Creating a positive classroom culture and effective classroom management skills

Classroom culture is a concept the education world focuses on because we are taught that the culture built in a classroom will promote a positive community amongst the children while providing them with an expectation of how they should behave.

Since the school year began, balancing both a positive culture as well as management has been fairly successful! At first it was a little chaotic because 1) I do not have my own classroom and 2) teachers must be willing to work with the seating arrangement of the learners. After getting over that hump, everything became smoother.

As a former Corps Member with City Year DC, creating a culture was very useful with my first grade small groups. The students knew the rules, protocols, positive incentives, consequences, and behavior expectations and I wanted to make sure that I implemented that same culture in South Africa.

1. Positive Incentives are important to give the learners a reason to work and improve behavior.
Positive incentives are extremely, extremely important!! Yes you can raise your voice, but that only keep order for a little bit. Incentives keep the learners pushing towards getting something. Some incentives that I have done are:

– Treasure Box that has candies, bracelets, and school supplies
– Stickers
– End of the Term Party [for those who have passed]
– Positive letters home in home language
-Star Student of the Week
– Star System à Start out with five stars and if they do not have three stars by the end of the week, they are not allowed to have library time on Friday.

2. Be Consistent
Consistency is a must when establishing a classroom culture/ management skills! The learners need to get use to a schedule. They need to know when I enter the room, it’s time to take out their subject notebooks and write the Morning Message and Warm Up. They know that everyday their parents have to sign their homework. Every Thursday, I take their workbooks and subject notebooks to check their homework.

3. Morning Messages
Morning Messages are a great way of setting the tone of the class, helping with speaking and reading, and telling the learners what exactly it is that they are going to learn for the day.

Ex.
Good Morning Class,
Today is Tuesday, 26 January 2016. Today we will learn the meaning of can, must, and may. We will listen to the song, “I Can” and complete our worksheet. Lastly, we will also complete exit tickets and hand them in to Ma’am Mokgadi.

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4. Daily Warm Up or “Do-Now” exercise
Warm Ups generally gives the learners something to do as the teacher prepares for class and it also avoids any behavior issues that may occur. Warm Ups are typically a quick 5min-7min activity. I use my warm ups to review Language Structures and Conventions aka grammar.

5. Positive Classroom Rules
Positive classroom tell children what exactly they have to do. Have negative classroom rules forces the children to feel like they cannot do anything and creates this dictatorship feeling. 

Using positive rules such as:
1. Participation is important
2. Come to class prepared
3. Be respectful
Etc.

6. Voice Monitors
On my wall, I have green, yellow, and red sheets of paper that I use as a voice monitor. It is similar to a representation of a robot. The red indicates to stop talking completely, yellow indicates the time to whisper, and green indicates the time to talk.

7. Classroom Leaders
Classroom leaders are picked based on academic performance. In my Grade 5 class, I have seven group leaders. Each leader are responsible for helping their teams improve throughout each term, ensuring that the group work get completed, making sure that everyone in their group are participating. Classroom leaders are good because they help break the language barrier and help explain the activity to their peers in home language so that everyone has an understanding with what is happening. 

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I’m Not Your Child

When you come from being the first born and independent child, it’s fairly hard to go back to being treated like a ‘child’, especially when you learned how to figure thing out on your own. “Ubuntu” means my humanity is tied to yours and to be honest, I didn’t fully grasp that concept until the beginning of March. I was struggling with building a solid relationship with every teacher at my school mainly because I hated them for treating me like I was their child. I didn’t appreciate it at all. “My mother lives in America, last time I check,” is what I would say to myself. I felt like I wasn’t getting any type of respect since I’m around the age of the educators’ children.

“Why aren’t you married?”

“Why don’t you have children?”

“You didn’t live with your mother before coming here? Why?”

The questions just killed me. I’m 24 years old, why can’t I just focus on enhancing my career and advancing in my education?

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Another day of helping in the computer lab!

A week before Term One ended, I walked to my principal and told her that I no longer wished to continue my work at school and I wanted to go back home. The principal sat down to explain to the educators how I felt. By this point, it had nothing to do with people treating me like a child, but falsely accusing me of not doing my job, even though many of my learners passed their classes I taught them. I was a ticking time bomb and burst in tears.

