Friday, November 25, 2011

English Day Declared a Success

It’s Friday afternoon and the first English Day ever held at Faga Primary School is done.  In the numerous speeches given at the end of the program, it was declared a success.  In the speeches in the teachers’ meeting after the program, which we had while eating the lunch I provided, it was declared a success.  The kids were happy and the parents seemed delighted.  Best of all, the principal was so pleased that he plans to have English Day every year from now on.

Our goal in Peace Corps is not to come in, do a job and leave.  The focus is on the transfer of skills and sustainability is a major criterion of success.  When I suggested English Day in the first place, everyone said fine…you go, girl.  Getting the teachers to agree that it was “our” English Day and not “my” English day was a challenge.  But the teachers stepped up. 

I think their perspective is that they had to rescue the palagi who couldn’t pull it off alone.  I can live with that.   I don’t care what the motivation, they got involved and are now looking forward to doing it again next year.  And the year after that, when I’m in Florida or Timbuktu or wherever.  The key is that for the first time, the school pulled together, making English the focus and that it is now seen as something worth repeating. 

As with any event involving lots of people, especially lots of people under the age of 13, there were some challenges.  The principal wanted to start on time but the audience of parents was sparse.  No worries, by the end about ¾ of the families were represented.  And we did start on time.

There were two criticisms, voiced by the pastor who spoke at the end of the session.  One was that it was English Day, so only English should have been spoken and I was the only teacher who spoke in English.  I thought it ironic that he pointed this out in a speech he was giving in…Samoan.  Second was that although it was English Day, we’d included Samoan dancing, which he thought inappropriate.

The principal wanted me to run the program, with the other teachers in the audience.  I didn’t want to be the only teacher on stage because then it looked like I’d done all the work and that it was “my” day.  More importantly, I also wanted to teachers to take ownership of their classes performances.  Having me as emcee would solve the issue about teachers being criticized for not speaking English but then what happens when I’m gone? 
They all speak English.  Some better than others, but they all graduated from colleges that were ostensibly taught only in English.  As I said before, they don’t want to make a mistake, especially in front of all the kids and parents.  They would have been as uncomfortable as I am when I have to get up and make a speech in Samoan.  Which I’ll be doing at next week’s prize giving, by the way.  I’m hoping that I can convince the principal to have each teacher direct the kids in English at next year’s program.

The Samoan dancing was added to the program this morning.  At the end of each performance, the music was cranked up and the kids and teacher boogied down.  A bowl was placed at the front of the stage so that parents could contribute money during the performance and the dancing.  Some of the mothers joined the dancers.  It is entertaining and a Samoan tradition.  It is also a way to raise funds.  In this case, the money was divided among the teachers.  $400 was divided among ten of us.  My share covered about half of what it cost me to buy lunch for all the teachers.

During the Year 6 performance, I looked around for the Year 7 teacher.  He seemed to be MIA.  Then I noticed the Year 4 teacher was gone.  They had gone to the store to buy food for the pastor and his wife who showed up unexpectedly.  When the teachers returned they placed plates holding a can of soda, two apples and two oranges and a bag of chips in front of both the pastor and his wife.  They were the only ones to receive refreshments.  They didn’t touch them but it is a sign of respect and pastors and their wives are among the most highly respected people in Samoa.

At the end of the program, when the last speech was being given, a squall blew through with heavy rains and wind.  Since we were in the new hall, it was no problem except for the woman making a speech.  The noise of the rain on the tin roof was so loud she was literally screaming to be heard over the weather.  And then it was awkward because normally that would have been the end and everyone would leave but no one wanted to leave in the pouring rain.  Instead there were a couple of more impromptu speeches.  When the weather passed the principal declared English Day finished.

It was a good experience.  I learned more about how to work effectively with the teachers.  They got to show off the kids and have some fun.  And the parents got to see their kids speak English to a crowd of people.  The kids were proud of their performances and had a good time doing it.   Everyone was a winner today.

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