2012 / Cameroon

Biggest Challenge and Surprises in Cameroon!

I am coming down the last leg of my overseas placement in Yaounde (Yaw-oon-dey), Cameroon.  I have been at the Central Government English Primary School for eight weeks now, and I have three left.  Every day I encounter challenges; whether it is class interruptions, student behavior, or even live animals wandering in to visit us!  I try to meet every challenge with a positive, overcoming mindset.

My school is set up like two U’s, one inside of the other.  The buildings are made of cement with tall open windows, that have metal shutters that lock at night.  I initially loved the big windows, they created a lovely cross breeze in the morning.  They also serve as people’s perch to stand at and start talking to me.  This would not be a problem if it was not in the middle of my teaching every day.  And it is not just other teacher’s coming to talk, it’s random people from around the community that have heard that I am teaching.  I cannot ignore people once I see them, because that is considered extremely rude to the Cameroon people.  In the first few weeks of my teaching this was a constant challenge.  I would be teaching and someone would come and start talking to me and I would lose the class’ focus all together.  Behaviors would then begin and I’d end up wanting to pull my hair out.  As time went on, I began to feel more confident as a teacher and as a member of the community here.  Now when people begin to interrupt my teaching, I quickly say my greeting and inform them that I am in the middle of a lesson but I would love to talk to them on break or after school.  This way, the disruption is cut short and the person still feels valued.

Another disruption that I continue to struggle with is my cooperating teacher.  I have been teaching full time since my first week in the class.  My cooperating teacher is a kind woman I really do get along with, even though I do not agree with her teaching methods.  She randomly is in the classroom to grab some paperwork or take a nap.  When I am teaching she will randomly watch to see if someone is not paying attention and then she will yell, at a very high decibel, “ATEBA IS NOT IN CLASS!!  ATEBA TURN AND PAY ATTENTION!!  NOWWWW!!” I am always thrown off a little by this.  It actually seems to affect me more than the students.  I finally had a conversation with her about it a couple weeks ago.  I told her that I appreciated her helping keep the students on track during my lessons, but that volume of the “prompting” was disturbing my thought process some, and asked if she would continue to prompt the students, but more quietly and on a one to one level.  She understood, and I can see her trying to remember to do this, but it is still a work in progress.

The class sizes are huge here!  There are so many students, with not enough classrooms or teachers.  I am blessed with the smallest class of 40 five, six and seven year olds.  It is a challenge to manage a classroom of that size with such young children.  There are so many environmental elements in the classroom that result in management difficulties.  The way that the school setup allows for a lot of shared noise.  Some classes let out at different times, so when other children are in the yard, it sounds like they are in the class with us.  This is really distracting for students.  When they see and hear this, they want to go to the bathroom, they are trying to communicate with students outside, or they start disrupting other students in class.  When this challenge arises, I look to my list of “noisy day activities.”  I created this list a couple weeks into my placement.  It is full of educational activities, songs and games that are loud and attention grabbing for my students.  I’ve even divided it out to subject areas, so if math is interrupted, we can still be doing something mathematically related.

Individual student behavior has also been a challenge.  At the beginning I created a green, yellow, red system that I blogged about before.  That has continued to work well for my students.  If students are not paying attention, or doing something they are not suppose to be doing, I simply have to walk towards the chart, and say, “I am looking for a student who is making a good choice.”  They instantly snap back into a good choice behavior, which we have discussed.  Sometimes I am helping a student or two at their desk and I don’t want to leave them to walk across the room if student are misbehaving.  At that point I look around to find a student making a good choice and sing, “I like the way Sonia is working, S-o-n-i-a spells Sonia.  Good job today!”  I got this idea from Cheri McAllister, my cooperating teacher from New Holstein Elementary.  The words and tune are constantly changing, but the student ALL love it, and work hard to get their name sung.  My students all tell me, “Madame Ensor, you sing so beautiful!”… that is a first for me…I may stay here forever : ).

Every day is an adventure at school!  There are many things that have surprised me.  My first week I was doing a lesson of the /d/ sound, and all of a sudden a small goat ran into the classroom!  Soon to be followed by two more!  They didn’t stay for long, but they succeeded in surprising the hell out of me!  Haha, the students thought my reaction was hilarious!  We even ended up writing a sentence about it with a picture, “The goat scared Madame Ensor.”  The pictures were priceless.

One day I smelled something very foul, only to find out the man selling fresh cow legs and cow tail was right outside my window.  Agnes, my cooperating teacher, proceeded to buy some and bring them in the classroom.  The smell actually made me sick to my stomach the first day.  Now this happens weekly and I am A LITTLE more use to the smell.  I hate cow leg days.

The challenges and surprises here at Central Government keep me on my toes.  I am learning so many things, and practicing different teaching methods daily.  I could not have picked a better regular education student teaching experience for myself.  Three weeks left, and I am going to make them the best!


^The school supplies donated from New Holstein Elementary arrived and we finally got to have the presentation ceremony with the delegates from the Ministry of Education!  This is my class with the supplies!


^Learning about traditional Cameroon dancing can only be done by first hand experience! 🙂


^Andela showing off his awesome sentence writing skills!


^On Friday’s we do SPORT! Very fun/scary because we do it on a 45 degree angled hill.  Sheesh!


^We made pattern hats in math on Friday! 🙂 Yay, so fun!!


3 thoughts on “Biggest Challenge and Surprises in Cameroon!

  1. Carly,

    Your experience in Africa sounds incredible! I must say you are a lot braver than I am. I love the way you always put a positive spin on everything you are doing.

    Reading this post, I really like your idea of singing a child’s name who is displaying good behavior. In my classroom I have also struggled a lot with different behaviors. I have found it hard to efficiently manage the classroom when trying to work one-on-one or in small groups. I think your idea of singing a students name is a great way to applaud students who are on task, yet also let students who are misbehaving know you are still aware of what else is going on in the classroom.

    I hope your last three weeks in Cameroon are wonderful! I look forward to hearing more when we get home 🙂

  2. Caroline,

    Sounds like you had an amazing adventure. I can only imagine how much your experience challenged you as an individual and an educator. I have also had some issues with my cooperating teacher. Yelling is simply something I am not accustomed to and it is extremely frowned upon in the United States for excellent reasons. When my cooperating teacher yells at the student I literally cringe inside and the entire environment is changed.

    I would love to hear more about your experience! We should Skype sometime and catch up.


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