For the first time, I let my co-workers get under my skin. I just couldn’t take it anymore- constantly getting falsely accused of not doing my job, the miscommunication between the Department of Education, my school, and Peace Corps, and feel like all of this was for nothing.

After the meeting, I have each teacher a card with motivational words. Surprisingly, the teachers were very happy to get some kinds words from me. My counterpart said that she was about to cry and that she promises to continue to be there for me and support me in anyway possible. Another teacher said, “Mokgadi, you’re not going anywhere. You are going to stay and help us. That meeting was very sad. It was like watching my own child cry and just imaging if people in America treated her the way we treated you, it would make me sad. You are out child Mokgadi, we care about you.”

Those words surprised me so much. Either, I didn’t know that they cared about me like that or my prideful personally prevented me from caring how they felt about me. What I realized was, yes, these women are not my biological mother, but they provide me with the love of a mother whether it’s giving me constructive criticism, advice on work or life, teaching me the culture or simply checking in on me.

I am not their child, but I finally understand that they have chosen to adopt me into their lives as another daughter. It took me many months to understand and now I am truly okay with being their child. I know that it puts my family at ease knowing that I have over 10 women in South Africa that I consider as my mothers.

As PCVS, we get very caught up in our work ethics, but if we don’t have those relationships and support systems, we will never accomplish anything. The fact that people treats us like children shows that they truly love and care about us. So just let them love you and in return, you will build another family away from home and create an amazing partnership.

How to Enter the School Year/ Term on a Clean Slate

One of the roles as a Peace Corps Volunteer is to be a motivator by increasing the confidence and encouraging the community, well in this case the community of the school. By bringing some encouragement, motivation, and passion into the school and letting everyone see that you are passionate about your work will help you have a good school year/ term. Below are some quick tips to have a fantastic start..

1. Motivational cards to the staff

I bought card from a store in South Africa called PNA. I decorated each card with the educators’ names on them. Each cards had motivational words from me. Giving educators motivational words encourages them to get through the term or school year, but it helps with building those relationships.
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2. Hour Ones with the principal and counterpart

Having an hour one creates an understanding of the expectations of your role as a volunteer at your school. This is a great time to ask about how to monitor and evaluate students, future school projects that the school would like for you to get involved in, goals, and how the school would like to utilize you as a resource.

3. Read the policy book as soon as it is in your hands

READ IT, READ IT, READ IT! I can’t emphasize it enough. The policy manual is like your Bible. You can tweak it to cater to the learning levels of your learners, but it is important to follow it step by step.

4. First week of school ( fun language games and ice breakers

First week of a new term ( reading stories, language games, and journalingSelf-explanatory! Have fun the first week!

5. Make personal goals for yourself

In this blurry world as a volunteer you can get lost with what exactly you want to do, which is why it is important to establish some personal goals for your set. These goals should be visible and in your face so that you never forget them. For example my goals from Term Two were:

  • Improve the usage of the library
  • Teach compute literacy one a week
  • Find a way to get involved with the high school learners
  • Better my relationship with the educators
  • Start an after school club
  • Continue to increase face time in the village
  • 75% of learners passing Life Skills and English
  • I hung these goals up in my room so that I can see them every day and it was there in my face to complete!

6. If you haven’t done so, introduce yourself to the School Governing Board or anything that is the equivalent to PTA, and ask what activities they would like for you to complete.

These people will be your BEST FRIENDS once you are on their good side.

7. Remember to go with the flow

It’s easier said than done, but remember flexibility is very important.

8. If you are entering a new term, have at least the first two week of school planned accordingly.

School can get chaotic and crazy during the first two weeks, so it’s better to come prepared and ready!

When You Finally Have A Success Story…

When I received my results back from Term One, I was excited! I completed my first term of teaching South Africa and I was pretty confident that I was going to pass all of my learners, but when I received my mark sheet, 26 out of 28 learners passed. People said that it was great while I felt that I failed my learners who didn’t pass. I told myself that I was going to make sure that they pass in Term Two. I matched them with tutors from Grade 7, who helped them some of the concepts they were learning, listening and speaking skills, and reading comprehension.

