Review: Teaching in Togo by Katherine M

If you asked the kids at Newton School, they would tell you that I am a fun and energetic teacher. However, I would disagree with them; I am actually just one extra, slightly less pigmented, knowledge-hungry student. I have loved “teaching” at Newton School because I have learned at least as much as I have taught. I have loved the challenge of engaging the students there because each and every one of the kids has potential, creativity, and promise.

My teaching placement in Togo

The kids probably think of me as the fun teacher because I love to teach outside. Playing and learning go together naturally for such athletic, enthusiastic kids. With creativity and a dash of trickery, I doubt the kids have realised how much they learned while playing with me. I’m positive they do not know how very much they have taught me and how terribly grateful I am.

I have had the opportunity to teach both younger and older students. One of my favourite days with the younger crowd was when we practised difficult English vowel sounds. The kids thought they were getting a break from learning when I taught them the game “Duck, Duck, Goose”! It was a huge success and, sneaky me, they didn’t know it helped them practise the “U” and “O” vowel sounds.

Creative teaching

My creativity didn’t end there and neither did the enthusiasm of my students. Instead of writing the ABC’s on paper, we had fun drawing them in the sand. I’d usually arrive early in the morning, so that I could write some words on the board for the kids to see, but I’d stay inside for a maximum of fifteen minutes and the kids really loved me for it.

It was much more fun to teach, for example, prepositions outside. I told them to “run around the tree”, “stand on the bench”, or “hide behind the bush” instead of just writing it on a chalk board. On other days, I was gladly singing the “hokie cokie” to teach body parts, brought in rubber bands to explain stretching muscles, and then ran them up to the roof, while counting stairs, so they could see far away and I could point out new vocabulary words. We counted “three motorcycles”, “one truck”, “two cars”, “ten trees”, “twelve people”, “zero yovos”, and, well, that’s the general idea!

We learned verbs by acting them out and adverbs the same way. We would start at one end of the outside area and I would shout commands as we played, “Skip slowly…stomp loudly… crawl quietly… RUN FAST!” I ran along with the students, fell in the dirt, and skipped until my leg muscles screamed. I wish I could say I was playing dumb for their benefit, but my French is quite poor. The kids ended up pushing themselves to speak English because they wanted to talk to me. In return, I have learned a lot of French.

Teaching older children

A week or two later, I had the opportunity to teach the older kids. They were much better at English and could read and write. First, I brought in a book about Alexander Graham Bell and the students thought of inventions such as flying cars and motorbikes that could turn into cars.

I also brought in a book about George Washington, which they read aloud, and then we talked about independence and leaders. I wanted them to practise speaking even more English that day, so I asked them about dancing and music. Twenty minutes later, I found myself being taught how to dance. They were forced to use English with me to explain the difficult parts, but I think they were just having fun watching me happily make a fool of myself.

A group of students decided to teach me French, which also worked out wonderfully because they had to practise a lot of English to teach me. Another day, with mild hesitation, I brought in two books, one on Abraham Lincoln and the other on Harriet Tubman. Oddly enough, I wasn’t too nervous to say the “s” word, slavery. I told all the students that Barrack Obama really admired Lincoln and that Harriet Tubman, a conductor on the Underground Railroad, was a real hero.

It felt good and healthy to talk openly about that terrible and shameful part of American history. “Everyone is equal,” I said, “My father is a hero because he taught me this.” Many of the students also considered their parents heroes. I fully believe that their parents must be, to encourage them to have such a passion for learning. Then, of course, I ended that day with a fun game of football and singing. In the epic words of Michael Jackson, which, by the way, the kids there love singing, “It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white!”

Leaving my placement

I have really enjoyed teaching at Newton School, but have absolutely loved learning from the kids there. Their positive attitudes and smiles are infectious. I could not have asked for better teachers. I really am as much a student as everyone else.

Togo is wonderful and feels like one big loving family. The kids help each other without being asked and are, for the most part, very well behaved. I love each student so much and, I fear, the only negative part of teaching at that school will be the day I have to leave and say goodbye. I love the kids and I love Togo; but most of all, I am very thankful for everything I have learned.

I have nothing but overflowing gratitude for the Projects Abroad team. I could not have done it without you and I feel tremendously grateful and privileged to be here. Togo, c'est magnifique!

Katherine M in Togo

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This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. To find out more about what you can expect from this project we encourage you to speak to one of our friendly staff.