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6 Courses That Didn’t Prep Me for Teaching in Africa


Who can describe the character Gilbert for me?”

Silence…

“Well, he’s British, educated, admired by the people, and deeply committed to the well-being of his community.”

More silence…

Student teaching 11th grade English at Sobantu Secondary School, one-sided conversations with myself are common. While it is often disconcerting, it’s simply a difference in classroom culture in South Africa compared to the U.S. At least at the secondary level, students aren’t taught to offer their own opinions and ideas, instead listening as the teacher lectures, accepting her words as truth. This approach shocked me since my cooperating teacher had a medical emergency right before I started which left me teaching her classes by myself for five weeks. I’d never even read the novel that I was supposed to be teaching, yet anything I said wasn’t questioned or contradicted. How could the school let me, an unqualified college student, teach a novel and prepare the students for their exam?

While I do favor the teaching approaches of the U.S. because they involve the students in hands on activities, forcing them to think critically and engage in their learning, I also admire the respect with which my students here in South Africa treated me. Always referring to me as “Miss” or “Ma’am,” they were polite and well-behaved, apologizing whenever I had to ask them to quiet down or take their seats.

Although I do wish students in South Africa could be more empowered in their learning, I also think that students in the U.S. could be more respectful towards teachers and peers. And so, having had experience teaching in both countries, hopefully I can take the best aspects from each and incorporate them into my future classroom.

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