Mission in a month

8th February 2008 at 00:00
For a few brief moments I forget where I am, sit back and let my mind drift to interactive whiteboards and PowerPoint presentations.

"Who has stolen the chalk?"

In a second I snap back from my recurring daydream into the reality of teaching in Tanzania, one of Africa's poorest countries.

Ever since I arrived at the Jeekan Mission School as a volunteer teacher, I have been having the same magical memories of my teaching placement in England just weeks before. Don't get me wrong, I have enjoyed teaching in Africa, it's just I have no idea where to begin without my home comforts.

Now, standing in front of 12 six to 10-year-olds eagerly waiting for a maths lesson, I look at my options. I have a piece of chalk and a blackboard. But after a few minor teething problems, namely finding each pupil somewhere to sit, I soon have children waving their hands at me, desperate to match my drawing of a window to the shape name "square".

The youngsters enthusiastically scout the room for examples of shapes and love jumping up when the shape they are holding is pointed to. The lesson is a success. Despite the fact I had only been given the learning objective just beforehand, each child knows their different shapes.

That was a major turning point in my development as a student teacher so far, both in terms of teaching in Africa and in England. While they seem worlds apart, one class with a single piece of chalk and one with too many resources to count, I have realised there are certain skills as a teacher that cannot be purchased and can be used internationally with any children.

These skills, which I was forced to acquire in a matter of seconds, such as using your initiative and being creative, count for a lot.

There is nothing more satisfying than using your personal skills as a teacher to make that lesson come alive and become the most fulfiling experience in that child's life.

My message to any student teachers pondering how they are going to improve their lessons is not to enrol on a whiteboard training course, but to throw yourself into the deep end with a month in Africa.

You'll be a better teacher and, when back in England, you'll appreciate that laptop - even if it doesn't always work

Gemma Meakins is a student teacher in Kent.

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