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Sometimes Bribes are Worth Offering

Retired Menlo-Atherton High School teacher Margo McAuliffe describes how she gets her students to want to learn and more.

It feels like ages since I last wrote.  I thought I’d have time last week, but either my muse had gone on vacation or I was just too busy and too tired.

 

The students at St Francis are in what’s known as tuitioning, an extra 2 weeks of reviewing material preparing for the last term and then end-of-year exams.  For the form 4’s it is an opportunity to think about what needs to be cranked up before the KCSE.  They have completed a mock KCSE and have now seen there is much to be done.  In the case of math, it’s A LOT!!!

 

As in last year, I stayed at school all night Monday through Thursday so I could teach them in the 7 – 9 evening slot.  Peter Murigi, the deputy, and his wife, Peris, invited me to stay with them in their home on campus. (See photo)  

Past readers may remember I attended their wedding last summer.  I've gotten to know Peter well, as we have discussed a wide range of issues and philosophical beliefs, but Peris is very quiet and I hardly knew her at all, so was a bit nervous about “invading” their lives too much.  However they were very welcoming and I got to know Peris much better.  She is so sweet and did everything to make me comfortable, despite her 8-month pregnancy, which naturally makes her tired.  They're so so cute together, obviously very much in love and such good friends besides.  They are eager for baby to be born and probably share the same jitters that all first-time parents-to-be feel. 

Peter will make a great dad, much more participatory than many other Kenyan fathers.  He has a nice balance of toughness and compassion, such that the students like him and trust him with their pains and issues.  It was he who arranged all the interviews I’ve done, particularly the 2 stories I shared in my last blog.  St Francis is very fortunate to have him, as he provides the father figure that so many of our girls lack. 

Exams ended almost 2 weeks ago on Tuesday (I think — hard to remember even 2 days ago).  Students had Wednesday and Thursday off, then Friday the form 1’s  went home, while the rest prepared for the weeks to come.  During Wednesday and Thursday the girls relaxed, played sports, had Scrabble and chess contests and generally enjoyed just being teenagers off school for a short time.  Basketball and volleyball were the sports of choice, but rope jumping and hula hoops were also popular.  Almost all the women teachers tried their hand (or should I say foot) at jumping rope, which the students enjoyed.

One day I sat in the staff room finishing my project of leaving files of worked out exam problems for the form 4’s when I noticed visitors in front of school.  They looked like Americans, so I went out to see.  Sure enough, they were 4 or 5 people from Michigan who are volunteers supporting a children’s home not far from school, The Safe House.  They had come to SFG to view the baking facilities.  They had come last year, seen and tasted our bread and decided to follow suit in their own place.  Experiencing some oven problems, they came back to ask questions and to view our improvements — we've had problems with our ovens too, had to be rebuilt. 

I enjoyed talking to them and was eager to accept their invitation to visit the home, which I did that very afternoon.  Unfortunately there was a crucial piece on the directions that I missed and I drove all over the area, most of which I had never seen.  I ended up in the dump, which is just that, but with no bulldozers like we have to cover the garbage.  It was plastic bag city!  Never have I viewed such a mess, with wind blowing the bags all over.  ACH!  This place has to ban those damned bags!!!  I try to do my share.  Gave P&P 2 of my cloth bags, one with fruit from the street market, as a house gift when I stayed with them.  Peter is a strong environmentalist and I believe Peris is too, so I think they will use them when marketing. 

I finally had to call Pastor Elijah for directions and at last drove into their large compound, with pastures full of goats and cows, gardens with lots of plantings and very nice buildings.  I arrived along with a big rainstorm, so we chatted on the enclosed porch of Pastor Elijah and his wife Dorcas’s home, sipping sweet Kenyan tea, waiting for a break.  Eventually it came, and we walked to the buildings where the children live, some 30, who were away at school. I got to see their accommodations, which have been recently refurbished, newly painted with nice beds and comfortable looking dining hall.  Most of the funds have come from the church in Michigan, of which my hosts were members.

 In the photo up top are my new friends in front of a wall in the inner dorm compound.  Pastor Elijah and Dorcas are in the middle.  They began this home when he retired and they moved to their large plot of land.  They began taking in orphans and other needy children and have never really been able to retire!  They seem to thrive on what they are doing.  Lovely people. 

One of the other benefits of the involvement of the Michigan church is that all the children are now sponsored in private school, mostly elementary, I believe, but one is in form 4 at SFG. 

Bright and early on Monday morning I arrived to teach whatever was needed.  Several times teachers had appointments conflicting with classes and I was able to fill in.  I also taught 2 form 1’s; one who had come back because she wanted to, and one who had missed taking her exams.  That particular girl had done very badly in math, so we spent a lot of time discussing her paper.  I think we made some progress, but sometimes the form 1’s come with skimpy math skills.  The math teachers expend lot of effort at bringing them up to speed, but some never really get good. 

Every afternoon I went home to shower and eat dinner, to minimize the disruption at Peter and Peris’s house and also to tutor one of the children at  who is a form 1 at SFG.  She had actually flunked math, which shocked me, b/c she had not been an evening visitor in previous years.  I didn’t know she had math issues.  However, over the course of the week we examined her paper and cleared up a lot.  The first time, she told me she didn’t like math and didn’t feel motivated, but by the 3rd day she was asking me to make up problems for her to work on in the evening.  I ended up buying a textbook for her, b/c there are not enough math texts at school for everyone and she had not been issued one.  When school is in session, the students share, but when it’s time to go home, those who were not issued books have nothing to study from during their holiday.  ACH!!!

The first night of form 4 was hard!!!  They really didn’t want to think about math.  I had written Logarithms Demystified on the board, upon walking in, and I could feel the groans.  They’d just completed 2 hard weeks of exams and mostly they wished they could go home.  They’re tired!  I began at step one, “What is a log?”  It’s the question I always ask and as usual, no one knew.  They do now!!!  We beat those logs to death and while I’m under no illusion that they will all get full marks on any log question, I know they will at least try.  Often believing they can do the problems is all that’s necessary - a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Each night we worked on a new topic and by the end of the 2 hours most were feeling a lot more confident. 

The last night we worked on bearing, another feared and hated topic.  I had bought two bags of lollipops, and as one or two began to succeed they were awarded this treasured prize.  By the end of the evening everyone had earned at least 1 lollipop and they were begging for more questions.  I was not fooled by this, they wanted the lollipops, but were willing to work the problems to get them.  Before I left I told them, “No one in the staff room will believe you were begging for more bearing questions!”  But they can do bearing now.  Sometimes bribes are worth offering.

Four nights wasn’t enough time, but I think I accomplished my goal, which was to raise each student math score by at least 10 points (out of 100).  That would be a major accomplishment for them. 

Also that last night Peris and Peter asked me to join them for dinner.  When I arrived at 9 pm, high as a kite from the class, I found not just P&P, but also their 2 faculty neighbors.  One is Patricia, also expecting her first child next February.  She is our longest-staying staff member, teaching English since 2008 and now dean of students.  The other was Mary, new to SFG and teaching biology and CRE (I think).  Both are loads of fun, so it was quite a festive occasion.  Unfortunately, I failed to take a picture.  I just don’t have those photographer instincts!  Peris and Mary had cooked just what I like.  All of them are good friends and have been fun for me to know too.  Mary has a bit of a prickly sense of humor, which I’ve enjoyed.

 

There is much more to tell, but I see I’ve written 4 pages.  Enough is enough!

 

 

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