By Maria Kerkhoff
The generator switches off at 6 am on a day when there’s no ZESA (electricity). Since it cannot be running all day, the generator schedule is dependent on the students’ schedule and when the dining hall needs power for preparing food. I try to make sure I have at least boiled water before 6 am so that I can have a cup of hot coffee before making my way over to school. I always enjoy my small dose of caffeine at the start of every day! The students leave their dormitories and make their way to the Dining Hall, where all the meals are served, at approximately 6 am. Morning assembly with teachers and students starts at 6:40 am in the school hall. Daily announcements are made, a girl prefect reads a Bible text, and a boy prefect leads the school in singing a Psalm. The Friday morning assembly also includes the singing of the Zimbabwean Anthem. Students then make their way to the courtyard where their class teachers mark the attendance register.
Since arriving in 2018, I have been a class teacher for the same group of students…moving along with them each year. Initially I struggled getting to know them and to pronounce their names, so I decided to spend more time with them outside of lessons. If they had a free period, I would try pop in and play a game or just chat with them. They have become a special group to me, and watching them grow from cute Form 1s into tall and confident Form 3s has been very enjoyable.
A day with no free periods in my schedule is generally a hectic one. Thursdays are usually the busiest since there is a congregational prayer meeting service at church that students and teachers all attend. This service is from 8-9 am, so I teach two lessons before the service, and one lesson after the service before we get a morning recess. Other school days there are five lessons before the first break. Between recess break and lunch break there are another four lessons. Lunch break is generally quite long, as students do manual work around the school after they eat. This includes cleaning classrooms, raking, slashing grass, and other janitorial type work. At 3 pm, lessons resume till dinner time at 5 pm. After dinner, the students return to their classrooms to study and compete homework assignments. This is followed by an evening light supper of juice and bread or milk and cookies before they are free to return to their dormitories around 8:30 pm. This leaves them with just a little time to prepare for bed, washing and ironing, and any other studying they need to finish before lights get switched off at 9 pm. Thursday evenings I generally get together with some of my colleagues for a board game, which is always a ‘gezellige’ time! On days when there is no ZESA, the generator goes off around 10:30 pm. So we generally end up finishing the day with a flashlight, and once my colleagues leave, I navigate around my house, trying to remember which light switches I still need to switch off!
I teach Bible Knowledge (BK) to several of the younger Ordinary Level classes, and Mathematics to the Advanced Level class. Each class I teach has about 40 students, and altogether I teach nearly 200 students. While I very much enjoy teaching Bible Knowledge, I developed a very close connection with my A-Level Math class, seeing I spend a significant amount of time with them each day. It has been very enjoyable to experiment with some modern methods of teaching and learning mathematics with them, as they have only experienced very traditional type Math lessons. At least once a week, I have them working on problem solving and critical thinking activities in groups, standing around some ‘white boards’. Their participation in these Mathematics challenges is refreshing and energizing as a teacher! Having students change their attitudes from surviving and tolerating Math to loving Math is always rewarding. This group of students completed their studies at John Tallach High School at the end of 2019. After teaching the new group of Form 5 Math students for only six weeks, however, the schools closed in March 2020 due to COVID. I haven’t seen them since!
On Mondays, I take turns with my colleagues in the Bible Knowledge Department to lead a Timothies session. This is an optional Bible study that students can attend. We can each decide how we want to lead our sessions. Typically, the students come with many questions as many are exposed to Reformed Christianity for the first time at school: Why do we wear hats to church? Why do we have Sunday as a Sabbath instead of Saturday? (There are quite a few students with a Seventh Day Adventist background.) Why do we only sing Psalms in church and not any hymns or other music? Why don’t we dance in church? Why don’t women preach?
I especially enjoy Friday afternoons. Most of the school day is like any other, but all lessons are done around 12:30 pm. Then most of the teachers board the school bus and head back to their homes and families in Bulawayo, a one-hour drive, for the weekend. They stay in accommodation at the mission from Monday till Friday, since commuting daily to work is too expensive. What I like about Friday afternoons is that the students are quiet and relaxed after a busy week. The staff room is quiet and the internet speed is much faster with the teachers being absent. The past half year I have a usable Wi-Fi internet connection at my house for which I am very grateful. But during the first two years, I would sit in the staff room for Wi-Fi. Friday and Saturday afternoons and evenings were an opportunity for me to catch up with marking, lesson planning, and connecting with my family back home in Canada, not to mention housecleaning and doing laundry.