October 30, 2016
Even though Blantyre is situated on a plateau at 3,500 feet, it gets hot before the rains come. It’s much hotter on the lakeshore and in the valleys––––about twelve degrees hotter, but it’s still hot here. Bearable, but hot, especially in the sun when there is no breeze. I don’t have a thermometer, but it’s in the high 90’s I’d say. The clouds are starting to form and yesterday afternoon we had our first rain. It was a sweet, cooling relief.
My Monday afternoon class is from one until five. Four hours is a long class; then add the heat, the afternoon sun, and the west-facing windows, and it seemed like way more than that. I had had such high hopes. I had so much fun making the slides. I was so proud of myself and thought the class would get as much pleasure out of the colorful boxes filled with text as I did. The photos that accompanied the key concepts were so subtle, so poignant. Brilliant, actually. Well, that little mac bubble got burst rather quickly.
At one p.m. there was no power at the college so I couldn’t use the projector. That was a disappointment. I remember questioning the reliance on power point presentations when we were training in Washington. I wondered what would we do if there was no power for the power point? At the time I thought I’d plan everything so as not to have to rely on the electric company and the one hydroelectric plant situated on a river with diminishing water levels. But then I got sucked in. In the hours I was planning the lecture, it was entertaining to play with the slides. It also gave me an outline to go by and since this was my first time giving these lectures, I thought that would be helpful. I hate it when presenters just read their slides, but having the outline up there was something to look at and I could email it to everyone afterward. I tried to recall ever having looked at one that someone emailed me, and couldn’t remember ever doing so, but, I was always impressed by audience members that asked for it. They always made me feel a little lazy and unmotivated. I usually thought I was doing well to attend the lecture and pay attention to the majority of it. But maybe if this technology had been available during my college career I would have appreciated the profs notes. At least when I was cramming for tests. Anyway, I started with an exercise in writing practice, hoping the power would be on but the time we finished that. It wasn’t. So, on battery power, I looked at my own beautiful slides and started the lecture. It was painful to watch the faces of everyone. Sweat was dripping down their cheeks and after ten minutes, five of the twenty-one students were asleep. They weren’t even trying to hide it. Their heads were flat on their desks. The few that were trying to listen had to fight to keep their eyes open. One girl got up and paced around the back of the room, presumably to keep herself awake. I didn’t ask.
After fifteen minutes of this torture the generator, located just outside the sun-blazed window, went on. It was so loud I had to practically yell to be heard above the din, but at least I could show my slides. The reality of that experience wasn’t quite my fantasy of engaged eager students hanging on every my word, captivated by my creativity with background color and placement. By thirty minutes into the class, fifteen of the twenty-one heads were on their desks. The others’ eyes were glazed over. They looked like they were about to keel over. The ones in the front fought it the hardest, wiping their faces and jerking their heads up. It was about a million degrees in there. My blouse was soaked with sweat and my hair was wet. I told them to take a break and walk around outside for a bit. Three of them didn’t even wake up.
They took a ten minute break, threw water on their faces, and filed back into the classroom. They really are dedicated and were trying hard to make the best of this. I tried to tie it all in to the thermoregulation point I was making earlier, but I doubt any of them 1) heard the original point, or 2) remembered it. I reiterated briefly with the heat-stroke context to go with it, and I think I drove it home. It’s impossible to meet a higher need until the lower needs are met. You can’t learn if you are too hot to think about anything except being hot. Pretty good, huh?
I continued with the lecture, just trying to get through the material. I felt like I had to get through everything I prepared. It seemed a little like wasting food otherwise. I realized quickly that they weren’t going to be able to pay attention in that heat, and the remaining slides were mostly examples of information already given, and I couldn’t stand watching them try to stay awake any longer. I shut the projector off and said, “We’re going to break into groups and do some role play.” I felt the whole room get happier. My original plan was to discuss case studies in the class but realized I would be painfully ripping the participation out of them, so I decided to break them into five groups and give each group one of Maslow’s five basic human needs. I told each group to think of an example of a person trying to meet this need and act it out, and one of them had to be a midwife helping them meet that particular need. I told them I would give them twenty minutes to plan it, then they had to act it out for the class. I congratulated myself for pulling that one out of my ass and looked at the time, praying this would kill an hour. I hoped the skits would be long. I thought maybe I should have given them more time to plan; we still had two and a half hours to get through.