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The principal and I coordinated a Reading Day, which will be conducted once every term. The purpose of Reading Day is for the parents to see where their children are when it comes to reading in Sepedi [home language] and English. Learners read in front of the parents one by one and are given a copy of the materials that they will read. After the parents saw how their learners performed, they wanted me to give extra material to help. So I started giving all the learners extra reading books with questions about the story to answer. I drilled them until they couldn’t be drilled anymore!

When they received their marks from the first major test of the term, they both lost their minds and were so happy because they worked so hard to get a happy face! Then when it came to their mid-year examinations, they are ecstatic to see that they received happy faces again when they were used to getting sad faces.

As I began to enter grades into SA-SAMS, I was nervous about putting in their grades because I felt like I did all that I could do- gave them a tutor, drilled them, got the parents involved, and built confidence within them. I really wanted them to pass, because I wanted them to know that all of their hard work paid off.

As when I entered the marks, I scream with excitement, not only did they pass, their percentages increased. One learner increased by 14% and the other increased by 28%. When I told them, all they could do is say, “Thank you Ma’am Mokgadi for helping me pass.” For the rest of my English Grade 5 class, 100% of the learners passed, class average increased by 5%, reading comprehension increased by 28%, language structures increased by 9%, and 75% of learners’ percentages increased from Term One. It took two terms to understand my role as a volunteer teacher, questioning if my existence meant anything to anyone, and if I am doing anything that is worth something, but this was my shining moment and I am happy that I am continuing to not only teach my learners, but to continue to build confidence within them.

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My Typical Schedule

The day to day life as an Education Volunteer constantly changes. Unlike primary schools aka elementary schools, my school day to day schedule changes. Some days I teach for one hour and others about three hours. Here’s an example of my typical Wednesday schedule.

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Walking to school with some of my Grade 4 learners,

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What My Trip To America Taught Me

In the beginning of February, tragedy struck in my family and I had to leave my site for two weeks. Peace Corps South Africa and the Peer Support Alliance (formerly known as the Volunteer Support Committee) were a big support in helping me cope with losing someone close to me and the next steps that it took to prep to leave from South Africa.

When I got on the plane to America, it was like I was in a dream. I’ve been having crazy dreams lately that I would end up going to America all of the time, but not under bad circumstances. So I had to really snap into reality that I was really heading to the states.

15 hours later…. I landed in Atlanta, GA

When I got off of the plane, I still was in a confused state of mind.

“There are signs in only English?”

“No one is speaking to me in Sepedi or any other languages? Everyone thinks that I’m American.”

“STARBUCKS!”

It was exciting to hear Spanish and the country accents, openly LGBT communities, and watching CNN as I prepared my next flight to Savannah, GA, which was only a 40 minute flight.

When I got off of the plane, I went straight to the hospital with my cousin. The reunion that I had when I saw my aunt was so happy and emotional. All she and the rest of the Southern folks in the hospital wanted to know was the big question, “HOW IS SOUTH AFRICA?”

Trying to explain your experience in South Africa in two minutes is difficult.

The mini answers I had were, “It’s amazing. I love my village, school, and community” or “It’s definitely my new home. I love the food and the culture”. The thing is that it is hard to summarize your amount of months that you have been away because so much has happen. It’s difficult to try to pile all of the stories and moment in a span of two minutes. But it’s nice to think now of how to get to the point about how your PC experience is thus far.

EVERYONE is still living their lives.

What I found out going home is that even though I left the country to teach and left people behind, everyone is still living their lives. People are still going to school to earn their degrees, or getting married, engaged, or having babies, while you feel as though your life is, in that aspect, on a pause for the next two years.

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Meeting up with my City Year teammates!

Not everyone will welcome you back with open arms

… and that is okay. It doesn’t matter if people want to welcome you back, as long as you know that your experience will change your view of life and your attitude, then that’s you understanding your personal growth. So let them be mad.

People will praise you for serving your country.

On my plane ride to America, I met an Afrikaner couple that was headed back to their home. We talked about Peace Corp and the goals of Peace Corps. As I prepared to get off of the plane, they tapped me on the shoulder, gave me the rest of their South African Rands, and said, “Thank you for your work in South Africa. It takes a brave person to do a job like that.” When I went to the thrift store in my mother’s hometown in South Carolina, they charged me two dollars for four items that I bought from the store and the ladies at the salon gave me a discount on my hairstyle. The thing is that your status seems to go up once people find out that you are a volunteer. At first, they might think that you are crazy at first, but then they usually end the conversation with, “I have a lot of respect for you and what you are doing. Good job.”

