Wednesday, May 21, 2008

How I Became a Waldorf Teacher by Susan Taylor

A few months ago I asked my students, the six teachers of the Goderich Waldorf Schol to write about how they came to teach at the school. I had heard bits of each of their biographies and was intrigued by their demonstrated commitment to the school and its students despite the long period each had served as a volunteer upon first being hired. This is the first of six such essays, this one by the current Class III teacher, Susan Taylor.

My name is Susan Taylor, aged forty-six years. I live in Goderich Village in Freetown, Sierra Leone. I am a teacher at the Goderich Waldorf School. I was first teaching at a government school, but due to the poor conditions of service and an unhealthy environment for the children, I decided to leave in 2005. At that time, I heard about the Action for Child Protection Educational Centre for Disadvantaged Children, a centre at the wharf in Goderich Village. When I made my first visit to the centre, I met one of the teachers, Mr. Mohamed Conteh, whom I had known for a long time. Mohamed was so happy when he saw me, and he welcomed me inside a big place like a hall where he was teaching different colours and shapes to the children. I asked about the other teachers. He took me to meet Mr. Robert Bendu and Mr. Amara Suaray. Looking around the classes and the compound, to my surprise, I noticed that most of the children were without uniforms or shoes, they had no place to sit down, and some children were sleeping in class. Their condition was so terrible and sympathetic, and I was so unhappy that I inquired about these children. Mohamed told me that these children were from the beach and the street. He said they included children without parents and children who helped the drivers to call passengers into their taxis and poda-podas or local buses at the car park. They were children whose parents could not afford to send them to school. When I heard about the children, my mind was so full with unhappiness. The teachers went on telling me that it was a voluntary job and that they moved around the community in search of vulnerable children. They wanted to take the children out from beach and the street and to introduce them to society.

When I returned home I was thinking about the children’s future. It was humanitarian feeling and emotion that prompted me to teach at this school. I felt so bad and I even asked myself, “Can these children make it in life, with all that I have seen and heard about them?” But when I sat down and reasoned well like a parent, I realized that there were many ways to upkeep them. Through this thinking, I counted myself as a fit person to help these children through caring and protection, proper counseling, good education, and generating a good feeling of the world. I decided to apply for employment so that I could help to refine them. And so I made my second visit to Mohamed at the school.

There I told them that I would like to help at the school. One morning in the fall of 2006 I was sitting at the back of my compound, when I saw Mohamed coming into my compound. He told me that they needed me in the school. At once I left for the school, where I met Mr. Abu Mansaray, the teacher of Class One. Mr. Mansaray asked me many questions about my experience in teaching. He was pleased with the answers that I gave, and so I started teaching class two in September, 2006. Two weeks after I began teaching, I was introduced to Mr. Shannoh Kandoh, the school director. He told me that the school was vulnerable and that the teaching position was unpaid and he asked me if I was willing to teach without compensation. I said yes because there were no other jobs available at the time, I liked the job, and I wanted to bring the children out of the street.

Some of the street children in the Goderich Village community lost their parents during the rebel war in Sierra Leone and some lost their parents to illnesses. Some of these children live in the street doing small jobs to earn their food; some are even fighting in the streets. Some do heavy jobs to earn their living, but have no good clothing, go barefoot, and have no place to sleep. Some sleep in the marketplace on top of tables, in abandoned cars and even in huts at the beach.

Some of these children come to school hungry, very sickly, thin and unhappy. Some come to school without lunch, and sometimes we the teachers give them something to eat if we have it. These hungry children always sleep in class, begging and even crying for something to eat if they see some of their friends eating. They sometimes don’t come to school. If you go and find them and ask why they did not come to school, they will say that they have not eaten. And if they are sleeping in class or sitting down looking at you, if you ask what is wrong, they will say that they are not well. Some of these street children found in the Goderich community during the war cannot find their families and have no one to take care of them. You can find them at the car park, on the beach and washing cars and poda-podas at the car park so that people will give them food or money. They carry loads such as rice, palm oil, and vegetable oil for shoppers in the market and they carry fish for the fishmongers. They deliver these loads for small money. Children working on the beach help fishermen to carry their tool bags, sell fish, and carry chains. They sometimes are beaten by the big boys on the beach who take their money from them. There are some huts on the beach made of chain and rice bags, where some of the boys sleep. Most of these children are boys between the ages of seven and ten. You also can find some girls who have been sexually abused by some men for small money. Some even go and find wood or plums to sell for food. Some go and sell from morning to night.

The first two months I found it difficult to teach these children, but later I was in place with them. There were many difficult children in the school, coming to school without lunch or books, and sometimes without having eaten. We teachers did not have some of the right materials to do some of the work. Sometimes the children did not come to school every day. Children were sleeping in class because of the overburdening work at home.

The love we continue to give these children has kept them coming to school. Some of these children cannot read or write. For the smaller ones aged five to seven, it is not too difficult, but for children aged ten and upward who have never attended school before, it can be embarrassing for them to be learning what the small children are learning, though some learn quickly. It is never easy for these children to focus on their school work because they are thinking about food, money and where they will they sleep.

My experience in this Waldorf school as a teacher is very different from my experience in any other school. I have learned that children should not be punished by beating. When presenting a new topic to the children, the teacher should do so in story form, so that the children can get the right feeling and understanding for the topic. We teach how to draw with crayons without using pencils, we play different games. A Waldorf teacher should give the children the right feeling and to let them think for themselves. I have learned a new way of teaching and doing things with the children and I hope to learn more and more.

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