Teaching at SEGA in Tanzania
by: Susan Cole Ross (former President NEALS)
Five days in, teaching is the easy part. I have three 13-year-old girls with extremely limited language in English. Their Swahili is beautiful and so is their handwriting. Two of them are excellent artists, drawing intricate calligraphy, swirls, blossoms, and paisleys. We use an ESL curriculum that layers vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure, and social-emotional adjustment to their new school. Away from home for the first time, the girls introduce themselves to each other in English, tell about their family members, learn to sing and play “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” and “If You’re Happy and You Know It” while learning body parts, theirs and butterflies’.
More girls giggle through yoga, my afternoon activity, and several are particularly drawn to it, perhaps experienced. They’re excited to learn, hungry for books, and devoted to classroom time. Their devotion is quickly directed toward their teachers, and I am touched and honored. It’s daunting knowing I will have to say goodbye next Friday. It may take them by surprise. We have no shared vocabulary to explain the passage of time, the extreme distance. It’s not easy to get here, but I know I will want to return.
I meet with the new English teacher: young, kind, and unwittingly debonair. He seems new to teaching but eager to learn as he shadows me in many of my classes. I pull out the Lindamood Bell materials I have brought halfway across the world for him, and he is expressively grateful as it’s hard to come by such resources. I show him pertinent pages in “Solving Language Difficulties” and encourage him to use it with the students who pronounce the silent e, mistake l for r, or don’t understand the syllables that make up English words.
A dozen guard dogs and Maasai warriors keep watch over us and the girls by night. We are safe from snakes and thieves in the middle of this beautiful but barren countryside. When the rains come, I am told, life will return to the gardens. I plan a lesson on composting, a critical skill the girls can take home to their villages.
Each day we rise by seven for a delicious breakfast: always including avocado toast with honey and scrambled eggs with onions, peppers, and carrots. We collect our girls at a central location and take them, in our case, to the Banda, an outdoor meeting place. They read and write English flashing bright eyes and warm smiles, but they’re reluctant to speak much English. After classes, they rattle Swahili to one another with lyrical fluency.
Our curriculum is based on the Total Physical Response Approach to English language learning. We start with introducing oneself, first reading in unison, and then conversing in pairs with only keywords as reminders. Daily lessons progress to cover family members, clothing, colors, numbers, plurals, nouns and verbs, body parts, and activities using the present progressive. We enjoy a book about African animals following our safari to the Mikumi National Park in the Tanzanian savanna. Many of the girls have never seen Tanzania’s famous zebra, lions, and elephants. During breaks they sing “Make New Friends,” dance the Macarena and the Hokey Pokey for body parts, play “Madame Suz Says,” and “Pick, Pick, Pick Bananas” (for verbs).
We end with studying and making coffee filter butterflies which the girls use to adorn their hair, shirts, and wrists. They create a musical performance for the rest of the girls based on friendship because they have named themselves, aptly, The Friends.
And now I reread their favorite book as I eagerly await the letters their teachers tell me they have sent 7466 miles to my home.