You will want to eat and drink EVERYTHING!

Lord, I ate EVERYWHERE! As soon as you hit American soil, you mouth waters and yearns for all of the foods that you haven’t had in forever! I ate/ drank at Bojangles, Buffalo Wild Wings, Waffle House, American Chinese, real Mexican food, happy hours, Frosty from Wendy’s, Soul Food, American Candy, Starbucks, Fried Chicken and Mambo Sauce etc. mhmmm I ate sooooo cool.

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My auntie made me some Southern Food the day before I left! 🙂

 

You will accidentally do they things that are normal in your village, but not normal in America.

For example, in my village everyone likes to hold each other’s hand and I completely forgot that it’s not a thing in America haha. There were moments that I caught myself saying, “Cho,” which is like the South African version of “OMG.”

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Getting to see my lovely uncle!

Things will change

Home will change. Coming from Washington DC, I saw how the dynamic of my university has changed, the city life has changed, and the faces within that city have changed and that it is okay.  Your mentality will change as well. You will start to understand that first world problems are NOTHING compared to the problem that you see on a day to day basis. You start to become more understanding about people’s struggle, more patient, open to talk about things that you didn’t dare to talk about before, and more grateful for the little things that you didn’t have.

Going home was good and bad, but it was worth seeing my family, wishing someone a proper farewell, and having the opportunity to check on everyone!

Until next time!

The Unexpected Friend

A few months ago I posted this quote:
“The great thing about getting older is that you become more mellow. Things aren’t as black and white and you become much more tolerant. You can see the good in things much more easily rather than get enraged as you used to when you were young. -Maeve Binchy”

These last couple of days have been very stressful, especially after being in the hospital. My moods have been very, very high and very, very down. I called my mom yesterday morning and told her that I was done. That I didn’t want to do this anymore and that I wanted to come home.

Being the mother that she is, she immediately said come home after I explained my reasoning, but today when we spoke, she told me to sit and think about everything. Because my mom is mama bear plus the therapist, I agreed to sit and think if I wanted to stay or not.

Hours later….
I’m walking around the village and went to the spaza shop to buy some potatoes, fruits, and bread. I felt so overwhelmed by the many voices yelling, “Ma’am! Ma’am Mokgadi! Hi.” After leaving the store, I went to visit another shop. At this shop is an older gentleman that I love to talk to every time I take a walk around the village. He’s from Johannesburg and has several American friends, so when I talk to him about how I feel, he completely understands. Our convo started as:

Friend: Shanti (people tend to forget the last A). How are you?
Me: Meh.
Friend: But why my friend?!
Me: I want to go home.
Friend: No, no, no Shanti you will not go home.
Me: AND why not?
Friend: Because you see these kids, (pointing to the little ones who followed me to the store) these are your children now and you must help guide them. Yes, I know my people and I know that they can be bad sometimes, but you must help these children. Don’t leave this place forever. We will cry because we like you. Don’t leave Shanti. Plus you will go back to America and then regret leaving.
Me: (Forty minutes into the convo) Fine, I won’t leave.
Friend: Yes! We love you and we don’t want to see you leave.

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I started with the quote because it’s easy as humans to make decisions quickly because of our emotions. It is easy to forget the people that we have cheering for us and those who have wisdom and words of encouragement to keep us motivated.

My friend, that has adopted me as a granddaughter is right, these children are like my children now and I must remember that! Who would’ve thought that my new friend would be a 70-year-old man.

Peace Corps isn’t the prettiest lifestyle to live, but it is a very rewardable experience that I have to constantly remember. Like the quote states, now that I am getting older, I must learn how to not be enraged, but more tolerant and understanding of people in this country. I must also learn how to see more of the good than of the bad. Because emotions can easily get me caught up and forget the real reason as to why I am pledging two years of my life to serve as, essentially, an American Ambassador in my village.

How To Survive Peace Corps Lockdown

After Swearing In as an Education Volunteer in September, I was officially on lockdown, meaning that that the first three months I am not allowed to teach, can’t visit volunteers outside of my assigned shopping town, granted only one weekend away to shop for food, and the main focus is to integrate into the community. Isolation Period has been very tough, but here are some tips to survive being the only American in the village.


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