Essays, poems and Stories of an African-American

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Of the rhinoceros’ hide lashes ‘Kiboko’, learning English and how I occupy some of my free time: a comparison of how I was taught and how I teach


As a Harvard Scholar,I can uphold my r's or drop them at the right pitch. I can say: "the birds in the air flapped their wings so loudly. The cicadas un alarmed chirped and chirped while I parked my car in the Harvard yard!" I want to say I would have used a very different pitch, tone and pronunciation where it not for the full year I have been subjected to to improve on my enunciation!

Mr. Mugejjera was the kind of teacher who was so passionate and enjoyed teaching. In many of his admonishment-cum-in-your-face-avuncular talks given before presenting examination results, he talked to the heart of his pupils. That was how he prepared us for lashes on our behinds. He had different types of canes and in bundles! When he brought the bamboo canes, then the class knew there were not many to be beaten. When he brought the Kiboko then almost all the class members were to be caned. This English teacher was both liked and loathed, his name set off cold fear in all the pupils from Primary four to six (a year before Primary leaving exams). The fear of that lash as well as bamboo canes was enough motivation to do all practice exercises in English, including speaking it at school. I feared the stick so loathsomely that I tried harder and read wider. I turned out to be one of those who were rarely beaten. Many of my fellow pupils consulted me on various English problems. But, this is not to say I escaped the canes. One time that comes to mind was when all of us as a class failed in our compositions. We were caned for that. With this background and training I managed to go on with my student life in Uganda and Europe.
That continued to be the case until I came to USA. I admit my USA leg of life is influenced by the kind of English I talk, write and listen to. I am always corrected in pronunciation, tense and vocabulary. I have liked this moment for it is making me even better. My motivation to be better this time is not the lashes I expect but communication.
I wish the teaching of English or any other subject would include real life scenarios, combine vision and compatibility of learned language with utilisation. I do mentor students in English and mathematics for learners whose mother tongue is not ENGLISH. I do take them out of class to practice English and mathematics using cue cards. At one time my mentees are asked to name the streets of a given area on which we happen to be walking. At other time, I encourage them to count all objects around and categorize them. I can take them to the green park and ask them to describe objects around them. They do this smiling knowing that the goal is to describe what is there before them which is the component of their world (and not being caned. I know corporeal punishment is taboo in USA).

Even as I teach, am learning too. I see in the faces of my mentees struggle, joy, deep thinking and indecision. I know at what time I can probe, prompt and cheer someone on. I learn the psychological side of my mentees and help them as they are going through their mental preparation to become better at English and mathematics. We have so far been with our mentees for almost six months in this program. I can see more spontaneity and initiative. There is eagerness in all of them to present their compositions and exercises or to engage me in conversation. Say, isn’t that positive change? In all situations I have never used the Kiboko!

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