We have it! One more off the checklist…

Dan was looking like this for a while, but not any longer! After spending about 10 hours in the police station this week we have the police report for Myron! A huge thanks to everyone who has been praying for this. This was the missing link in ouskeleton waitingr paperwork for birthday certificate and passport. Now, we can proceed to register Myron’s adoption and apply for a birth certificate. After this, we can apply for a Ugandan passport for Myron. Let’s hope the next stage is smoother!
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More stories to read

I am in the final editing stages for our Set 3 readers. Hopefully in a couple of weeks our set of five Set 3 phonics readers will hit the printing presses in Kampala, Uganda.

Set 3 is our last set of phonics readers and by this stage the stories are much more interesting. We decided to go with local Acholi/Ugandan stories. They are a little ‘dark’, with a few animal deaths, but that’s just the way the stories go, of course there’s a moral at the end.

A huge thanks to Phoebe Wright who sat down with a local teacher to listen to the stories and turn them into written form.

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The hurdles of starting a college…

We opened up a nursery teacher training college at the beginning of the year: a two-year weekend certificate programme to become a nursery teacher (a teacher of 3-6 year olds). We have the teaching curriculum, that was the easy part at least that was emailed to me from the Ministry of Education. But we are still finding our way when it comes to School Practice and ‘Display’ assessment areas. There are no details about these in the curriculum and finding information about these parts of the course is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

I finally had a conversation with the head of nursery teaching training colleges for the northern region in Gulu (we had been calling his number for 2 weeks but he lost his phone).

The conversation had many moments like this:

Me: Is there any guidelines for the School Practice? For example, what percentage of the day the student has to teach, etc.
Mr X: They have one week orientation then three weeks in the classroom.
Me: So in orientation do they only observe or do they teach?
Mr X: In orientation week they become familiar with the school environment, classroom and the children.
Me: Do they do any teaching?
Mr X: You don’t observe them in their first week.
Me: But what about teaching time?
Mr X: Oh yes, they do teach.
Me: For how much of the day: 20% of teaching time, 50%, 80%?
Mr X: A minimum of two learning areas.
This continues for a LONG TIME!

At last getting somewhere! But still more digging needed.

Then I find out about a vague mention of Display Materials with dates listed.
Me: What exactly does this mean: ‘Display of Materials’.
Mr X: You display materials.
Me: Where? In the classroom? Somewhere else?
Mr X: Learning materials but in a centre.
Me: How many displays to they need to prepare.
Mr X: A range.
Me: What does a range mean?
Mr X: The make some learning displays.
Me: Do they make 1? 5? 10?
Now Myron joins in: 20? 30? 40? (I’m excited he’s counting in tens, so I decide to count with him until we reach 100.
Mr X: A little laugh, a range.
Hmmm still no closer to finding out the answer to this one.

We have had a lot of encouraging moments since opening up our nursery teacher’s training college, but there are certainly many challenges as well. Finding any sort of guidelines for implementing parts of the course is also another challenge. It’s a certificate course, written by the Ministry of Education, examined by Makerere University, so we can’t really just ‘wing it’… although so far so good ūüôā

 

Life Story… on its way!

Myron has said a few comments over the past few months which are really quite revealing: we think he has forgotten all about life before us! In a way this is a relief (we do want him to forget about any of the pain he experienced before joining us as a family); it’s also quite flattering (in a slightly selfish way); and¬†finally quite surprising, now forcing us to think what should we do now? Some of his comments and questions even lead us to think that Myron believes he came from my tummy. In a few years this will clearly be obvious to him that he didn’t, but what about now?

I feel we began our adoption journey slightly blind and naive. How many adoption books did we read beforehand? Zip! Not necessarily due to arrogance, merely no time! And besides, who needs adoption books, blogs and research articles when we have a UK friend who has worked with ‘looked after children’ for years and also is on her own adoption journey. What did we do when Myron cried for hours at bed time in those first two weeks? Send a whatsapp message to our dear UK friend. When he threw tantrums out of defiance? The messages continued back and forth.

And now we feel it’s time to start explaining things about Myron’s life and family to him in a child-friendly way. So what do we do? Well initially I started looking for children’s books about adoption. There are plenty of naff ones out there! And many that are very specific to individual situations. I asked around for recommendations, looked up forums and found some titles that people both raved about and slated. Some bright spark suggested to me that I create my own one, since everyone’s story is different. So that’s what I tried to do. I started with what looked like a scrapbook of family pics in a Snapfish ¬†My Project folder online; then after consulting my number one support line friend, she helped me turn a scrapbook into a life story. The marathon of messages and support ensued, I didn’t realise that a life story would be so raw and open but of course that is the point. Telling the truth, in a child-appropriate way, when they are still young. Saying it now, when Myron may not completely understand, so it’s not considered a taboo or something we don’t talk about. I feel I have taken a journey within myself writing his ‘life story book’ – what a process that has been for me! Writing where he was found and his journey after that.

