Back to SchoolÉBack to School

  • I forgot how much I love tomatoes
  • Hot sauce fixes any food
  • Students and teachers work together to set up the school
  • Moms love to hang out at the school all day and play cards in the hall
  • Kids enjoy watching me do anything in my classroom
  • I can’t help but crack a smile when student says good morning to me
  • The current teacher to student ratio is 1/75
  • Music rights are not acknowledged in Samoa, so you end up with countless Samoan covers of popular songs
  • Getting used to wearing bug spray to class
  • Having your infant sibling running from class to class isn’t unheard of
  • A teacher holding her new born while teaching a class is also common

Monday was the first time I happened to be present at a first day of school since 2012. At the time I was completing my second senior year at the University of North Georgia and student teaching at Chestnut Mountain. I remember students pouring into the front doors of the school fresh off the bus or their parent’s car with backpacks filled to the brim. The strongest comparison to the two schools on this day would be students showing up, but even how they arrived was vastly different.

ZachAgerton medium 03102016At many schools students are capable of walking, but with my school serving a large part of the district many have to take the bus. These aren’t school buses, but rather the public buses, so students must pay a fair (meaning their parents). Furthermore, the school is open meaning each classroom has a door leading outside and many windows without screens. I actually prefer the openness to the “locked in” feeling you sometimes get with schools in the States. Having the wind and sun in your classroom gives it a certain living element. Lastly, the students are required to wear uniforms except on Fridays when they participate in sport. Even so, one item happens to always be missing, their shoes. Children, even adults rarely wear shoes. It is just the Samoan way.

It was a bright and blistering Monday morning when I departed my fale (house) and walked the difficult 30 feet to the school. Assembly begins at 8:30 a.m. but several students had decided to arrive at 7:00 a.m. Tea in hand, I approached the grounds to see what I needed to do. My pule (principal) had mentioned the children would be cleaning the school for the first two days, so I searched for her. While looking, I noticed the students looked immaculate in their freshly dawned blue uniforms working vigilantly to pull weeds from the school grounds, moving desks, and sweeping the rooms. Before I could find my pule another teacher grasped my attention and asked me to join her. She was supervising a gaggle of students pulling weeds from the lava rock. I distinctly remember being taken aback from the scene as it was in such stark contrast from what I am accustomed.

As students arrived they were put to work, as the teachers saw fit in order to get the school back into shape. I remember stopping to help several students struggling to get a large table out of the door and the teachers telling me to allow the students to do it. A large pillar of Samoan society is service. In Samoa it is commonly believed that leadership is acquired through service. This is shown in many ways throughout their culture, and certainly has its pros and cons. One pro would be the students having a sense of ownership of their school as they are the ones who attend its’ needs. As for children in America we have rarely asked them to work for anything and have subsequently softened our youth. With the threat of a tangent, let’s move on. Having children clean and set up the school may seem unnecessary but we need to remember that we come from another culture with different views.

Now, many students decided not to show on the first day knowing that it would require some elbow work, so the task was left to approximately 50 students. Floors were swept and mopped. Tables and desks were put in their appropriate places, and the rubbish was burned. The school began to come together, but wasn’t fully ready until Wednesday, which is when true instruction began. I was able to begin testing the students in years 4-6. While testing I immediately noticed two things: 1. Girls are testing much better at English than the boys. 2. There is a significant bump in students level from year 4 to 5. Testing is ongoing and many students have yet to show up, but this is what the numbers indicate so far. When I have tested all the students I will then be able to form my classes with the children who are at the lowest levels. It is now clear that I won’t only be teaching true beginners which excites me. I will be able to delve deeper into reading and writing, which can be quite the challenge. In the words of Barney from How I Met Your Mother, “Challenge Accepted.”