Getting schooled..

The Arusha Integrated Primary School is gracious enough to give me 40 minuets six times a week to teach their kids hygiene and first aid. I’ve taken the liberty to translate that class title to “Health Class.”img_20161123_184227.jpg

Health topics like hygiene, first aid, diseases, or body systems are covered under their Science Class. So my Health Class is a new course with no established curriculum. I apparently have free reign to teach what I see fit as a professional nurse (as they say). The ambiguous challenge of deciding what to teach has been welcome though intimidating.

My first class session with my two classes, Class 5 and Class 6, was a lesson on proper hand washing. Thankfully it was well received though they may have thought I was silly. You’d be surprised how easy it is to fill 40mins of class time with “Here’s how and why we wash our hands.”

After that class I was absent because of the immigration issues, then no class during midterms, then my grandmothers funeral, and I finally resumed teaching in mid November.  I have shifted my focus from explaining basic methods of body cleaning, though we will come back to the topic. I had some time to evaluate the existing science curriculum and knowledge of the kids and I found I wanted to start with the basics. Like the basics of life. Start small and work big.

So the two weeks of this semester that I actually spent in front of the kids, I taught an intro to human anatomy and physiology (a&p) starting with cell a&p. I go back and forth with myself with how much detail to provide, but I am excited to work my way up from cells to tissues, organs, and systems. And to drive it all home I’ll mix in real world application with first aid relevant to the topic: Here’s what bones are and do! Here’s what you do if your friend breaks his arm! I am looking forward to next semester when I’ll have the classes for about 10 weeks of curriculum. For now they can stew over the holiday break about human cells and bacteria cells.


The small school is a perfect example of your stereotypical African school. An “L” shaped building strung with dilapidated classrooms surrounding a field of dirt. Each room holds a class of a certain “grade” and provides the high energy kiddos with simple wooden desks and chairs, a chalkboard, cement floors, and open windows.

I teach Health to Class 5 at the end of each school day. The 30-35 kids around the of age 9 have a lot of energy. Class 6 is even bigger with close to 40 kids around age 11 or 12. This class is tough because I only teach them Mondays and Tuesday (though hopefully all four days next semester), we’re in a darker stuffier room, and they are angsty preteens who don’t want to listen to their new teacher who doesn’t carry a willow switch.

My Class 5 between lessons. Us volunteer teachers read/lesson plan in the back of this room between lessons because it’s the only room with a cross breeze (windows on both sides).

I just found out Monday that what I thought would be a full week of class before our finals, is actually just two days of class because of a state test. That boiled down the content I’d be able to eek in before the break. Then yesterday I got to school for my 2 and 2:40 classes and there was chaos in the yard with desks and chairs being built into forts and all the kids running around after having a send off for Vanja, as it was her last day teaching.

Games to say goodbye to Vanja
The desks are outside for “cleaning”








Then Sule, the teaching director, said I could just take a break from Class 6 because their classroom was being cleaned for tomorrow’s big Class 4 exam, but I should stay and teach my Class 5. I did as he said and had my review lesson for Class 5, once they settled down.

No skin off my back, but I guess the last 7 questions of the final are extra credit now for Class 6 since I was about to teach them anew content about bacteria cells. We take things one day at a time here as volunteers.

There is a lot about volunteering as a teacher at this primary school that is “interesting.” Here is some more of it:

  • It’s a private school in English medium so English should be spoken always to improve the kids’ skills. That’s great for language learning, but it’s very clear other content frequently gets lost in translation.
  • Though it’s a private school it’s very low budget. The school is in barely adequate repair, and the kids school supplies consist of backpacks, notebooks and pens.
  • Textbooks are occasionally seen and usually only in the hands of teachers as they prepare their lessons. And by textbook I mean these interesting books on different subjects geared to each Class/Grade. I can’t seem to find reference to the publisher, Adamson, on the internet and the latest edition is 2011.
    A book Johanna uses… the subject is a tough one to teach from the chalkboard.

    I could talk for an hour about how woefully inadequate these book’s composition and content are. Think of taking a bunch of sciencesque  subjects, writing a page or two about each in at times questionable English, adding a bunch of drawings, and then shuffling the subjects into a book. Tad-dah.

  • The only information the kids receive is copied from the chalkboard or heard in class. None of them have their own books. Basically, if it doesn’t get scrawled across the chalkboard, the kids don’t learn it.
  • Tests are held every month, midterms, and semester finals, as well as a bunch of other times apparently. A passing grade is 50%, and the teachers don’t bat an eye at only a quater of the class just clearing that score.
  • “Some kids are just slow learners.” Was a sentiment Vanja received often from her fellow Math teachers. The few kids who really get the content are supposed to “help” the others learn. This translate to everyone copying each others work, rather than asking the teacher for clarification.
  • Tea or porridge is served each day at 10-10:30a. Lunch sometime between 1p and 2p and the kids line up to head home at 3:20p.
  • The kids wear brown and orange uniforms in a wide range of repair or disrepair.
  • “Teechah, Teechah” is constantly heard in the classroom and beyond, sometimes followed by an ernest question, a huge, or chaotic laughter.
  • Willow switches are a thing. And with them hitting hands and legs of students for various reason. That’s a whole other post…
  • As far as I know the kids enjoy school, though some more than others just like in America.

I’ll have much more to say of the nuances of my teaching here again in January when the terms starts up again, and then when we go to Mugumu in April. Thanks for reading!

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