Friday at 4:47

Right now, INES is vibrating- literally. Somewhere, outside of the office where I sit with a loaner laptop plugged into the wall and slowly downloading TED Talks for the night’s class, singers and dancers raise their voices loud and thump- even louder- against the floor. A veritable gospel concert, a cacophony of voices and sounds and clapping, somewhere else in the campus. My class will no doubt be the most boring thing around here tonight- I walked past a room, usually a classroom with chairs and blackboard, where three Rwandans in full tae kwon do attire screamed and ran kicking patterns across the cement floor. All of a sudden, the music stops.

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INES-Ruhengeri

INES, the university where I work and briefly described earlier, is an unusual school, unlike any university where I’ve worked or attended classes before- and I’ve taught or gone to class at universities in three countries. I would best describe this school, the Institute of Applied Sciences (they are phasing out their French name, which gives us the “INES” acronym, but I will not offend French speakers the world over by attempting to pronounce it) as much closer to a professional development school than a traditional university- and that’s not to denigrate it, but to recognize the difference between it and traditional Western campuses.

I’m currently teaching for the night/weekend program, hence the insane schedule that I described in an earlier post. It feels as though I’m teaching workshops- one day events focused on a skill. The university uses a modular system, which appears to enjoy popularity in Rwanda, but would probably only be seen at for-profit institutions back in the States. The modular system means that students take one class at a time. For day students, this means an entire week focused on one class, with 6+ teaching hours a day. The class lasts a week and then… poof, done. The weekend program has a similar schedule, but spaces its marathon days over a few weekends. Instead of allowing for time between classes, teachers pack all the material into a few consecutive days.

The universities follow this practice for one main reason: money. Well, really, the lack of it. Most professors teach at more than one school, a practice I noted in Poland when universities rely on adjunct instructors. It’s not so different for professors in the United States where adjuncts have long overtaken full time, tenure-trackers. On the modular system, a professor will come to the area for a week, stay at the university hostel, teach their course, and then move on to the next place- the veritable gypsy proff.

This schedule means that I must shift my normal language teaching practices. My fellow language teachers will note that 8 hours of class in one sitting rarely has the same language acquisition results as those same 8 hours spread over a week, when students have time to process and practice. It means less homework, less time for preparing presentations, and far less for reading and absorbing information. After tonight, my class will be more than half over, and as a teacher, I feel a twinge of regret or even guilt that I was able to impart so little.

But, like most of my new life, it is an exercise in doing what I can with what I have. It was a challenging week- my laptop crashed (hence the loaner) with all of my class plans and the roster and gradesheet that I had fashioned from my 52+ student class (I’m still not sure how many people are supposed to be shoehorned into there). But I’m back tonight, throwing out plans of essays in favor of making my students talk as much as possible- which might actually be more torturous to them.

The choir is back, singing and stomping out a chorus, far better to listen to than the Catholic school choir I was raised on. I’ve got my photocopies ready- it was a tiny victory for me, locating the place on campus where I could get them made, involving a lot of very dramatic miming and making Xerox machine noises to get my point across. Back to work again.

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