Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Importance of Classroom Environment

Soon after we arrived in South Africa, we had our first in-service meeting and one of the topics in the chapter we discussed was classroom environment. The teaching manual talks about things like making sure that all of the students are seated in a way that they can see the teacher, about instructional material, about gospel related pictures on the walls and so forth. We pictured chairs arranged in semi-circles in meetinghouse chapels or students gathered around a dining room table in home study classes. That was before we started visiting the seminary and institute classes.  In the Johannesburg stake area, there is a vast chasm between the rich and poor, and this is true of church members as well. So we have been in some classes that are much like the ones that we pictured. There are more, however, that have humbled us and changed our future definition of “classroom environment.”

We visited an institute class the other night that was held at the instructors home in the heart of Johannesburg. The area was once the business district but has now evolved to dense low-income housing. The class is held in a home to make it more accessible for students who have to travel distances. Even then many of the students walk quite a ways to get to the class. Finding the apartment was a challenge in itself, but when we arrived the teacher was waiting on the sidewalk for us and escorted us into the building. It was already getting dark and there were no lights in the common area of the building so he guided us to the very old elevator that took us up six or seven floors to his apartment. His classroom was the main living area, which was bedroom and front room combined. There was another room, probably a kitchen, toward the back where his wife was keeping his children so that the class could be as quiet as possible.  There was a single small light bulb that half lit the room. He had taped weathered snapshots of his family on the wall, he said so that the students would remember the goal of having their own families. For classroom seating, there were two plastic chairs and a small stool in the room, two of which were given to us. Fourteen students came in and sat quietly on the floor against the wall or leaned against the bed. If you thought that such a “classroom environment” would negatively impact a gospel lesson, you would be wrong. The instructor, dressed in a suit and tie, shared a lesson that could have matched any given in a BYU institute building. The students listened carefully, contributing intelligently and shared their experiences and feelings. This is just a representation of the places that we have gone that are poor in a worldly sense, but rich in the spiritual sense. We are constantly learning and constantly humbled.
The class--I know the flash makes their eyes look like zombies, but they were just happy kids.
 The front of the building that the class was held in--doesn't tell too much--it was dark
This was the "restaurant" across the street from the building :)

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