After a mountain of edits, I go to pay online and… blocked! What? Several support chats, possibly one hundred whatsapp messages to my adoption mentor (to the rescue), several emails to customer service, several phone calls her end to customer service and… it’s ordered! I couldn’t pay in Uganda, a banned country for Snapfish purchases…

Myron’s ‘life story book’ has been ordered. We are hoping it will arrive in time for our UK pastor and his wife to bring out when they visit us in a week and a half’s time. Please pray for speedy printing and for it’s quick arrival. And also for when we first share it with Myron.

 

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The cover of Myron’s ‘life story book’

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The first page of Myron’s ‘life story book’. A big thanks to my ‘adoption mentor’ and incredible friend from the UK who helped me put this together.

College conclusions with a story reading…

Last week was our final session on story reading with year 2 student teachers at Gulu Core Primary Teacher’s College. We finished our 5-week mini project with students planning to read a story aloud (yep, lesson plan and all!) and then reading aloud to us.

What an incredible 5 weeks! We journeyed a long way in a short amount of time and pray that these student teachers will remember a lot of what was shared and put it into practise in their classrooms next year.

A huge thank you to all our reading ambassadors from a variety of different organisations around Gulu – thanks for sharing this journey with us and volunteering your time to help us out! We, and the students, thank you!

Considering and planning how to pilot a similar training with some of our more enthusiastic local primary schools.

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Our reading volunteer teachers with Gulu Core Primary Teacher’s College year 2 students and college deputy principal Francissy (far right sitting); and college language teacher Gracious (centre crouching – slightly in front of me)

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Read Aloud guru (teacher and author) Phoebe Wright sharing some last minute read aloud tips with her group of student teachers.

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Restore Academy volunteer Kellie Ojeda sharing with her group of student teachers.

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Read for Life teacher Akello Catherine listening to her group plan and read a story aloud.

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Connect Education Centre librarian Kate gives student teachers feedback on reading aloud.

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Students discuss lesson planning.

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Students prepare a lesson plan for reading their story.

Free education a business…

During a school visit and lesson observation I chatted with some of the teachers about class sizes. How many in this class? 138. That’s almost 140 P1 children crammed into one class! Squeezed like sardines on benches, and some sitting on the floor out the front. It’s impossible to move throughout the classroom.

Why so many? Well, the number one reason is: the more children you have, the more money a school gets. Although we have all heard about ‘Free Education for All’ and ‘Universal Primary Education’, it’s not really free; that’s just what the international community hears. Parents pay school fees. It may not seem much to us, but it certainly can be to parents; an average government school here will charge about 40,000 Ugandan shillings per term (¬£8, $14.50); and parents also have to supply books, uniform, toilet paper, a soft broom and a hard broom (that’s just a given). And along with parents paying school fees for each child; the government gives ‘grants’ to each school depending on how many children they have: 7000 shillings per child per term (that’s about ¬£1.40 or $2.50) per child three times a year. This slowly adds up when you have around 140 in a class, so why stop at the government recommended number of 55 children in one class…

 

Aardvark snoring noises and car repairs

51yB+ZH7RoL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Whilst sitting outside a mechanic’s outdoor workshop waiting for the mechanic to repair our front window mechanism (again), Myron and I sat nearby and read some stories. First up for the day was one of our favourite African animal¬†tales: ‘Awkward Aardvark’. As we got into position on a small cement wall nearby a local car owner came to join us. He too was waiting for his car to be repaired and Awkward Aardvark seemed much more enticing than watching the mechanics in action.

Upon entry of the aardvark snoring noises: ‘HHHRRR-ZZZZ!’ our car owner took over – clearly I wasn’t doing a very good job with bringing aardvark snoring to life. And that’s how we continued, I read the story, and our sound-effects-car-owner joined in several times for the aardvark snoring effects: right to the end.

I can’t think of anywhere else in the world where I think this may happen, but I loved it and so did Myron.

Jody

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‘They were beating the young child like he was a mature man, pow pow pow…’ Words of encouragement?

“They were beating the young child like he was a mature man, pow pow pow, it was terrible!”

“The teacher spoke so rudely to the children, calling them stupid, saying they were acting like babies, that they were old enough for the next class but not smart enough. It was not good how the teacher was speaking.”

“I was moving around helping the children to write and the teacher told me to sit down. She said I would get tired. I told her that that was my job and continued moving around.”

“I lined the children up to walk them over to wash their hands, the teacher said to me, why am I doing that? The children know where to wash their hands, why walk in a line?”

Some of the statements above are quite outrageous and may even make you shudder. But you can’t understand how happy and encouraged I was to hear each of them this morning! All of these statements came from our first year student teachers from our new nursery teacher training college.

