Banana Soup 1/7/14

Today began with a 7:15 am English class with Evens. The classroom is relatively small, but we were informed that there were many absences due to an extended Christmas vacation from students who live farther away. So, the 24 students whom we had the pleasure of working with were spaciously seated in the room at desks (which are really some boards nailed together to make a desk/bench device that can seat about 5 students). This morning, Gregory, Marie and I all originally planned to conduct classroom observations. However, Evens wanted us to have a part in the class. So, we wrote a dialogue about Christmas on the board per his request. It was read it to the class two times by us, translated into French, then the class read it aloud together in English, then volunteers read the dialogue aloud to the class, then we read it one last time in English, and I translated it one last time into French. There’s a lot of oral repetition in Haitian instruction. It can also be categorized as largely teacher-fronted. The three of us learned a lot in this half an hour of instruction. We had come to 9th grade English with the intention of being conscientious, objective, inconspicuous observers. However, we soon discovered that there won’t be any chance of this in the next couple of weeks. Maybe because two of us are about as white as can be.

The students gathered in the courtyard at 7:45 for the raising of the flag ceremony.   They first sang a worship song in Creole, and then raised the flag while singing the national anthem. Students went to their 8:00 class, during which we had breakfast with Pere Noe. Today it was fried eggs, bananas, pineapple, bread, coffee, and juice. Afterwards, we joined Evens for the remaining amount of his next English class.

At 9:00, we went with him to his 8th grade English class, and respectfully requested to observe in order to see what a Haitian class is like. Evens agreed, so he let us sit down in the front of the class after our introductions. He taught the class the simple present tense, which was interesting to observe. There was a lot of student participation, as there were 36 students in the class, and they weren’t afraid to shout out the answers. The students were actually a little rowdy. But all very cute, and interested to see us.

At 10:00 was recess. I talked with Mr. Baldet, the “Surveillant” of the school, second in command to Pere Noë. He goes to church, which is where I originally met him on Sunday. I asked him questions about the school and about the student’s schedules. He informed me that after recess, the primary school has class, and the secondary school leaves for the day. This could be due to a space issue, but I wasn’t sure how to ask. Then, I talked with several other teachers, and many adorable primary school students, who all wear green uniforms. The girls have elaborately done hair, with corresponding barrettes that match every color in their uniforms. I asked a group, and they said that their mothers are the ones who do their hair. They are possibly the cutest kids ever.

James is has a large role at school, being the disciplinarian. However, he told me that he hopes to be a French teacher next year, as he has passed his diploma. While he has never taken university-level classes, he taught himself outside of school by reading books. So, he guest taught in the 6th grade in the class of Mr. Gerard. Gregory and I observed this class, because we thought that it would further exemplify Haitian instruction, specifically language instruction, thereby informing how English is presented to these students. This was the least teacher-fronted class we saw, as James made sure to do a lot of check-ins. They were learning the passé simple. Every student knew the conjugation of every verb that was mentioned. I was very impressed.

Lunch was at 1 pm, because the remainder of school was cancelled due to teacher absences. We ate rice, lamb, beets with tomatoes, and fried okra. The woman who cooks is named Antoinette, and we must say she is an incredible cook.

Being that our adult English class was at 4 pm, Sora and I went with James to get a few supplies. We went to the bank, which was an experience due to the fact that it was the only air-conditioned building with three armed guards that I had ever seen in Haiti. The line was pretty long, but because James knew someone, we were out in a jiffy. We ventured to the market, which was a large indoors place with barely enough room to walk because of the amount of vendors. People were selling everything – I even saw a used toothbrush for sale.

We planned a very vague lesson that we hoped was accessible by everyone of diverse ages and proficiency levels and fit into a 1.5 hour period. Here it is:

– Why do you want to learn English? What are your goals for this class? (10 minute discussion for schema activation)

– Family tree discussion and design – model then make your own and compare with a partner (30 minutes)

– Partner introductions to the class which answer questions like “What is his/her name?” “What does he/she like?” What does he/she do?”

We found that Haitian time is much different than American time, as the exact total amount of people is undetermined because people were coming until 20 minutes from the end. We also discovered that they really don’t know what to do with partner and group work. We had resolved to not speak any French during class, but due to a total lack of student understanding (and potential lack of knowing what our expectation for their role as students is/was) proved to be a very difficult way to elicit participation. By the end, I was explaining everything in French. I was mad at myself, although on some level it couldn’t be helped due to the fact that it was the first class. Pere Noe determined that there were over thirty students. They ranged from children to the teachers from the school. Even Dallas, Jean-Baptiste and Monsieur Baldet came to show support, along with James and Evens. We are very pleased to get to know the members of the community as well as learn from them what culture is like here.

For dinner, there was banana soup. Pere Noe says that it’s what Haitian hosts give to guests who have provided a great service. It’s “soft.” While we can’t be sure how much we have helped today, it’s certain that the ball is rolling. Right now, it is 10 pm, and Sora is reprogramming all of the XO laptops in the Director’s office. Marie is sleeping, and I am listening to what can only be described as a Haitian horn-honking, crickitish, moto-driving, dog-barking, camion-bulldozing, street-vendor yelling, reggaeton block party that never ends. It sounds like happiness.

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