St. George's College
After a year of study at the University of Zimbabwe in 1994, I sent out CVs to local high schools to see if I could get a job and stay in the country a little longer. I got a couple of positive responses, and took the offer at St. George's College, a ritzy boys' high school for the country's elite. It is located right next to the President's house and the National Botanical Gardens. It was different than anything I had ever experienced in America.
The headmaster gave me a spot in the English department, teaching lower stream students. What a challenge! I had all these 14 and 15 year-old kids who questioned the whole educational process. Actually, though some of them were absolutely hopeless academically, many responded to my encouragement and became better students. Some even moved out of the lower-streams to the mid- and upper-streams so that they could study a more intense curriculum. But, whatever they learned, I'm sure I learned much more than they did. The main thing I learned was a new respect for high school teachers!
I taught both English literature and Business English to the kids. We read Chinua Achebe's famous book, Things Fall Apart, which invited students to imagine life in Africa before colonization. They enjoyed it, as they wrestled with the dilemmas faced by Okonkwo and his people in present-day Nigeria. We also read a local book, Crossing the Boundary Fence, which dealt with interracial friendships in Rhodesia, before Zimbabwe's independence. As all of these students are used to a mixed academic environment, it made lots of sense to them. The Business English side of things was practical: how to compose a business letter, etc.
I lived on campus in my own room. This allowed me to interact with the students and other live-in teachers in the evenings. After almost every dinner, I chatted with them until the wee hours of the morning, solving Africa's problems, arguing about the world's state of affairs, and wondering what life after Saints would look like.
But I had responsibilities outside of the classroom as well. I was the shot-put and discus coach for the athletics team. So I ran around with the track squad, trying to get in shape, brushed on my throwing techniques and even helped a couple of guys win first place at the city's big track meet.
I taught at St. George's for only six months because I was not able to get my visa extended. Immigration didn't see me as contributing absolutely "necessary skills" to the country. Damn them! So from there I put on my backpack and started my two-and-a-half-year odyssey through east and southern Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands.
As you can see, St. George's is a beautiful school. It is over 100 years old, having started as a little colonial institution in Bulawayo in the 1890s. It is the essence of the British boarding school heritage. Though most students no longer board, the style of interaction amongst students and faculty remains very hierarchical and formal. We always had to wear formal gear when we taught and students had to stand up and doff their caps if a teacher ever passed by. I learned to appreciate the utility of this strict authority, especially with some of the rowdy students I was teaching. I wonder where they are now...