Last year, only 25% of Saint Augustine students who took their ordinary level GCE test passed the mathematics portion. On top of that, some students who come into the school do not read very well. On top of that, a passing grade is 50%. On top of that, most students think that math is difficult. The low academic standards, the perceived difficulty of the subject I teach, and a general sense that some students aren't striving for excellence but rather are satisfied with "good enough" have all been recent sources of frustration for me.
What am I supposed to do? I am here to teach mathematics, but will I be effective? Will my students actually learn anything from me? Do they even care?
A talk with fellow LMH-er Ryan Martin, and a talk with MDA-er Ellen Dailor, helped pull me out of my funk. Ryan reminded me of what we had learned during formation in the Spring, that what was most important about our mission was how I do my job, the attitude and the example I set, not the results. Dr. Ellen Dailor reminded me that this kind of work is incremental, often building upon other's prior work, as well as laying the groundwork for those to come after us. What we do is built brick by brick. (Rome, or rather St. Elizabeth's Hospital and Cardiac Center in Shisong, wasn't built in a day, was the essence of her point.)
Of course that is true! I am teaching these children in the middle of their academic careers, after they have been formed, for ill or for good, by their parents and their previous teachers. I also won't be the last teacher they have, and it is my job to prepare them for life, and for their future learning. Still, when a student turns in a test she worked very hard on, and gets a big fat "0/100" in return, it can be disappointing for the student and the teacher.
So, I am trying to face the challenges ahead with a fresh attitude, looking to teach the students that need remedial work what they need while providing a challenge to the students who "get it." And in the meantime, my love and kindness or lack thereof will teach the students way more than any of the math we go over in class. THAT is a humbling thought, because it is very easy for me to become frustrated with teaching, or teaching in Cameroon, or teaching Math in Cameroon. I need to remember that my students deserve my best and that I need to try to persevere and perform well the task at hand.