This week was the students’ first week on school placement, it’s called their Child Study Placement and they do a lot of observing of the classroom environment and a little teaching. This morning the students were buzzing with excitement when we started lessons, we started off by sharing their experiences of what they enjoyed about the week and what they found a bit challenging about their school placements. The comments above came from our students’ sharing about their challenges.

This is sort of another ‘you have to see it to believe the importance of it’ story. If you have been into Ugandan classrooms, or read a lot of what we or others have posted about education here, then you might understand a little about school discipline, teacher attitude and motivation. The incredible thing is that these students are now being reflective (after only half a year), not only about their own teaching but about what they are seeing.

I also recall back to orientation when it was difficult to get two words out of our students (or even hear what they said); now I had to say to them: ‘ok, summarise, and don’t take too long to share’ – I couldn’t keep them quiet as they paced out the front of the classroom re-enacting what they had seen in their classrooms.

Some weeks I question if I have bitten off too much to chew with the new nursery teacher’s training college, especially when it’s 10pm at night and I’m cutting up shapes or drawing a drum inside a letter ‘d’ for learning aids for lessons the next day. But after mornings like today, it is affirming, this is the right thing to do. We may not see the full fruition of our labour, but future children will. Pray for our students as we train them to take on ‘counter cultural’ practises and to be creative, inspiring, well-educated, respectful, reflective educators.

You might ask what was their biggest highlight? They love their new uniforms and they got many great comments about them. We’ll have to post some photos of them in their uniforms in the future…

For the love of reading…

We have become united for the love of reading!

This week was the second week in our new project with our local primary teacher’s college. We currently have a slot on the timetable teaching year one students once a week for the whole year, but this year we raised the bar and were granted another spot on the timetable to teach year two students ‘read aloud’ skills. That is teacher-speak for how to read a storybook aloud to children. We look at fluency, expression, asking different types of questions, and how to teach different aspects of critical thinking such as predicting, comprehension, summarising, comparing the text to your own situation, etc.

This might seem like a basic and not very exciting project to you, but if you know a little about education in Gulu or Uganda in general, then you will be tingling with excitement at this project!
Here, many student teachers may never have had a children’s story read aloud to them. And they, quite possibly, have never had the opportunity to practise reading a fiction book aloud to others (textbooks – yes, but storybooks, ah, pass). It has been so exciting to see some of these students come alive and in just two sessions bring stories alive as well. We pray that these student teachers will become excited about reading children’s books and want to read stories to their future students.

What is also exciting about this project is the many people who have come together to make it happen. We normally teach large classes at the college, there’s about 200 students and we wanted to have more intimate group reading sessions where we could listen to each student read and give feedback. So… we called in some more troops! We have volunteers and staff members from several other organisations, both Ugandans and expats, who have come forward and donated their time to make this happen. Missing from this picture below is our ‘van driver’ who has also volunteered with his 14-seater van from Football for Good to take us to the college and back every week!

What a team!

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Our 14 ‘read aloud ambassadors’ – many in this picture come from other organisations but have a passion for stories and reading and want to see the love of reading imparted into our future teachers. Thank you volunteers! We are posing with our ‘question mark’ gesture. Please note that not all of our incredible volunteers made it this week, there’s a few other lovely faces missing that are well appreciated and loved!

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Leading a fluency activity with my group of student teachers.

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READ for Life new teacher Nighty leading a read aloud session.

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Our PTC ‘queen bee’ Teacher Aleks putting ‘her all’ into demonstrating ‘expression’.

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Connect Education Centre Librarian Kate playing an expression game with her group of students

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Read Aloud guru (and author) Phoebe Wright playing the punctuation/fluency activity with her group of students.

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Two of our Read Aloud volunteers preparing for class…

A police report and a big elbow

For those who pray…

There are two prayer requests that we would love you to join us in:

  1. Before we can get a Ugandan passport for Myron we need to complete his ‘long birth certificate application’. And the last jigsaw piece for this is a police report detailing when Myron was first ‘found’ by authorities. ¬†We have a case file number for this report but don’t have a physical copy of the report. Dan has made several visits to the local police station to follow this up. What’s the problem? The report is over 2 years old, possibly not a great filing system and more than likely no-one wants to look for this report. The probation officer should have a copy of this report, and so should the children’s home, but Dan is getting ‘bounced’ by everyone. Please pray that we can ‘somehow’ get this report…
    We would love to go and visit our family in Australia for Christmas and the longer this takes the less likely this will happen. Being patient and waiting…
  2. Dan’s elbow has ballooned out. He doesn’t want to post any gorgeous shots… but just imagine a very swollen elbow that is now heading down his arm. Not sure of the cause, and possibly aggravated by a football fall on the weekend (World Cup practice!) He’s heading back to the health centre tomorrow to see our Dr mate.