So it’s been a busy couple of weeks since I was able to post last (You have no idea how difficult using the internet can be here!). We had our “culture day” performances on the 7th, and that was a lot of fun. Our dance actually went pretty well and I was relieved that I didn’t screw it up. The dance we taught to the kids was a big hit and the crowd seemed to really love it. Our host familes dressed us all up in Tongan outfits and also made our dance costumes. Mine consisted of a mat which was wrapped around me and then tied. I also wore pieces of fabric with shells glued to them on my wrists and ankles and an elaborate flower thing around my waist. Pele had a similar outfit, though her dress was fabric and decorated with these things made from cassette tape. The guys in our village group wore these things made from leaves- basically just a leaf skirt and that was all. Their dance was also a big hit- a neighbor actually mentioned that people are still talking about it even though it happened about 2 weeks ago! I will try to get some pictures of all that up soon.
Last week we did our technical training, which consisted of teaching strategies, classroom management, lesson planning, etc. It was pretty helpful, (some parts more than others), though it was pretty tedious sitting in the hall from 8:30 to 4:30, especially since the benches are really hard and uncomfortable. By the end of the week, I made sure to run in and snag one of the few plastic chairs so my back wouldn’t be aching by the end of the day.
This week we’ll be doing our practice teaching. We had our first day today and I felt like it went pretty well. I was assigned to teach at St. Josephs, which is the local Catholic secondary school, since apparently the Catholic and Anglican school systems are pretty similar. In Tonga, the school system is different from the US. Almost all of the primary schools are government-run, where they teach grades 1-6 (they are called classes). Students then take a government-issued test in class 6, and their grade on this determines where they can go to secondary school. In general, most of the students who score high on the class 6 exam go to the government-run high schools, which are better funded and generally offer a better education. Students who did not score as well will usually go to the mission schools,though some attend them because of their familie’s church affiliation (like Catholic, Wesleyan, Church of Tonga, etc.). Often these schools will not have any pre-requisite in terms of passing the class 6 exam, and are church-run and often have difficulty with funding, as their school board and PTA have to come up with a large portion of their budget. I was told that at the school I’ll be teaching at, there may be drastically different levels of English skills within the same class, so I will have to try to provide “extension activities” appropriate to these different levels. Classes in Tonga are graded almost entirely on the final test, taken at the end of the year, so the curriculum is very much a “teach the test” approach, which many of the Peace Corps volunteers dislike.
Anyway, since me and Juleigh, one of the other trainees, were both teaching English at the same school, we decided to combine our classes and team-teach our lessons. We had about 25 students once we combined the Form 1 and 2 classes (the American equivalent of 7th and 8th graders). I was happy to see that I knew one of the students, who is Sione’s host brother. We just did an introductory activity and had the students introduce each other. The class was actually pretty well-behaved, but it could get pretty noisy. There was someone hammering outside the entire time and for some reason it would echo and get very noisy. The next day was better in terms of noise level. It was funny because the boys and girls automatically sit on opposite sides of the room. It seems like, on average, the girls know more than the boys, so we are going to try to mix them up tomorrow and see how that works out. Despite how nervous I was to start, I’m finding the practice teaching really helpful in getting to see how the Tongan students act, what level they are at in English, and how to plan the lessons.
Other than the teaching, we’ve been back at language classes. Our language teacher is a Tongan lady named Poli and she is really cool. All of the other trainees are kind of scared of her, because she likes to act like she is really strict, but all of us in her group really like her. She taught me how to do some weaving stuff and how to make flowers out of the weaving grass that people use, and I am trying to make my own kie-kie (which is a sort of belt-thing that Tongan women wear around their waists). I think I am going to have her help me shop at the market in Nuku’alofa too- I have no idea how to buy fresh fish.
Today I bought a cheap chinese-shop snorkel today, and I am hoping to go snorkeling this weekend. I also learned that the school I will be teaching at, St. Andrews, will be having their graduation on the same weekend that I will be back in Tongatapu for my attachment (when we stay with another volunteer). So I’m hoping I will be able to attend that and meet the staff, and even possibly see my house (I’m keeping my fingers crossed for that one)! I’m really excited to finally get to my site and start to getting situated. Only three more weeks of homestay!