Jeff's main page can be found at http://web.mit.edu/iggy/Jeff.
This page is the letter that Jeff sent on: Sep 5, 1999
Tomorrow will be a historic day in my world. On Labor Day in America, 1999, I will enter the world's labor force for real for the first time as I teach 2 middle school English classes in the small Malagasy town of Mantasoa. From 8-10am, I teach what is the Malagasy equivalent of American 6th graders. This will be the first time most of these kids will have ever heard an English word. I have an image in my head of 40 Malagasy 11 year-olds staring back at me while I jump around and bark at them for 2 full hours. A friend of mine just told me though, that during his first French class ever, the entire class just laughed at the teacher the entire time. Believe it or not, that actually made me feel a lot better. After I teach the absolute beginners for 2 hours, I will teach the Malagasy equivalent of 7th grade from 10-12. I do all this teaching with another person, so I'll have someone to share all the painful, awkward screw-ups with. Should be fun. Well, I start teaching in just over 8 hours, so its bedtime for me, but I'll be sure to update you all on how it goes.
I've finished my first week of teaching. Teaching is very hard and extremely time consuming, but I like it. The first day went better than expected. The kids actually responded a few times, and even learned how to say "Hello," "My name is Herinandro," and "Good-bye." On Monday, I taught with my friend, Katie, for 4 hours. On Tuesday and Wednesday, I taught alone for 2 hours. On Thursday, I taught with my friend, Andrea, for 2 hours, and on Friday, I taught alone again for 2 hours. [If my writing sounds funny, it's for one of two reasons: 1) I'm currently observing 2 of my friends teaching, so I'm a little distracted, and 2) I've begun to speak English like a 6th grade Malagasy student, saying every word slowly and distinctly, not using any complicated words, and gesturing constantly - at least you won't be able to pick up on that through this medium.] I teach for 2 more weeks here in Mantasoa - mostly doing team teaching - then I have about 3 weeks more of training, and then I go to site and get my own classes.
Teaching alone is a lot easier and usually a lot smoother than teaching with someone else because, while I always have a detailed lesson plan prepared, some of the best teaching and student involvement seems to occur as a result of flashes of brilliance which come to me in the middle of class. These flashes of brilliance are much easier to implement when teaching alone. For example, I finished class on Friday by having the entire class screaming/chanting the days of the weeks as I jumped around the front of the class like a mad professor. It was great.
So anyway, teaching is hard, but fun. I'm becoming very accustomed to living in this culture, too. We walk home from school every day along side cows and bulls. There are chickens everywhere. I went on a 7 or 8 kilometer run yesterday through rice paddies. None of this seems bizarre to me anymore.
I'm very excited to hear what everybody's lives are like in America.
I've enclosed a 5000 Franc note because I think it's really cool. On one side are lemurs, butterflies, and other Malagasy wildlife. On the other side are Malagasy farmers, cows pulling a cart (which you see everywhere here) and the famous baobab trees. [Editor's note: It will be a day or two before it gets scanned in]