In February 2015, I went to Bugarama in Southern Rwanda to teach English in St Paul Muko School. This was the first time I had taken part in such a project and I was accompanied by Dennis, who had been visiting Bugarama for several years. We flew from Heathrow to Kigali and after a long bus journey through some spectacular countryside we were greeted by Wellars and Georgine, the headmistress of the school.
On my first day in Bugarama, we were taken on a short tour of the school and we were introduced to some of the teachers. I then observed a couple of lessons and I noticed how well-behaved the students were and how motivated they seemed to be to learn English. It really struck me how difficult it must be for the pupils to concentrate in the heat and the class sizes were big. There were about 40 pupils in each class, although in each class there were 50 students on the register – it was usual for a few students to be absent each day. I got stuck straight in after that and ran the English club for that day. It was well-attended with around 60 students turning up! The students asked me lots of questions as they were eager to learn about me and where I came from.
I started teaching on Thursday and it was great to be in the classroom and the students were really excited to have a native speaker as an English teacher. The first lesson for each class was taken up with some introductory activities and ice-breakers. We also worked on the present simple tense. I tried to make the lessons as interactive as possible – this was quite a challenge given the large class sizes.
Saturday morning was given over to teaching the teachers. The session was really well attended with 20 teachers and it was a really productive morning. We worked on a few different areas such as extreme adjectives, narrative tenses, sport vocabulary, active and passive adjectives. I tried to make the lesson as communicative as possible and based speaking activities around the areas I have mentioned above which also allowed me to work on pronunciation. Possibly, the most challenging aspect of this session was that the teacher’s abilities varied greatly from having a post-beginner to an upper-intermediate level of English. We finished the lesson with a communicative “Who dunnit game”, which everyone enjoyed. On Sunday, we were kindly invited to attend a church service and introduced ourselves to the congregation. It was a great opportunity as it really helped us to feel part of the community.
Over the next couple of weeks I settled into a routine. My first lesson of the day usually started at 8.05am. I taught several different Senior 2 classes and we worked on grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary and did lots of speaking activities. Although the students found it a little difficult to understand me to begin with, the use of pictures, graded language and gestures helped them to understand and by the time I left they had got used to my accent and I was able to talk at close to normal speed – this really helped them to improve their listening skills. I also started teaching some of the senior 3 classes later in the week and we focussed on their writing in these lessons. Overall, the children were a joy to teach and were excited at having a teacher from the UK. While I taught, Dennis took care of the painting with Moses and Carpophone.
During the breaks, I spent some time with the primary school pupils who loved singing songs like “The wheels on the bus go round and round!” At the end of the school day, I spent some time teaching the teachers and I continued to run the English club which was always well attended.
All too quickly it was time to say good bye. After giving all of my students certificates, we were treated to a farewell ceremony.
Teaching English in Muko School was an unforgettable experience and I’m hoping to visit again in November. Everyone was so kind and appreciative. Both teachers and students have a real desire to improve their level of English and I feel that it is important that the English teaching project continues. I think it’s a perfect opportunity not only for qualified teachers, but also for anyone who would like to spend some time talking to the teachers to improve their level of conversational English.