A few days ago, I was looking to see what movies were playing in the local theater in Korea and I came across a movie called The First Grader that was coming out soon. I clicked the link to the website and watched the trailer.
After watching the trailer, I knew I had to watch it. So I checked iTunes and saw that I could rent the movie. This is a story I remember hearing about a while ago. This is based on a true story of an 84 year old man living in the rural parts of Kenya. He wants to go to school after the Kenyan government announces free education for everyone. He desperately wants to learn to read and enter the 1st grade. There is a lot of opposition and challenges that he faces on his journey. This is a remarkable story of a student and a teacher fighting for the opportunity of education for all. As a teacher, these are the stories that inspire me and remind me of the impact I can make.
Mela is a veteran teacher, who has taught in Alaska, Seoul and Mali. When we worked together as the 5th grade team, I learned so much from her. She shares with us about her journey in teaching in Africa and has some great tips for the international school teacher!
Coup d’état + Evacuation = Virtual School
In 2010 I moved to Sadiola, Mali in West Africa to work at the American International School of Bamako’s satellite campus. It is a small school located at a gold mine ten hours drive from Bamako, Mali’s capital. Mali has been considered to be a fairly stable democracy unlike some of its West African neighbors. Presidential elections were scheduled for April 29th with the current president stepping down. On March 20th we heard news that soldiers had been shooting in Kati. Interesting, but not worrisome. We woke the next morning to news that the presidential palace had been stormed by renegade soldiers, they had taken control and borders were closed. We had some concern, however, life in Sadiola continued as it always had for us, unlike our colleagues in Bamako who had gone virtual and were staying indoors. We were surprised when the mine administration informed us we would be evacuated to Senegal with only ten kilos per person as soon as the borders opened. When the borders closed, supply lines were cut off, which was causing difficulties for the mine’s continued operations. As our spring break was only a few days away, we were able to continue on to the states while we waited to hear when we might return. Although we still don’t know have that answer, we have gone virtual. Virtual schooling has its own challenges, my students not having their texts (remember we all left with only 10 kilos), I have none of my teaching materials, and 10 hour time differences. However, we have high hopes for the reopening of our school. Let the lesson be, no matter how stable or safe a place may seem; the unanticipated may happen.
Tips for personal preparation
Keep your passport and important papers in one place. (We have all heard this before, but have you done this?)
Keep cash (local currency and US dollars/Euros) on hand; enough to buy a plane ticket to a safe place.
Register with your embassy and have their numbers handy.
Check if your school has an emergency evacuation plan.
Think ahead, if you could only take 10 kgs with you, what would you take?
Tips for virtual school
Have your student’s emails/parent’s emails on a flash drive. (Don’t rely on the school server-it may be down.)
Find out expectations before you go. How often are you required to post? Will the school reimburse you for pay sites?
Become familiar with online resources. (Keep a list on a flash drive.) The good news is there is a lot out there. The bad news is there is a lot to troll though, and much of what is out there is not the greatest.
Be flexible. Your students may not have access to a scanner or a printer. How will you handle that?
Lastly, if you are evacuated, talk to your colleagues. Support each other.