Saturday, April 18, 2015

BJM Bujumbura Report 2: Teaching Biochemistry to 173 Without Electricity

I just finished my first week of teaching. Every day there was some problem. My first day was delayed 10 minutes because I couldn’t get the outlets on the display wall to work. Then only 60 students showed up because 100 were taking a Histology exam (I thought about 50, but was wrong, as you will see from what happened on my fourth day). My second day was delayed 10 minutes because another class was taking a test and stopped exactly when my class started. My third day was delayed by an intense thunderstorm. My fourth day I had made 110 copies of a quiz and then 173 students showed up to take it. (I improvised and said they could share copies and discuss this quiz since it was the first one.) My fifth day the power was out for the first half hour, so I used my battery-powered projector and the blackboard.

Teaching is an actual workout under these conditions. The room was built as a music hall, not a classroom. It is hot in there as I teach, but I can see many ways in which I feel prepared for this. I sometimes teach 70 students at once in the states – 173 is not completely different from that number. (Plus, most of the students passed the first quiz!) I grew up in Florida and can tolerate the African heat just fine. I don’t know French, but I know enough Latin that I can compare French and English and see how they lines up.

One preparation that’s working particularly well is that I bought a small, bright, battery-powered LED projector. On this, I project French text to go along with the English text and pictures on the bigger but electric-powered projector. I like to point to the pictures and words as it is, so this gives me another set of “targets” in the French words that I can point to. I think I’m learning to speak slowly and clearly so the students can understand my English as they read the French. (About 10% of the class is stronger in English, but most are stronger in French.)

When I was talking to the rector of the school, he mentioned that students are culturally conditioned to listen. I notice that they do not move as much as American students, and don’t give the same type of non-verbal feedback. I’m looking for the ways I can pick up from them, but they are good at focusing on the class and are not expecting me to entertain them (which is a good thing, because entertaining another culture isn’t one of my gifts!).

This is harder than I thought it would be, and a bigger job than I thought it would be, but I have to trust that I have been prepared for such a time as this, and that I can give the students the specialized knowledge they need to graduate as doctors. Please pray for me as I work these things out.


unkleE said...

Thanks so much for sharing this, it is fascinating. I have prayed and will continue to pray for you. I look forward to the next piece of news.

Richard Obendorf said...

Your exploits are highly entertaining! Some may suspect that doing missionary work (I guess what you are doing isn't exactly missionary work-but close) is somehow romantic but you are giving us a realistic dose of reality.

You sound very energized and regarding your ability to entertain.. well you could break into song if things get too stale. I happen to know you have a vibrant bass voice.