OK, I spoke too soon. There are definitely 80 kids in most of my morning classes. 80 kids, most of them male, the average age appearing to be in the late teens/early 20s.
Let's look back at the week, shall we?
Wednesday, 8th grade class: I am lucky enough to have the class right after “recess.” Recess is 30 minutes long. I go to class on time, and there are about 40 students in class (in these schools, like the schools in Kenya, students sit in their classroom most of the day and the teachers rotate around). The other 40 students trickle in over the next 20 minutes. I warn them that the next time they come to class late, they will not be allowed into class.
Thursday, 8th grade class: Once again, students show up 20 minutes late for class. True to my word, I refuse to let them in. The 30 or so students who actually showed up on time are amazingly quiet and respectful. The other 50 of them bang on the door and beg to be let in until I barricade it with a desk. I am stupid and allow one kid in who claims he was at the nurse's office. Ten more kids show up behind him with a random assortment of pills, demanding to be let in (“I was with the nurse! See these tablets!”). The second the bell rings (side note: there is actually a bell – a hand bell – which sometimes is rung when class is over, occasionally is rung randomly in the middle of class, and often is not rung at all), 50 kids force open the door and literally leap over the barricading desk into the classroom.
Friday, 8th grade class: Students are so loud that I am forced to yell at the top of my voice to be heard over them. Half of the noise is from bored students chatting and the other half is from students complaining about the noise from the first half. 30 minutes into class I get fed up and almost decide to leave. Instead I threaten to send the next person who speaks out of the class. They continue talking. I pick one random student and force him to leave. They quiet down somewhat. I turn to write on the board and they start talking again. I whip around and pick another random talker to toss out. The students are now silent and start actually copying notes. The two who are thrown out stand by the door looking miserable. I relent, tell them I'll let them in if they're quiet, and let them go back to their seats. The rest of the class passes in blessed quietude.
I'm resigned now to the fact that every day is going to be a struggle to maintain order, and that classes are going to be a lot more autocratic and a lot less interactive in nature than I would prefer. Hopefully, the administration will soon complete the class lists (right now I don't have anything to tell me who is in my classes), and I can use that to organize the students into groups. I do think that I need to divide and conquer – use student leaders to regulate themselves. This will not be easy – there is a great deal of fluctuation with respect to which students actually show up on a given day. But it's certainly worth a shot.
It's tough too because there really isn't that much leverage to get the students to behave. There are just way too many of them to even monitor something simple like who is in the class. With 80 students, there's no good way to give individual attendance points or deduct them for lateness. The only thing I can really see to do is threaten to throw them out of class, and obviously I want them all to be there learning.
I'm wondering if part of the problem as well is that kids just aren't that closely regulated at home or at school. For a lot of them, there has never been anyone saying “Sit down and do this.” As a result, the attention spans of a lot of these students is generally pretty short – the ability of focus in it of itself is an important learned skill, and one that a lot of them have missed out on. Students complain when I give them work to do in class – they want me to give it to them as homework. I suspect this is partially because they frequently copy off of each other. For that reason, and because they also often just don't do the homework, I like to force them to do the work in class. But this is a painfully slow process. At the end of the day, dealing with the students reminds me of a phrase I've heard once or twice -- “like herding cats.”
Anyway, such is life. It's good to be busy in any case, and the students actually are really funny. I'm exhausted at the end of every day, but I'm optimistic. As I mentioned, we've gone back to 3rd-grade-level math in my 7th-grade classes, but with a week of practice, the majority of students can now multiply many-digit numbers by single-digit numbers, and many of them can multiply by double- or triple-digit numbers as well. So progress can occur!
I somehow can't think of any little stories to conclude with today . . . Have I mentioned before that there is a little boy next door named Obama? That family with the 17 children apparently named all of them with O names – we have Otis and Othello, among others, and Obama is the littlest. Unfortunately he's terrified of white people; he starts crying whenever I get close. I'll have to write more about the kids some other day – they're amazingly sweet and funny and incredibly obnoxious by turns. Mostly the former. When it rains, they don't want to get their clothes wet, and so they take them off and play soccer naked in the mud. But more on them later.