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  • Writer's picturewassa123

Start of School

Updated: Oct 19, 2021

For the next nine months, I'll be teaching at Lycée Classique, an elite public school in the city center. I chose the school for its reputation of excellence, the large amount of students, the beautiful campus, and because their mascot is a caiman, which makes me nostalgic for my high school mascot, the gator.

My start to teaching was a bit...unconventional. On Monday, September 27th, I walked into the classroom with a headteacher and began introducing myself. Hi, my name is Wassa Bagayoko, I’m from New York City and I am very excited to be here.*cue laughter at my accent* I was about to get into my background when I was interrupted by a loud whistle and chants.

My headteacher, observing from the back of the class, gave me a tired smile as I stuck my head out to investigate. Despite it being first period, a large group of students had gathered on the school greens, shouting and blowing whistles. In the five seconds I spent looking outside my classroom door, my headteacher had gathered his things and materialized behind me. “We should go. Now.”

By the time I’d collected my bags, a young student with a bright green whistle had appeared at our door, banging on the wall and gesturing for her classmates to join her. From where I stood, the room seemed split: some students grabbed their bags and sprinted out the door while others tried to shoo the girl away.

As we hurried over to the teacher’s lounge, two students followed us, asking if I would be coming back. My headteacher teased, “She American, if these protests get too rowdy, a helicopter will come and scoop her up.”

about 7 am on Monday, blissfully unaware that I would return home in two hours

From my understanding, the students were upset about the lack of certain resources at the high school were dissatisfied with administration negotiations.

So, on my first day of classes, I sat in a teacher’s lounge as the faculty debated (in very rapid French) what to do in response to the student’s actions. From what I gathered, this was the fourth time in two weeks the students were protesting. In response, the teachers decided to stage a counter strike, canceling classes for the next week. As a foreigner and an ETA, my hands were tied, so I went home, lunch unopened to wait for my first real day.

October 3rd, 2021

This was my real first day of school. I shadowed a headteacher for four English classes. High school is three years here instead of four, so we taught two first level, one middle level, and one senior class. We mostly spent the time doing Q&A to acclimate them to my accent. Students asked where I’m from, how to improve their English, why I chose to teach, what my favorite Ivorian food is. (it's attiéké) I inevitably got the “if you’re a Bagayoko, why don’t you speak French?” It gave me Mean Girls vibes.

In the older classes, I got more challenging questions. Do you have a boyfriend? Why did you choose our school? What are your intentions here? One question truly surprised and challenged me.

“You were in the United States when Geroge Floyd was killed. How did you feel about that and have you ever been a victim of racism?”

To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure how to answer this. The first challenge was the language barrier – while these students are easily proficient English speakers, tackling racism in a language class wasn’t what I was expecting on my first day. The second was a cultural constraint. One of the goals of Fulbright is to be a cultural ambassador, and I fully intend to give my students a realistic understanding of the United States. But how could I explain systemic racism and anti-Blackness to Black students who might not even identify as Black? Where do I begin in the complex but also painfully simple history of police brutality in the United States? How could I explain my own experience of growing up first-generation? And most importantly, how could I get them to a place where they can critically analyze and discuss race rather than parroting anything I say? After an awkward silence, I settled on this:

The murder of Geroge Floyd was deeply upsetting, but not surprising. Racial tensions in the United States are still very high, but even before it became major news, racism was a real problem most Americans deal with all the time. We can chat more about it in English club.

Although it threw me off, I’m glad my students were curious about Blackness in the US, especially considering that it will be something that they’ll deal with if they choose to study abroad. I hope I can be a reliable resource and a helpful study tool in their English/American journeys.

I have to say as far as first days go, this was a great one. I feel so honored to be here and so grateful to be at Lycée Classique. I'm sure my students will continue to challenge me and hoenstly, I can't wait.

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