I’ve often said that I am not a teacher. Why? Because I am not a teacher. So how did I wind up standing in front of about 40 Wolof-speaking students who were expecting me to teach them French? Good question.

When we first arrived in Senegal, I find out that my friends Jeana and Amanda volunteer at a community center nearby. Once a week they teach arts and crafts to the younger children – about 25 kids in a room the size of… well, whatever the smallest room/biggest closet is in your house.

The children are from a poor community in Dakar and only a fifth of them are able to go to school at all. This center offers them classes for art, music, math, literacy, health care, sports, dance… And it’s such a cool concept whereby staff and volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds – all with the goal is for the children to learn life skills and biblical values such as honesty, responsibility, repentance and forgiveness.

Of course, this all sounded wonderful and I really wanted to come help out occasionally with their arts and crafts class. You know, like a teacher’s aid every third lunar cycle or something.

But then I found out that the center was looking for a French teacher… so I decided to dip my toe in and see if I might possibly be able to help in some way. I went last Monday afternoon, thinking I’d observe how the center was run (wow – very impressed!) and then see if I could fit in somehow in what they are doing.

Yup. That’s pretty much how I wound up teaching two French classes (first a class of about 15 boys and then a class of about 25 girls) on the spot. And I agreed to keep teaching the classes every Monday afternoon.

Don’t be fooled into thinking it was pretty or organized or that the kids learned anything. But for about two hours we went over counting to 100, colors, body parts and some prepositional phrases and verbs. I am forever indebted to the creator of the game ‘Simon Says’ and the person who wrote ‘Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes’.

So I guess I should clarify that while I don’t think the kids learned anything new, I definitely did.

  • Teaching is hard.
  • Staying in control of a room full of kids is challenging.
  • Teachers don’t get pee breaks during class.
  • The kids who know all the answers aren’t always the teacher’s favorites.
  • I need to get some supplies.
  • Teaching a language to students who can’t read or write is going to stretch my creativity.
  • Lesson plans would be a good idea.
  • I don’t really have any idea what a ‘lesson plan’ should include.
  • I need a teacher’s aid – and not just every third lunar cycle.

Fortunately, help is on the way! My cousin arrives in one week and she will be volunteering at the center with me.

I’m sure I’ll be reporting regularly on the adventures of French class, but if in the meantime you want to learn more about the Teen Bi center and how you can help with the classes, click here.

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