Day 6

Take a minute and look at the image above. What do you see?

What emotions do you sense?

What movement do you think is happening?

This is Aly Ndao’s class in Kaolack, Senegal, and it is filled with an energy that is too rare in American high schools, especially post-COVID, but even before.

There are no cell phones out here — but don’t assume they don’t have them. They do. They are just hidden away in backpacks. There is no senioritis, even though these are seniors preparing for their baccalaureate exams.

There is only excitement, and it’s a genuine excitement about learning. (You can see the quick video here.) Not only do the students raise their hands when Aly asks a question, they snap their fingers so he will call on them. And if they are wrong and he questions or corrects them, it doesn’t dampen their spirit. Next question, their arms are up again.

As I mentioned in my first post about this trip, my students sent questions to Aly’s students in Senegal. They asked about homework, games, and what questions these students have for them. The students shared their answers today, and I learned that they do 1-2 hours of homework per night, that the girls play a clapping/dancing game called Ay, and that they love the national dish, rice and fish.

What was most interesting was what they wanted to know about my students back in Minnesota.

What is the culture like?

Do you have a national dish?

And my favorite: What is your students’ comportment? In other words, how do my students carry themselves? How do they behave in school?

It was hard to even describe. I have wonderful students, and many of them work hard. But they need to be corralled and cajoled into learning in a way that Aly’s students don’t. They need to be redirected from the constant and unhealthy lure of social media and video games. They need frequent reminders about why learning (not just grades) matters.

It’s not just today’s classes. I’ve never in 29 years of teaching had a full class of teenagers consistently vying to participate in class. I’ve never even imagined that I would.

So I answered that my students are often distracted, and that many see learning as a chore, not a joy.

The young woman who asked the question leaned forward and asked, “Why?” And I found that I couldn’t answer.