bright and enthusiastic.  The other grades have had no other English instruction and I am their sole English teacher. They're quickly learning greetings, introductions, and polite conversation. The 6th graders, after initially acting "too cool" and "mature," have played games and sang songs with the same zeal as the 4th graders. With the exception of perhaps one or two students per class, all the students are participating and I have more volunteers than class time.

More updates soon,



  1. Superb! I loved the post - especially the mental image I formed of you politely fuming while your "interpreter" derailed your instructions to the children. Just curious - have they found the body yet? And I loved the slow erosion of 'coolness' within the older children, remembering how I fought that in CCD (with marginal or less success) what a triumph! Please continue with these posts - perhaps a profile or two of your students? :)

  2. Andrea,

    Vous êtes un merveilleux professeur, et si patient avec le
    enfants. Beaucoup de mes amis (mais pas ceux DR horrible
    souris) me joindre à un trou de souris petit dans le coin de
    la salle de classe pour apprendre l'anglais aussi bien. C'est une joie!
    Mes amis et moi ne pouvons pas attendre pour les classes de la semaine prochaine:)

    Msr. Mouse

  3. For Andrea's friends who are, lamentably, relegated to English, here is what I wrote to her:


    You are a wonderful teacher, and so patient with the children. Many of my friends (but not those horrid DR mice) join me at a small mouse hole in the corner of the classroom to learn English as well. It is a joy! My friends and I cannot wait for classes next week :)

    Msr. Mouse

  4. Great work ma dear! If teaching is what they want - I imagine, now that your mind has been put to the task, wonderful teaching is what they are getting!

    Love you!

  5. I wanted very much to say "Toldja so!" but thought better of it. We've been praying for you guys, especially on World Missionary Sunday!

  6. Hey Andrea! Loved the post! This totally gives me hope because I also feel the same way about teaching and will probably be doing the same thing this summer. I have been searching all over for a non-profit to work with this summer and hope I can find one soon!

    Keep up the great work!


  7. Yay teaching!!! I'm not sure who Vincent is, but I must agree about the "Toldja so" comment. ;) I'm not surprised you like it so much. You're a teacher-type in friendship and, it seems, life in general. I'll have to e-mail you a great teacher poem I stumbled upon when I'm at home... Love you!