In March 2017 I was Head of PE in Penyrheol Comprehensive, Swansea, now March 2018 finds me celebrating St David’s Day with an outdoor assembly in the sun in Paray Primary School, Thaba Tseka, Lesotho, Africa.
When I applied for early retirement a year ago, I intended to work as a fitness and running coach. Although after 33 Years as a PE teacher, the challenge of doing something different, using my teacher skills and experience to help in a developing country did appeal to me. In 2010-11 I was involved in a Sports Inspiration Project working with schools in Indonesia and thoroughly enjoyed the experience especially the interaction with teachers and children from a totally different culture, I said I wanted to repeat it.
The circulation of the Dolen advert for teachers to work in Lesotho, couldn’t have been better timed, it was July, I was clearing out my office, attending retirement functions and still deciding what to do with my life. After speaking to Mandy in Dolen, encouraged by my family I applied. After a successful interview in September, Autumn was spent preparing; attending training courses, volunteering in various Primary Schools to gain some primary teaching experience and shopping for resources, clothes and gifts. I don’t think any amount of preparation could have prepared me.
In January I said my good byes and set off for my adventure feeling both excited and very apprehensive about the next five months. Luckily I am part of a team and have the support of my two Welsh colleagues Sion and Vicki.
What is my week like in Paray?
Monday to Wednesday - I spend in Paray Catholic Primary School,
Setting off at 7ish for the 20 minute uphill walk to school, often I feel like the Pied Piper as when I arrive I have trail of children walking behind me in their maroon and yellow uniform, topped with their matching Lesotho style hats or bennies. The day starts in the Principal’s office with prayers which include some lovely singing. I find it a good form of meditation to start the day. School assembly is a highlight of the day for me, all the pupils lined up in their classes outside, in silence except for the sound of running footprints of the late comers. Prayers are led by a different Grade each week. My favourite part is the marching, the whole school sing a song and then march off one grade at a time to their classrooms still singing. Looking at their faces they are all in the zone singing, what an amazing way to start the day, it puts me in a good mood.
My timetable involves visiting all grades during the week, leading the lessons, team teaching and supporting small groups. I have taught a variety of topics, Phonics Maths, English, Art lessons, trying to include some interactive activities in every lesson. I really enjoying reading stories and singing songs with the younger pupils. I was so pleased to be asked to teach Long Jump to Grade 6 last week. We set up 8 mini long jumps to accommodate a class of 85 pupils, everyone was engaged trying to improve their jumps and teach each other. The challenge is definitely the class sizes they range from 34 to 85.
My base is the Library and when I am not teaching and at lunchtime, heads pop around the door calling ‘ Mme Alyson’ and they wander in to read books or to just say hello. At the end of the day sometimes they don’t want to go home.
The walk home is similar, I often have a group of children accompanying me, the older ones give me Sesotho lessons, they are being very patient with me. My favourite conversation was with a girl about making a cell phone out of a piece of cardboard. At times the walk home has been in a thunder storm, watching the lightening over the hills.
Ash Wednesday Mass- Paray Primary is a catholic school next to the Church. The whole school attended 10am mass including the preschool. I felt proud to be a teacher in the school, the behaviour of the pupils was excellent during the two-hour service. I was not prepared for the singing, Grades 5, 6 and,7 led the mass conducted by the Grade 7 teacher. It was like being in a professional concert, the harmonies were incredible especially when the congregation joined in. The whole experience was amazing.
Athletics Practice. This was unlike any of mine in Wales I was so impressed. All of Grade 4,5,6 and 7 walked 15 minutes to the playing fields accompanied by teachers and students. The 100, 200 and 400m practice took place on a very rough stony grass. They ran in their school uniform, some in school shoes, many in bare feet. No one complained or moaned they just got on with it. It is a pleasure to see how naturally the majority run, so relaxed and effortless.
Next day, prepared with my running kit and trainers (I’m a softy I can’t run in my school shoes and dress), I joined in with the long-distance run. It was organised like an army run, 200 pupils in lines with an older boy at the front running back and fore across the lines setting the pace. We ran down a road into the valley up and down the hill. I ran with the girls, singing songs to take their mind off the hills, they loved the interaction and encouragement of a female teacher. Thirty minutes later we arrived back. I am sure some of the older pupils could have repeated the run, others found it challenging but still keep going. We have the Thaba Teska District Athletics Competition next, I hope Paray do well.
Watch out 3M’s running club, I have some new ideas for training when I get back in June.
St David’s Day - We had fun week of Welsh themed craft and singing and poems learning about Wales. Grade 7 enjoyed their first taste of rugby, they want me to play with them every lunch time. We celebrated on March 1st with an assembly led by Grade 7, each grade presenting the activity they had completed during the week. The children marched off to class singing the ‘Bore Da’ song. I also had fun making the paint and preparing the activities and learned facts about Wales I didn’t know.
The activities included singing Mr Hapus, making a field of Daffodils with potato prints and Daffodil finger painting. We painted a Welsh Dragon and leeks, read Dragon poems and retold the story of Beddgelert with actions ‘Pie Corbet’ style, designed Love Spoons and made a graffiti wall with facts about Wales. I think we celebrated more than some Welsh Schools as their St David’s Day was cancelled due to snow.
What a difference in a year!