Tuesday, June 14, 2011

English Club & Such at the CEM de Pakour

Throughout the dry season I spent most of my time on secondary projects not related to trees or reforestation, and one of my regular jobs became an English teacher at the CEM where the latrine project is underway.

Six teachers from town rent rooms in my compound teaching Arabic, Natural Science, elementary education, and of course English. Mr. Gaye, the English teacher, and I quickly got to know each other simply because of the ease that came with speaking my native tongue. He continuously wanted to improve his English and I wanted someone to have a conversation with as a break from French or Pulaar. One day Mr. Gaye proposed the idea of me giving a presentation in one of his classes to give his students a chance to listen to a native speaker, and so my teaching career began.

It started with just one of Mr. Gaye's classes and continued on until, to date, I've given around 7 presentations in not only Mr. Gaye's classes but also a second English teacher, Mr. Diop.
Almost all of the presentations have consisted of me starting off by explaining a little about myself, where I'm from in the U.S., and what I studied in college before segwaying into Peace Corps
information. I then give a background on what the Peace Corps is, its goals, its programs, and what my current and future efforts and aspirations are for Pakour. I finally move on to cultural differences between Senegal and the United States (blog post upcoming...I can't believe I haven't outlined this yet...maybe it just took me this long to be able to hash it out). During the presentation I try so hard to speak sloooowly and cleeeaaarly because "American English is so quick." After working with the English teachers for so long, I've even picked up on their pronunciation of certain words and try to use those to improve the students' understanding. Throughout the presentation Mr. Diop or Gaye will take notes, and we always conclude with a short quiz on what I said. Sometimes if they miss something I might repeat the answer amongst other information/names to make them sift through and find the correct response. Some of the classes have only been learning English for a couple years, so hearing a native speaker for the first time is extremely difficult, but when they do find the correct response, and there usually is at least a couple of students that were actually paying attention, it makes it all the more worth it. The other day I taught an English class on the problems of deforestation and the importance of the forest surrounding Pakour. Any of you that know me can probably guess what happened - I got a little carried away talking about the environment and before I knew it I had diagrams about Global Warming on the board, and the students eyes were glazed over...I'm sure they picked up some of it...

I'm now considered one of the teachers, and I even have some students calling me "Mr. Barry" (It takes some getting used to being called "Mr." anything, especially with your foreign last name) I attend all the teacher gatherings and spend most of my free time with them conversing in a mixture of French, Pulaar, Wolof, and English (in that order).

Additionally I have been a judge at the English Club's Master Game (Master Game Finals Pictured). The Master Game is a jeopardy-like trivia game with mostly simple
questions in categories including spelling, general knowledge, grammar, and vocabulary, but everything is in English. This is a great
opportunity for the students to practice their English by speaking and hearing only English. Unfortunately some of the other teachers are a little less than confident in their own English
and use a lot of French (the general academic language in Senegal) or
even some of the native native languages (Wolof/Pulaar) in their
lessons. So often many of the students, and even some of the English teachers, fear speaking English with me as they might make a mistake with the native speaker. With the way conversations almost always start, it seems that the first thing they must teach in English class is how to say "I don't speak English," so I spend the first couple minutes diffusing this and pushing them to try harder. Through my experiences with the Master Game I have gotten to know some of the best students in Pakour, and for all the stories I hear about female students getting married at 15 and dropping out or the prevalence of students not fulfilling the 50% average to successfully complete a grade and having to be held back, it is refreshing to meet the best of the best who will even seek me out at home on their own time just to practice their English. Pictured is Amadou, the president of the English Club, at the Master Game Finals singing a song about Africa's pain and struggle...in English. He's pretty good...

The CEM in Pakour, is struggling by with minimal funding and decrepit facilities, but with the
efforts of teachers like Mr. Gaye (Pictured Left) and Mr. Diop (Right) along with the freshman headmaster, Mr. Sabaly (Center),
things are moving in the right direction.

I was recently awarded a certificate of recognition by the teachers, students, and headmaster of the CEM for my continued work with them in English classes, the latrine project, and the Michelle Sylvester Scholarship Program (Blog Post Upcoming). Mr. Sabaly thanked me greatly for my help and stated that next year our work together will start earlier in the school year, and my opinion will be solicited and considered for every decision made at the school...wow, never thought I would find myself with this much input into the school...

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