Ashley Nock, BSEd ’19, Middle Grades Mathematics
The Amazima School
(Curriculum standards similar to 8th grade; students range in age from 12-22)
This past year of teaching has looked far different than I originally expected, but it has been one I will cherish for years to come. Teaching in Uganda has surprisingly been very similar to teaching in the States. The biggest difference is that most learning that happens in Uganda is rote memorization, meaning that students just memorize over and over again, with no critical thinking. It is fascinating as students will recite word for word definitions about percentages or fractions, but as soon as they see one in a problem they have no idea what to do.
The vision of The Amazima School, specifically with Transition Year, is to reteach a lot of content that was learned in primary school, but in an entirely new way. Using the teaching practices I learned at Baylor has been fascinating as most of the things we do with students are completely new. Manipulatives, collaborating with peers, and interactive lessons have had students both fascinated and confused at times. To observe a deep understanding of content for the first time for these students is something I hope to never take for granted.
I will never forget the discovery we had when using base-10 blocks, as students found how they each fit together and represent different place values. Mid-teaching, one student yelled, “This is very good mathematics!”
Another American practice that I have used here has been greeting students at the door, and it’s my most valuable teacher trick! In traditional Ugandan schools, the relationship between student and teacher is extremely formal, and teachers are very unapproachable. Most students fear their teachers, so they never ask for help and rarely participate in class. I have found that greeting each of them at the door as they enter class has been one of the most surprising things to my Ugandan colleagues, and most fruitful things for my students!
My favorite difference about teaching here is the neatness of the student’s work. Everything is extremely formal and neat, to the point of getting a ruler every time they are asked to draw a number line. I’ve had to grow significantly in patience, but students make far fewer mistakes in their work.
Our school year runs from February to December in three terms throughout the year. From July to December, 2019, I had started out at our Ex-Pat school, teaching the several missionary kids that are children of Amazima staff. I was teaching all grades of math, and even a little bit of science! I was able to make it home for Christmas. Then I started the new school year out in January at the Amazina secondary school.
With the disruption of COVID-19, we were just six weeks into the entire school year when we got shut down. It was disappointing to say the least and made flexibility take on a whole new meaning. The possibility of at-home learning is largely restricted due to the lack of resources our students have. Most students do not have electricity, let alone a computer. Over the course of the past 3 months, we have sent learning packages home, called them, and visited their homes. Obviously, no option is ideal, but I am grateful for the ways it has challenged and grown me as an educator. Teaching through a phone and sending all work on paper has challenged me to look at the learning practices I learned from Baylor in a whole new light. Visiting students in their villages has been an invaluable experience to build relationships with students and know how I can better teach them. Drawing graphs in the dirt, working on multiplication and area by counting bricks, and helping a family to budget for the first time have been memories I will never forget.
Through all the excitement and good days, there have definitely been challenges. Most of my students could not understand my accent for the first month of school. One day I told students to “look at the question underneath the table” referring to the table on their note sheet. Next thing I knew all of them were under their desks. Lessons and ideas have flopped more times than I can count. One time I tried to have students do “fist to five” on their way out as a self-assessment, and they all just drew a hand on their paper.
My students have had far more challenging life experiences than I, and some are even older than I am, forcing me to really earn my respect. There are days when your students are so disruptive you just want to walk out of the classroom. I’ve had to grow a lot in professionalism and classroom management. The rewards of teaching sometimes take longer to see, but somehow you are consistently reminded why you chose this profession.
The beauty of teaching is that no matter how hard the day is or how bad the lesson went, you can start fresh with the next class or the next d
ay. There is grace to try again. The hard days and the hard students are the ones that have made me a better teacher. Teaching has given me the opportunity to have an impact on the lives of my students and disciple them through education. Whether in the classroom or at home, whether in Uganda or the states, the value of education stands, and I consider it a great honor to be a small part of it for my students.
Even with all the uncertainties and surprises, I feel like I was as prepared as I could have been thanks to Baylor. I am most grateful for how prepared I felt throughout the year. Even though it was my first year, it never really felt like it. One of the most valuable experiences from Baylor was my intern year, and the opportunity to learn so much about co-teaching. At The Amazima School, each foreign national teacher is paired with an Ugandan teacher to mentor. The foreign national is able to bring knowledge on critical thinking and teaching methodology, while the Ugandan teacher is crucial with curriculum and culture. We were able to use the various co-teaching strategies I learned at Baylor, and I was able to show my partner so many of the valuable resources I was given. Without Baylor, I would have felt incredibly unprepared in this role.
This next year, I will be staying in Uganda and continuing to teach at The Amazima School, while also attending Dallas Theological Seminary online to earn my Masters of Arts in Christian Education.