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A letter from Larry and Barbara Moir in Ethiopia

October 12, 2011

An Ethiopian Journal

Noise in the Classroom

Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy! – Psalm 47:1   

I got in trouble today. Those who know me understand. Well, maybe they’re a bit puzzled as to how a man my age can get into trouble for disrupting a classroom. It’s not hard really. You see, I think that learning and education ought to be fun. So I am a cutup in class—my own English class at that. A few other teachers at BESS (Bethel Evangelical Secondary School) were “concerned” that my class and I were making too much noise. The students were speaking loudly and clapping their hands and laughing. OK. I admit I started it. But, really, a text message, to ask me to be quiet? Oh, well.

Since September I have been teaching eight sections of Conversational English to 11th and 12th grade students at BESS in addition to English as a Second Language at Gidada Bible School. My experience with two years of ESL at Gidada has helped me to develop a rather noisy approach. I clap my hands to beat out the time for multi-syllable words. Since hand clapping during worship is encouraged—these are not Presbyterians—it is natural that students will begin clapping as soon as the teacher does. Of course I must speak louder to be heard over all that hand clapping. So the students follow my lead and repeat their English phrases as loud as they can. You should know that the teachers at Gidada, most of whom are pastors, have not yet complained. It should also be said that they close their classroom and office doors when I enter the school compound on my teaching day—a strictly reflexive response. I understand. 

Helping students learn English pronunciation and sentence structure requires repetition and creativity to keep one’s head in the game. Repetition can be boring. And the one most susceptible to boredom is the English teacher. We think we are going overboard with repeating the vowel sounds 20 times. In reality the students, especially those who are anxious to learn correct pronunciation, stay with us. We are the ones who need the variety. So I sing the vowel sounds, a, e, i, o, u, in a five-note scale, up and down with key changes. This gets these musically oriented students rocking and clapping their hands with each note.  We sing the “Alphabet Song,” and once I did a rendition of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”  I can’t wait until we do the days of the week and the months of the year. “Saturday, in the park, I think it was the Fourth of Julyyyyy . . .” (from Chicago).

There is a payoff in all of this. There is one 12th grade girl who has not said one English word in school for all of her four years here. She can read and understand English. She can understand what we are saying. But she cannot speak English because she is afraid she will be wrong. Yesterday, after I took her economics notebook away from her and asked her to get out her English notebook, she got with the program. Speaking, repeating, clapping, singing, smiling and laughing. When I asked the students to repeat the sentence, “Learning English is fun!” she was the loudest of them all, even adding a “Whoop!" at the end. And this morning, for the first time, she called out to get my attention, “Hello, Teacher Larry. Good morning. How are you?”

“I am well, Fasica, how are you?”

“I am well also, Teacher. Thank you.”

Now that’s one of the reasons Barbara and I are doing what we are doing. We teach English in a way that is fun, and a bit noisy. And thanks be to God for the fun of it.

Larry Moir

The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 57
The 2012 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 95

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