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Monday, January 9, 2012

Simple, not easy.  That would describe our assignment here.  We’re simply here to be representatives for BYU-Hawaii.  But completing that assignment isn’t easy. 

Our little office - very basic, but sufficient.

It starts out easy.  Start the day catching up on emails, to find out who’s needing what.  We need to contact professors at BYU-Hawaii, to get their input about the courses we’re facilitating, courses those professors have designed.  If there are particulars about the courses, the professors will give them to us via email.

Then a young man comes into the office and wants to apply for admission to BYU-Hawaii.  So Jim spends about 15 minutes asking questions, to see if this young man is actually qualified for admission.  He has graduated from “Form Seven”, roughly equivalent to  13th grade here in the high schools .  BTW, those schools are called “colleges” in the South Pacific – gotta watch our choice of words!  You want to go on to higher education, you go to university, not college.

Anyway, the young man is qualified.  So he gets introduced to the online application – eight different sections, totaling about 12 hours of work.  Not easy.  Jim sits with him for about an hour, until he’s gotten most questions answered on Parts One and Two.  By then, the kid has the idea.  Then Jim gives the kid two sections of the application on paper – the financials and a work-study application, and the approval from the kid’s bishop (minister).  These both can be done online too, but most people over 30 are not comfortable with computers here, and the internet is pretty unreliable, so bishops usually ask for a piece of paper.  When the forms are completed, the young man will bring them back to Jim, he’ll scan them and vouch for their authenticity, and email them to the admissions department at BYU-Hawaii.

This young woman is awaiting acceptance from BYU-H.
This is how she was congratulated by family and friends
for serving as a full-time missionary in Arizona.  Just a few leis!

Okay.  On to the next task, preparing the courses to teach.  We are in the business of teaching teachers how to teach.  This is different from the way the course is taught at BYU-H, because the campus students have not been in the classroom yet.  Here, we have teachers who have been in the classroom for years, so the perspective is very different.  But preparing for the courses takes up the bulk of our day – we have to adjust the professor’s syllabus and objectives to meet the needs of these teachers, and that’s a challenge.  Power Point makes it easy to keep the class flowing, and it provides a visual for teachers as well.  Plus, when I can hand teachers a page of the slides, then they can put more effort into participating in the class, and less effort to taking notes, and still succeed.

That’s the next task, actually teaching the classes, after school hours during the school year, or in “intensive” courses during summer breaks.  (We are just starting our second round of intensives – 3 semester hours of credit in two weeks means 45 hours of class time plus another 90 hours of homework.  Whew!) Beginning in February, we will teach classes 2 hours a day, twice a week, from 4 to 6 pm.  Jim will supervise 4 teachers who are getting their “student” teaching done, and I will probably be teaching a test preparation course one day a week.  That one’s still in the planning stage.
Jim and I both feel that in order for these teachers to see the value of a teaching strategy, we need to practice it in our classes.  So instead of just talking about a strategy, we have them do it.  Jim’s teachers recently made presentations about supporting students with special needs while they modeled special needs behaviors themselves– OCD, ADHD, physical and mental issues. It was a real eye-opener for them, and for Jim.  It was also hilarious – one teacher, modeling OCD, kept pulling single hairs off another teacher’s sleeve, while the second was modeling mild autism.  The pair kept everyone entertained to the point that we almost missed the good information in their presentation!

Teachers working on a project
In teaching my course on reading in all subject areas, teachers researched a famous historical or current figure in their subject area  - the Algebra-Trig teacher chose Pythagorus, the business teacher chose Donald Trump, and the computer teacher chose Mark Zuckerberg.  They created complex “body biographies” – body-shaped posters that teach about those people with quotes, images, patterns and designs, so students in their classrooms will have some informal opportunities to read in that subject area.  Of course, when you have an art teacher in the class, there’s no contest as to whose poster is going to have the most visual impact even without color printers – especially when he chooses to make a body biography of Pablo Picasso!

It’s an interesting challenge, finding ways to support teachers in reaching all students, when that has not been the philosophy here.  The education system here in Tonga is very British, very European, which means that it’s slightly elitist.  The smart kids, the ones who are very book-oriented, do well, and the rest are left to struggle on their own. Teachers here are very good at teaching in the classic “I will lecture and you will take notes” style, but structuring classes with true cooperative activities, long-term projects, and assessments other than written tests are still pretty new ideas.  We have 21 months left to help teachers find ways to apply these “education for all” concepts in their classrooms. 

The LDS Church schools use the slogan “Rescue the One.”  Jim and I have made it our goal to show teachers how rescuing the one student is done in the classroom on a daily basis.  We honestly feel that everything we’ve done in our lives – all the places we’ve lived, all the cultures we’ve shared in, all the success and failure we’ve experienced – it has all prepared us for this assignment.  We are frankly humbled by that realization, and more determined than ever to do our very best here.  Keep us in your prayers.

1 comment:

  1. No wonder the two of you were sent here! With the international experiences you've had, you are the perfect way to doubt that Heavenly Father knows exactly what he's doing! This ought to be a book, and if I had a library, I'd put it in the sections for faith, careers, and teacher education...and travel! Love you!