Notes from the Field: Tlokweng Junior Secondary School

How is it almost April?! Before I left, people would often say to me, “How are you going to make it five months, away from home? Away from Jerry?” I’d always reply that five months really isn’t that long of time period (I was however very concerned about the Jerry part). Time has been something I’ve thought about a lot while in Botswana. I’ve had more time to do things that are so fulfilling, and yet I’ve had days that seem to go on forever and just won’t end. Time is a funny thing. Now that I’ve wasted everyone’s precious time talking about stinkin’ time, why don’t I get to the point of this blog post. I’m nearing the end of my school visits! For a few days this week, I visited my first junior secondary school. Not only was it my first experience interacting with younger students, but it was also monthly exam time so I was able to view that in its entirety.

Tlokweng (pronounced Clockweng) JSS is only a fifteen minute drive from my house. I’ve actually driven by it often as my Setswana teacher lives just five minutes beyond its white fences. Its a “smaller” school that houses some 600 Form 1 (12-13 years old), Form 2 (14-15 years old) and Form 3 (15-16 years old). Cell phones are not allowed but as I heard during their Wednesday morning assembly, they are “still a problem.” Four have been collected this week alone. I highly suspect that many of the customs I observed in senior secondary schools are also prevalent in junior secondary schools (at least from what I observed at this one). I was paired up this week with the head of the humanities (English, Setswana and Social Studies) department. This also happened to be her last week of teaching, like ever. She was counting down the hours until she could begin her new business adventures. She, like so many of the wonderful teachers I’ve come to know, took me under her wing (and took me to her home for a sweet bologna and cheese sandwich plus a hot chocolate–insert dancing emoji!!) and enthusiastically told me about how they do things in her school. I discussed teaching, the Fulbright program, differences in American and Botswana systems of education and even got to mark some exams (I DON’T MISS GRADING—I REPEAT, THIS IS ONE ASPECT OF TEACHING I DO NOT MISS WHILE BEING IN BOTSWANA!!!!). Check out the other notes below:

-Social studies is (thankfully) required in junior secondary schools. It is a mix of everything–history, geography, economics, and government. They have four SS teachers and like senior secondary schools, are on a college type schedule (2 hours of teaching a day, constant rotation, etc). Have I mentioned that this is a dream schedule? Billie Jo–can we make this our schedule? PRETTY PLEASE WITH A CHERRY ON TOP?

Teacher’s timetable at school. Every teacher has a different schedule which makes needing substitutes non-existent. Other teachers just fill in for each other.

-As teachers move from classroom to classroom and not students, most work from rooms crammed with many other teachers of various subjects. This would be great except if you put me in a room with Haasis, Sanda, Cummins, Sandstrom, Stephenson, Butche, Whelan, Andres, Niedzielski and the rest of the gang at Moose Lake High, I would never get work done. Emphasis on NEVER. I don’t know how teachers do it here.

Teacher desks in the work room

-Tlokweng JSS is part of a cluster group. There are about eight schools in the area that will get together at the beginning of every new term to review their curriculum guides. How far did you get in your syllabus? What should our objectives be? Cluster schools also take the same exams and spend lottttts of time analyzing scores. Working in clusters is a way, teachers told me, to increase their marks. It helps teachers know what others are doing and stay competitive.
-Tlokweng is like many schools, very challenged in resources. They have just a few books per class so they don’t use them regularly. Instead, they use packets to share information with students.
-Morning assemblies regularly happen at schools and are often led by students. This is a time for announcements, prayers and lots of singing. Students are divided into “houses” and have house colors. Royal blue was the house color that I adopted into–how lucky is that? Royal blue is also one of my school colors. So pumped I got to rock the royal blue skirt on Wednesday. Even more pumped it fit!

Morning assembly time!

-It was exam week at school. I have definitely expressed my opinion on exams in previous posts but if you can’t read between the lines–I’m not a fan. Each month, students spend an entire week taking exams in every single one of their courses. These exams are in prep for their final ones which weigh heavy on students, parents, teachers and schools. The social studies exams were an hour but I heard announcements for an exam that would take THREE hours. Twelve year-olds are taking THREE hour exams? I know students back in the US are also subjected to exams of this length

March’s SS exam (80 pts)

but I continue to question their validity and purpose. As I spent nearly two hours grading an entire exam for a class, two students had a 60 percent. Everyone else was far below. Why do governments (US or Botswana) believe that a paper and pencil test demonstrate ultimate knowledge? I NEED THIS ANSWERED, please. I’m all for students demonstrating their knowledge, I’m just curious if this is actually the best way to do it? (PS. I was a good test-taker, I firmly believe that doesn’t make me a “smart” person.)
-Because it was exam week, the campus was a ghost town. Students were busy studying or writing their exams. It was eerily quiet.
-Tlokweng is technically a village just outside of Gaborone’s limits. It’s actually just minutes from the border crossing and their Kgosi (chief) keeps his office on the Tlokweng campus in a really cool rondavel. I had the opportunity to meet him. What a cool connection for the school!

The Kgosi’s Office

I’m going back to where I started, time. This week is flying by and I’m headed to Bahurutshe Cultural Village with my running club this weekend. I’m so pumped! Next week is my last week visiting classes and then it is officially in high drive mode—writing, creating and wrapping things up. If anyone is super bored in their classrooms and wants to fill time with my non-stop chatter, let me know–I’d love to do a Google Hangout or Skype!

Happy (almost) Friday people!

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