This week, a fellow volunteer and I have taken charge of Grade 7, which was left without a teacher when another volunteer finished his two years of service. The Grade 7 learners (the official term for students in Namibia) are fascinating. They have achieved the impossible and are somehow simultaneously outspoken and shy. Eagerly, they shoot their hands into the air and snap for attention. Once they have been called on, then, they cover their mouths with their hands and whisper into their fingers. In total, the group is 38 learners, and this makes fitting into one room a challenge on its own.
Thursday, after identifying an available room with enough chairs for our large group, we continued the week’s topic of poetry. Monday, we had read a passage defining poetry. Tuesday, we had read New Dawn by Tumweneni Nghaamwa and listened to Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou. Actually, my Bluetooth speaker decided to stop working just for the occasion so we listened to me reading Phenomenal Woman over and over again. Wednesday, we defined simile, metaphor, and alliteration. Now, the day had come. For Thursday afternoon, we planned a joint construction activity. For anyone unfamiliar with teacher jargon, joint construction entails the teacher opening the floor to all of the students to write one finished product together. Having outspoken and shy learners puts such an activity at threat level crimson red for danger. Needless to say, it was an experiment. Here, traditional classrooms consist of a teacher who talks and learners who listen. Joint construction challenges these roles.
Thus, I was somewhat nervous. To assist our transition into such experimental teaching, I drafted a short list of rules that we were to follow during the activity. I announced that we would write one poem as a class, and I read my rules. The fifth and final rule explained that we choose the title of our poem by vote, and that the options are: a) The Namibian Sun, b) Our School, and c) Chickens. At this point, the learners’ faces already displayed befuddlement. I hoped for the best, and collected the ballots. The final tally: 25 for Our School and seven for Chickens.
After writing Our School in large chalk letters at the top of the board, I turned to the class.
“Who wants to start? The first line can be anything. Who has an idea?”
Thirty-eight pairs of eyes found their way to the floor, the window, or made reluctant contact with my gaze. But, the room was silent.
After the initial confusion, one young lady raised her hand slowly and snapped her fingers. She quietly provided the first line. “Our school is beautiful.” Then, she sat down abruptly. A few others giggled, and some scoffed in the too-cool-for-school way. However, more hands followed.
Before too long we had four stanzas and 12 lines all together. We did have a problem, though. There were no figures of speech or devices. Having at least one simile, one metaphor, and one alliteration was Rule #4, and I reminded the learners of this. A few remarked under their breath that the poem should be about chickens.
With a little revision, and an awkwardly forced metaphor, we did it. They did it. Thirty-eight Grade 7’s who usually shout over each other in order to be the first to shyly hide their faces in their hands actually took turns and wrote a poem. It isn’t perfect. But, it is exactly what I wanted.
Our School by Grade 7 of Omusheshe Combined School
Our school is beautiful like a flower
Our school is very big and has many trees
Our school’s name is Omusheshe
At our school, we study social sciences and achieve our common goal
At our school, there are a lot of teachers
At our school we are 457
Our school is always participating in sports
Our participation is soft porridge
We eat it every day.
At our school, we have a lot of computers
At our school, we have a tack shop
At Omusheshe, we have good manners