What is it like teaching English in Fiji?
Like usual, kids all over the world generally have the same youthful mindset, so it felt familiar, but different. Challenging, yet gratifying. However, and this is a BIG however, teaching English in Fiji to a class of 47 students is a whole other world of challenging.
I repeat–47 individual eleven and twelve year olds all at the same time!
Among the forty-something volunteers currently at the Green Lion, only a handful of them volunteered to be teachers. Most of them were on the construction or kindergarten programs.
Why did I decide to teach? One, Fiji is a freakin’ HOT tropical island, so I couldn’t be bothered sweating my ass off doing construction work. Secondly, spending my afternoons with hordes of poopy baby kids every weekday sounded like the worst thing ever, so skip that.
Teaching it is!
It was an easy choice. I have loads of experience teaching around the world, so much in fact that recently I became certified to teach English internationally. It’s something I have if I ever wanted to pursue it further along. But I gotta admit, I came a loooooong way.
This was back in South Africa in 2012 when I was unexpectedly thrown into teaching for the first time and I had no idea what the heck I was doing…
I found my stride teaching in Nepal (2014) and Guatemala (2015)…
So naturally I had positive expectations for teaching English in Fiji!
Junior walked me and a couple others to Nasinu Sangham Primary School, just a few minutes walk from the volunteer house. On the way, he asked us what class of students we would like to teach.
Wow, I had a choice!
It’s rare to have the option to choose which class of kids I wanted. Normally the volunteer organizations just plop me into some class.
“What classes does the school go up to?” I asked him.
“Class eight,” he responded.
“The older the better for me.”
“Okay, class six?”
Teaching class six was my preferred choice. They were at the age where they were old enough to comprehend grownup matters but still oblivious to the world at large. This was the age where the choices they made now would trickle into their higher education learning and beyond. I was here to help guide them on the correct course.
“Not many volunteers choose the older classes,” said Junior as we entered the school grounds. “Most choose class one or two.”
We first met the principal of the school. He was of Indian heritage and had that typical ‘principal look’. The look of dominance and if you misbehave, this is the guy you are gonna see and it won’t be pretty. He welcomed us to the school and soon after Junior escorted me to room 601, the class I would be a part of. We entered.
Holy crap there was a shit ton of kids in here!
Some of them out of their seats, all chatting, and seemed to be in the middle of a laid back assignment. Their teacher sat at the desk and welcomed me with a warm smile. Her name is Mrs. Kurisaqila, a Fijian woman in charge of the class. She directed the students to welcome me. They all stopped what they were doing and stood up.
“This is Mister Daniel,” she told them. “He will be helping to assist the class for the next six weeks.”
“Good morning Mister Daniel!” shouted the class in unison.
“Good morning!” I responded. “How are you?”
“We are fine, thank you! How are you today” they shouted again in perfect harmony.
“I am fine as well, thank you!”
They all sat down and curiously stared at me snickering, while making small talk with one another probably saying not-so-great things about me in their native tongue. Maybe. I know I did when I was in elementary.
“How many students are in the class?” I asked her.
“Forty-seven,” she replied. “But some of them are absent today.”
My eyes just about popped out of my head. Forty-seven!? I think the most I’ve ever had at once maxed out at about 25. This was almost double.
“Half of the students are Fijian, the other half are Hindi,” she continued to say. “So some days we split the class so half of them learn Fijian language and the other half learn Hindi language, but all predominately learn English.”
The idea for me being here was to assist Mrs. Kurisaqila with checking assignments and helping the students with their course work. Once I got the hang of things, she would let me teach whole subjects on my own as she did paperwork. By the looks of it, these students could use all the help they could get.
Floats like a mosquito and stings like a snail??
Damn, what kind of snails do they have here on this island? I giggled when I read that. But then again, I wouldn’t expect these students to understand the metaphor. I don’t think I knew what that meant at their age!
I also saw these posted on the bulletin boards which were a little alarming:
You must spend money to make money? I guess…when you’re investing as an adult but when I was their age, I was taught to save my money. Also, they only require 50% of the students to pass? Yikes!
I spent the first day getting to learn the students names (which will take me awhile). and observing the process. Every country I teach in has different rules and standards that I needed to familiarize myself with. Like with this one, I’m required to wear a decent button-up and a sulu.
What’s a sulu? It’s basically a skirt for men.
Fiji was getting sweaty hot so wearing a sulu felt cool for my under carriage, but I absolutely hate wearing flip-flops or sandals. Only when I’m in a beach environment. Wearing my sneakers would look silly with a sulu so I had to make do. (Eventually I began to wear pants and no one minded.) As a matter of fact, only the Fijian teachers wore the traditional Fijian outfit. The teachers of Indian background wore a button-up and slacks. I alternated between both, with favoritism towards the latter.
During the second day of assisting, Mrs. Kurisaqila asked if I wanted to take over a period. I happily accepted and went on the whim. I didn’t prepare any lessons yet because I still had to gauge the class. I had to find out their general academic skill level, sort out who were the smarties, who were behind, who were the troublemakers, and let the students grow comfortable with me. I implemented an “ice breaker “ in the form of an old fashioned, traditional Spelling Bee. They’ve never heard of a Spelling Bee but when I explained to them the rules, they were excited to strut their stuff. It was a way for me to meter them as well. After an intense few rounds, Adi came out on top to which the class applauded her. By the way, I got the list of appropriate age-level words just from googling a website on my phone.
I had ideas as to what lesson plans to conjure for the coming weeks. In the mean time, I still had all of Fiji to explore with my new housemates. We have our evenings and weekends free to do whatever we wanted!
So far, my class turned out to be pretty neat, my housemates were entertaining, and with the unbeatable setting–Fiji– I had a good feeling about the rest of my stay here.
However, I knew from prior experiences that each week could change for no reason other than for life to toy with me.