So to my friends who have no idea how an idiot like me ended up in Lesotho – here is the history. Then to follow it this week’s update.
Retirement is fun, fulfilling and wonderful, but also a little scary. Everyone says that you can plan for retirement but in my mind I don’t think you can. The three best bits of advice I’ve had came from an old friend Roger who said he sometimes felt that his whole social life was with people his own age after a staffroom career of no generational differences. My brother in law Ashley also told me that the winter’s days were long. Lastly a colleague Moira told me that you knew when you were ready.
In May I knew I was tired, wanted to finish and just go, so September after 37 years I was finishing. I knew I wanted to do something different and stay active and feel a sense that I still had worth. Greg my old Pennanians rugby buddy e mailed me recently saying he wished he’d done something similar. He nailed it. All my life I’ve been wishing I’d been on an adventure, taken a risk in my career. I’d regretted the fact that when young Claudia and I got straight into the house, mortgage treadmill and not tried VSO.
Dolen Cymru have for years sponsored visiting teachers going to Lesotho and working in a variety of educational environments. I’d heard about it through Claudia, when she went to see a friend teach out here in 2007. The chance came up and I took it. It’s teaching in a hilltop primary called Thaba Tsekha three days a week, another remote hillside school called Loti every Wednesday with an additional brief of working with the Principal, (who has visited Welsh schools) action plan. Lastly a day working collectively in the local College of Education lecturing for three hours to students on Education in general, and Primary Teaching skills in particular.
My two colleagues are the best. One like me has retired from secondary education – but in her case early. The other is an excellent primary practitioner, young, enthusiastic, with a whole career path in front of her.
We get on. Help each other when moody or feeling we miss home. We work together on projects and lessons. I have learnt so much in 5 weeks I honestly feel I’ve had a new lease of enthusiasm in my life.
This week has been the change week. For the first time I have felt that I am making a difference to maths teaching. People are using methods that I have modeled. Resources that a friend called Carol has given me are now in full play in the schools. Teachers and both principals are kindly saying that their staff value what is being done. It’s genuinely refreshing to see children light up with a smile as they understand something, or when you praise them.
Separately, we had a ball in the local college taking them through ideas and resources and strategies for Numeracy teaching. Students were thin on the ground, maybe 30 as there is a strike but along with the 6 lecturers I think they came out having had fun, having got some ideas and maybe having understood some mathematics.
I guess the biggest challenge has been the fact that Basotho teachers think that you are an expert in all subjects. This week I was challenged by Vicki, my primary colleague to deliver a Pie Corbett version of the story “Gelert” which we hope to integrate into the St. David’s Day celebrations. Out of my comfort zone would not begin to describe sketching out pictures of the story and then delivering the story with actions. I’ve been asked to do finger painting with grade 1 and painting portraits with grade 5. Thank God for e-mail and Claudia who is full of ideas at home. That said I have honestly never had so much fun. Singing songs like Heads shoulders knees and toes, 12345 once I caught a fish alive, doing actions for Gelert, taking a class on rates and measuring flow rate or speed as a practical with 70 kids.
Wednesday I arrive in Loti at 7 to take their Grade 7 children through a walk through assessment. These kids walk up to 5 miles but they are all there. School is fun in both institutions. I’m still teaching chess and helping read at lunchtimes. Every week there is a new astonishing find.
Assemblies, which are outside, allowing a little girl the chance of her monologue where she had taken over the mantle of a proper noun, explaining who she was, how she worked. Another where four grade 6 children acted out the story of the “Wisdom of Solomon”. Imagine my horror when the first thing I heard was “oh no my baby is dead” – it took me a few minutes to get up to speed with what was happening. I’ve seen kids bring guitars and play them. There seems nothing special in that, until you realize that they have made these from planks of wood and bits of metal. Yes they were in tune! The most astonishing was a session of warm up athletics where the whole school were in a co-ordinated group slow warm up, jog easy jog. Patterns interweaving as the classes snaked in differing directions and gradually after some 30 minutes interwove again for the warm downs. Smiles, beams as they just enjoyed the sheer beauty of their surroundings and the joy of exercise and freedom. No sick-notes everyone, from all shapes and sizes took part.
Outside our work , which is hard we are loving the sheer expanse of the area. Walking to school, our weekend hike and talking with locals. On Thursday evening we were fortunate to experience our first African sunset. The sort you read about as a child. I love this country and this opportunity. Claudia said, “you sound really happy”. I am – it’s lovely to be able to feel that my teaching career is finishing with me having a genuine smile on my face.
Ok I’m sure it’s been a little boring, but I guess it puts why I’m here in context.