My previous post introduced you to my first two days in Limpopo. Following the two day workshops, we spent the next three days visiting schools. We stayed in Polokwane and traveled an hour and a half to one school and two hours to the other school. The goal of these visits was to observe the teachers to see if they were efficiently implementing some of the strategies learned in the workshops and to provide support where needed.
Due to my stomach issues, I was only able to visit one of the two schools. We arrived at the school and learned that we would observe two instead of four teachers. The principal, one of the English teachers, was in meetings all week and so we would not be able to observe his classes. I later learned that it was typical for the principal to teach classes in rural areas due to a shortage of trained teachers.
In trying to figure out the different times for the classes, it was clear the teachers did not want to be observed. This was quite nuanced as one could argue that the observations were purely for development purposes and so the teachers would be very open to the idea. However, as we know, context is everything! One of the major teachers unions in South Africa has strongly advocated against observing teachings and so the Department of Basic Education does not observe classrooms on a regular basis. Therefore, this project was charting into contested and controversial territory.
We observed our first class for the day and it was a success in that the teacher used one of the techniques discussed at the workshop. Although, there were some areas that needed improvement, it was clear that she was trying to adopt some of the suggestions. During our debrief, we could see a shift in her personality and how she engaged with us. It was at this point that I remembered the importance and value of building relationships. Although, there may be a culture of not wanting to be observed, some of these tensions may be mitigated through relationship building. If time is spent forging relationships with the teachers and the schools, this could help all parties develop a common understanding of the goals of the project. Unfortunately, this project only had workshops and visits four times per year which does not allow for ongoing communication. There may be an element of distrust among the teachers but it is difficult to truly understand their perceptions about the project when the contact time is so limited.
One of the major takeaways from this fieldwork experience was the importance of building relationships. In the development field, we emphasize that these kinds of initiatives should include the voices of those being impacted. In order to do so, it is imperative that relationships exist. Otherwise, the impact of the project will be questionable. I am extremely grateful to my colleague for allowing me to be a part of this project. Not only did I learn about Limpopo, educational challenges in the region but I was also reminded about the value of relationships.