It was such a relief to hear them talking to each other, heads all leaning in to the center of the group. I was amazed! I thought, “Wow! They are discussing it! They must have been paying more attention than I thought!” After about ten minutes, one of the girls came up to me and said her group had a question. I jumped up, so happy to be needed, and went to them and asked what their question was. They held up the paper with their need written on it. “We don’t know what this means.” they said. I started laughing and asked, “What took you so long to ask me?” They said they were trying to figure it out. So I explained it to them, and this time they were listening, and they dove into their task. Really, they were all so animated, I couldn’t wait to see what they came up with. I personally, don’t like doing role play so I would have hated this assignment; I never was drawn to acting. But here they do it all the time. And they are really good at it. Another ten minutes went by (I had decided to give them thirty to plan) when another group came to ask me what their need meant. Again, I laughed at the thought they were spending so long trying to figure it out before they asked. I explained it to them and said, “You don’t have much time now, ten minutes. Go!” Their’s was self-actualization, which, I thought was a little hard to grasp in the first place. I couldn’t wait to see what they came up with.
Well, I’ve got to tell you, they blew me out of the water. First of all, I love how uninhibited they are. Not self-conscious in the least. They got up and acted these things out as if they were really: the baby crying, or the woman who just had her leg amputated (which affected her self esteem), or the father who wanted to kill his albino baby to sell the bones, or the aspiring singer at a talent show. They were fabulous!! I was like, “Holy shit! They really got this!” I congratulated everyone then gave them another break, hoping to think of something to do with the remaining time. This is exhausting!
As I write about this, it seems like the class went well and they did learn something, but for some reason when it was done I was despondent. I was so hot and drained and felt like I’m not good at this. I walked home, moping, and in a single gesture, entered the kitchen, opened the fridge, and grabbed a beer. If I could have opened it with my teeth I would have. It seemed a huge chore to reach for the opener. George was sitting in the living room, focused intently on something he was reading. I was not getting the attentive welcome I was hoping for, planning to launch into how awful the afternoon was. I opened the beer and went out to the porch.
He yelled, “How did it go?” without looking up from what he was doing.
“Hard”, was my reply.
“Can I get you a beer?”
“Got one.” I was already half way through it.
I hate feeling like I’m not doing a good job. I thought, maybe I’m not cut out for classroom teaching. I wondered how I would get through the whole year like this, wishing the class time away. I hate feeling like I’m boring people. I sometimes worry that this blog is boring, but then I think, well people don’t have to read it. They can stop. Or never start. But these students have to sit there like trapped rats. George got up and got himself a beer and came out to talk, but by then I didn’t feel like it. I was thinking perhaps the twelve hours of planning that lecture weren’t enough. I’d have to sit in that dark office on my butt for twenty hours to plan the next one. This is painful.
On Thursday I had to give a two hour lecture on the respiratory system. Now really, how can you make that fun? I didn’t have any real lungs to pass around the room to illustrate what a smoking and non-smoking lung looks like. I thought of my sixth grade class when our principal, Mr Gramolini, walked up and down the aisles with a normal lung in one hand and a smoker’s lung in the other. I tell you, it made an impression on me. I have never taken a puff of a cigarette in my life. But I started thinking, where the heck did he get the lungs? Were they in plastic bags? I think so. I’d never even thought of that before. What was it, 1967? We didn’t have any creative teaching aids back then. Anyway, the Thursday class was from ten to noon and the sun wasn’t coming in the windows. It was still hot, but not unbearable. They had just come from their tea break and were attentive and engaged. No one fell asleep. I started with another writing practice, but this time I told them everyone had to read aloud what they wrote. Previously I’d told them reading aloud was optional, but I noticed that not all of them were writing, so Thursday I made it mandatory. I figured that would be a way to improve participation. I gave them one minute to describe my canvas bag. They were a little confused by the assignment. I told them, “You are going to have to write in a medical record and describe things you see. It helps a lot if you practice this. Just write and describe what you see. No wrong answers.” It’s not quite flowing yet, but I’m not giving up on this one. And I do think it’s helping to loosen them up a bit. When I toss out questions now, several of them speak up and respond. It’s such a relief. After the writing practice, I started on the respiratory system and ten minutes into it I asked, “Ok, what are some things that can change a person’s respiratory rate?” The answers started coming from different corners of the room, “Exercise”, “Illness”, “Anxiety,” and I was feeling like, yes! we are opening up here! Getting it! Then one girl raised her hand timidly and when I acknowledged her she said quietly, “Sex.” I thought, “Hmm. Ok. I can go with that.” So I said, “Yes, sex is exercise. And involves some excitement and excitement can be like anxiety, it can raise your respiratory rate.” There were a few giggles. A girl in front raised her hand. I said, “Yes? You have another?” and she said, “I think she meant male or female.”
So, yeah. I couldn’t believe they were only giggling and not laughing hysterically. Very polite, these Malawians.
Off to church. Only a couple of miles to walk to mass today.
Love to all,