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The Tuitioning Begins

Retired Menlo Atherton math teacher Margo McAuliffe triumphs in teaching the form two students how to factor trinomials, and laments the cultural practices that pluck girls from the classroom.

Wednesday, August 3

It was agreed with Alfred, principal of Archbishop Ndingi, that I would do two weeks of tutoring with form 1 and form 2 boys who are not doing well in math. Yesterday was day 1.

It was the form 1’s first and I was astonished at how young they look!! Nonetheless they were attentive and eager, if a bit shy in the beginning. They had seen me around the school but I had never taught them and they didn’t know who I am. In the almost two hours we worked no one fidgeted nor spaced out that I could see.

At first they had trouble with my “accent”, but not nearly as much as I have, with the fact that they speak so quietly. You can see they are good looking, nice kids, who just have not connected with math. (See photos attached.)  But I think we made progress that first day because four more joined us today. Definitely a good sign.

The form 2’s were a different bunch. They arrived clearly not wanting to be there. As we began “revising” their end-of-term exam, no one was responding, except, of course there will eventually be someone who is too uncomfortable. I waited for that someone and as a few others began to respond, the ice began to melt. 

It became clear to me pretty quickly that they didn’t understand positive and negative numbers. As it dawned on me what they were missing and I began to explain it, it was like the lights went on. It took about 15 minutes, but then they were totally on-task for 1 ½ hours.  It was a thrill to see that transformation!

In two days they’ve moved from no understanding of positive/negatives to about half of them able to factor pretty hard trinomials. The rest can do easier ones. I took this picture today (see attached photo). It makes me so frustrated that the Kenyan curriculum teaches pos/neg by using a number line, which is very confusing. It’s an easy concept.

When I finished I scooted home for two reasons.  One is that lunch is githeri, a mixture of beans and maize, which Kenyan’s love, but which gives me a tummy ache. The other has to do with my knees, which are better, but still not strong, and the fact that the facilities at Ndingi are not modern--squatters, not sitters! Can’t do squatters! Other than that I’m loving working with the boys which I haven’t done at all this year. 

At home I had my luncheon favorite--peanut butter sandwich. Even here in Naivasha I can find PnB with no sugar and no stabilizers.  Just as I was finishing my phone rang. It was Cecilia Gatua, one of the very first teachers I met way back in 2005. She was here in Naivasha, from Narok, where she now teaches math to Maasai girls. In 10 minutes she was in my little house, with her mother and 3 children--all darling. 

Narok is on the way to Masaai Mara, so far from here, and she isn’t even within Narok town, but way out in the rural area of Masaailand.  The people are still very into their culture, so 99% of the girls have had FGM, despite the fact that it’s outlawed by the government.  It’s done quietly by old women, under unsanitary conditions, with all the incumbent problems, but she says the girls want it,  even look forward to it, because this is how they celebrate her entrance into womanhood. 

Girls suddenly vanish from school, having been given to some old guy (she says sometimes 70 years old) or she becomes pregnant.  The man claims her, gives the family a blanket and maybe a goat, and she becomes his wife, servant, water-carrier, wood gatherer and all the rest. This occurs sometimes as young as 13!  She says education is not understood nor valued, but she has worked hard to reverse this. 

None of the 4 math teachers I met that summer is still at Ndingi.  Regina is now at another high school, just beyond the borders of extended Naivasha; Simon is now a chief (see #10); and Ignatious, who was a refugee from Ruwanda, has moved on--didn’t pick up where.

As you see from the picture, we had tea with peanut butter bread and zesta (jam) for the children as we chatted. Cecilia’s mom is a lovely lady, who understands English enough to follow along. Lynette (left, looking at the camera) understands everything. She was writing on my little dry-erase board (which all the kids love), while Lee (front, looking at mom) was not so able. Michelle (after our first lady!) is 2 ½ and a charmer. She loves her sho sho, whom they had come to visit. 

I called Simon, the chief, and asked whether he was free; I wanted to come visit. We piled into the car and went up the road, past SFG to his district. There he was waiting for us outside his newly refurbished office, smiling his beautiful, happy smile. He had figured out I was bringing Cecilia. They hadn’t met since she moved to Narok, 4 years ago. It was a lovely reunion, and we’ve now planned to meet for lunch tomorrow, with Regina joining us. I’m so pleased, as I felt very close to the 3 of them and was so sad as that great group drifted apart. 

 

(to be continued - SEE #23)

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