This may or may not surprise some of you (given the drivel you’ve been treated to over the past few weeks, it will probably surprise you), but I am a fully qualified English Language Teacher. Shocking considering I have the grammar of a disabled seven year old and have think that anyone with a southern accent is trying to sell me some sort of second hand car. Despite this, for our first month in Afrika, we have been teaching at an amusingly named local primary school; The Holy Childhood Primary School (Ridiculous), shaping young minds, moulding the leaders of tomorrow etc etc. They don’t fanny around with CRB checks, ohhh no, one look at our pasty skin and Ben’s Oxford twang got us thrown to the front of the class faster than you could say ‘Child Protection’.
Holy Childhood (you don’t get used to the name, its one their books and everything, preposterous!) is not like Manor Park Primary School, Knutsford. Partly because it forms part of a Catholic Nunnery, which means about a third of the teaching staff are Nuns, which has led to some terribly awkward chats about religion in the staff room, (none of us go to church, and Burley and myself have been baptised and still don’t go to church, heathen bastards) but at least it takes office romance well and truly off the table. Added to this, the kids are unnervingly obedient (think Damien from the first Omen film, except without, you know, the devil bit), the day begins with an 8 assembly which sees the children (about 200 of the little nippers) line up in military-esque precision, do a spot of chanting (At ease, attention, at ease, so forth and so forth) before marching to class in a manner which Manor Park’s teachers could only dream of.
Keeping a class of 40 kids interested in education and the English language is a tough task, and one which I gave up on within 30 seconds of starting my first lesson. The English ability of the kids isn’t really good enough for extensive conversation; they still say ‘Good Morning’ in the afternoon, and claim that they drive to school every day, I’m getting sick of their lies. I’ve never taught a class of more than 15 before, and as a result my lessons are chaotic, often unplanned and usually end up with at least one kid in tears, (which inevitably means someone else is pissing themselves laughing). I got my favourites of course, little Felix has got free reign over my lessons, purely because he pulls fantastic facial expressions and slaps himself in the face when I ask him a question, I caught him stealing watches the other day but he got away with it cuz all he had to do was throw his arms and pull a mongish expression about and I was putty in his hands. My former English Language Tutor would be horrified to discover that lesson plans are usually cobbled together on the school bus on the way to school at the very earliest, or occasionally in the twenty minutes before lessons kick off at 8 20. The result of this is a hell of a lot of hangman, charades and other such games used excessively to fill those awkward moments (well minutes) were I have forgotten to plan anything. These kids are so lucky to have us.
Fridays at Holy Childhood are a completely different kettle of catholic, Fridays are Sports Days, and sports days are bloody mental. Because we are neither nuns nor elderly alcoholics (as another third of the teaching staff appear to be), we are also default PE teachers, and therefore took charge of the most brutal football match I have ever seen. The ball was rock hard. The tackles were harder. In the two-hour battle, stoppages were exclusively for goals, even a five minute goal mouth scramble which featured a number of red card offenses and conclude with the goalkeeping face-planting the post so hard it fell over did not warrant a whistle, though the ‘keeper did get a warm round of applause and a healthy dose of concussion for his contribution. It aint Fifa 2010, I’ll tell you that for free, most of the kids twat the ball in whatever direction they happen to be facing, but the effort they put in is enough to put certain premiership footballers to shame (Dimitar ‘Half-time Fags’ Berbatov to name but one)*. The schools attitude to sport is one I appreciate however, the girls don’t play sport, they watch the boys play their football and occasionally do some bizarre aerobics routine when God lets the nuns have the afternoon off, if you mention the idea of Women’s Football round here you’d get a frown and a slap.
This last week has marked the end of the school term and with that the end of our time at Holy Childhood, the children sat their exams (my boys in Class 3 did pretty well considering that neither hangman nor charades featured in the English exam), and we had a whole day Parent’s Day to mark the end of term. During the whole-day festivities, the classes took it in turns to ‘entertain’ an increasingly confused audience, the highlight was a 15minute play which tackled such child-friendly issues as domestic abuse, under-performing students and drunkenness in the workplace, the laughs were few and far between, but fortunately the mood was lightened by the reciting of dozens of Swahili one-liners by some other children, which only added to my confusion at the whole affair.
Despite my constant mocking and belittling of the children the five weeks we have spent at the Holy Childhood Primary School have been great fun and I will miss the kids and their constant fascination with my facial hair. (I will not miss, however, the fact that all the teachers consistently got me and Ben confused, all white boys do not look the same.) We do plan to go back for a day after the Christmas holidays (and maybe a couple of sports days, there’s something oddly hilarious about a kid kicking another kid in the head), but I am sad to report that our teaching days in Tanzania are over, whether or not the kids learnt anything it is hard to say, judging by the chorus of ‘good mornings’ we still receive at all hours I’d say they have learnt bugger all. But what they have learnt they are saying in a delightful north Cheshire accent, which will stand them in great stead of course.
*My criticism of Dimiatar ‘Five-Goal’ Berbatov was written before he single-handedly destroyed Blackburn, I apologise to him and the Bulgarian nation as a whole. Though they are shifty.