Meryl Ironson is visiting with several schools this summer… follow her as she connects students across two continents!
Whoever said that teenagers were lazy did not meet the crew of teenagers that came to South Africa! It was so impressive how these kids painted, taped, scraped, washed our rollers and brushes, and rags, tarped and cleaned. They unloaded books, sorted and stacked, dragged, pulled and lugged twice their weight, shifted and arranged.
They tackled unknown waters like teaching lessons for Zuurbekon students and speaking in front of crowds of people. They stretched their own levels of patience and responsive stamina as they listened to lengthy speeches, listened to more lengthy speeches and experienced a 3 hour church service. They met South African children and; read to them, hugged them, twirled them, listened to them and fell in love with them. They met South African teenagers and sang with them, spoke to them, played “pattern” with them, gave them books and discovered a commonality that I don’t think any of them knew existed. They developed empathy for those who have less, for those who work for what we take for granted and, after speaking to each one of them, I learned that they developed an appreciation for education!! Yahoo!!
In addition to working hard, we were able to tour areas of South Africa. Being able to stand on the steps of government buildings where Mandela once stood, and being able to look over the treetops of Pretoria was incredible exciting—we felt that just by being there, we were able to peek into the county’s history.
We were incredibly lucky to have built in tour guides as well; Henry and Shedrock, our drivers, provided a wealth of information about the areas that we visited from a historic standpoint as well as a current one. Even though I had visited some of these places before, I was able to take a breath and see the sites with a new, more experienced pair of eyes. I have a feeling that even if I went back to some of these historic towns ten times, I would learn something new each time.
After we presented the 2nd annual Poetry Anthology; Teaching Minds, Reaching Hearts, at our Bragg School/Randfontein Primary Celebratory Assembly, we distributed the books to those children who participated by submitting poetry. Two of the boys in my grade 7 class were so incredible thrilled to have become “published authors” that they spent the whole day carrying their anthologies around, showing their printed poems to anyone who would stand still long enough to read them. I asked them to autograph my copy as well!!
It was such a joy for me to see how excited the children were to have their thoughts and feelings, expressed through poetry, highlighted for all to see. Once more, I am reminded of how similar the South African students are to the United States students substantiating that; “kids are kids” wherever they live. My students in the United States responded in the same fashion. Running around, showing their names and poems to their friends, carrying their anthologies around all day in the hopes that someone would ask to see it! Just the thought of it, makes me smile because what we were witnessing was pure and simple, pride.
I feel as though Randfontein Primary School is now my “second” home…actually, my school away from school! It was such a thrill to be able walk into the classrooms and to be greeted so warmly by the learners and the teachers I truly felt at home. I was lucky enough teach grades 4-7 during my stay.
We focused on poetry, writing, heart mapping and the reading of some of my favorite short stories for the enhancement of reading comprehension. In addition, the teachers and I shared many a cup of “red bush” tea as we discussed the challenges and joys of teaching. We found that although there are many differences in our methodology, there are more similarities than even we could have imagined….the frustration of simultaneously working with multiple levels is often offset by the joys of inspiring and being inspired by our students.
Unfortunately, the teacher strike had just begun during our visit and the key issues are still not resolved as of the writing of this blog. When we arrived, strategically late, the gates were locked, the doors were shut and there was a quiet calm hovering about a school that is usually alive with the laughing and scurrying of happy voices. The scary part of this strike is that there are threats and violence associated with the negotiations between the teachers and the 5 unions that represent them. Kendall and I felt as though we did our part by teaching so that the teachers could confer with Bernadette during the tense times of the day.