Sunday, 25 October 2009

Teaching Ukulele in Doha

My fun job is to teach ukulele to both adults and children in Doha. At present I am starting a new class of children ,ranging from Grade 1 to 3. I manage to carry ukuleles in to the country via several means, one of which is to coerce people into bringing a few in their luggage when they come. My most reliable source at the moment is via New Zealand of all things. There is an educational consulting company here who come in regularly and who are around the corner from a music shop in Auckland, New Zealand. These latest ukes are all kinds of bright colours with a dolphin holding the strings- so great appeal to kids of all ages. I set up a series of lessons and sell the package which includes a uke and several lessons. I find that the minute I carry ukuleles through my local school I am virtually mobbed by children wanting to buy one. Since you can't find them here in Doha yet I am very careful to sell only to people who are willing to put in the time to learn to play. My first lesson was last week. I love to see a group of kids sitting in a semi-circle with ukes on their laps and smiles on their faces!! I am using a combination of New Zealand uke lessons, songs from the Santa Cruz Ukulele club and James Hill's wonderful book about classroom ukulele teaching.
The most intriguing thing for me about my ukulele classes here in Doha is that I have young members of the royal family (Al Thani) flocking for lessons, including little boys. The Qatari men play an instrument shaped like an Oud, so I suppose that this is a kind of baby oud in some ways to them.
More later as my classes progress. So far I have only managed to run through tuning methods, listening to sounds and very basic strums.
My adult class happens once a month in my home with an enthusiastic group of players/singers. Again I use the Santa Cruz song books because they are full of songs we love that are very playable. There is nothing like sitting around together singing and playing after a hard week's work. I love it.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Teaching in Doha contd

The first practical thing we did was to lock the windows so that the boys would not climb in and out whenever they felt like it. Then the next thing to do was to set a consistent routine- daily schedule on the board each morning. This helped a lot. Then it was simply a game of wait- each day picking away at the classroom rules, English conversation, short, interesting lessons - some of which went down very well and most of which ended up being abandoned by me. I would always prepare several options with a fall back option of drawing in their DEAD book (drop everything and draw) - got this idea from an excellent teacher friend in Australia. In some lessons I would have to just sit and wait while the shouting in Arabic subsided. I would pick up where I had left off - with a count down to 1 for the boy who continually started the Arabic dialogue in his loudest and most annoying voice. Luckily my principal was only a phone call away to come and help in the most difficult situations. I certainly wouldn't have been able to survive without his help and the help of my ukuleles which I used mercilessly as a reward at the end of a lesson. So, I would say, I am expecting this , then this , then that and then when you are done you may choose which colour you would like to play at the end of the lesson. (I had a lovely set of coloured ukuleles with me). Of course, there was no question of actual music teaching going on- rather a hands on experience using rhythm, interesting strums, experimental chords and just a lot of noise really.
Gradually over the period of 3 to 4 weeks, things started to feel a lot more pleasant in the classroom. The boys would arrive early to chat, play me some favourite CD music and ask what we were doing today. They would also ask personal questions like, "when do you pray?" "Why is your hair short- are you a man?"
Eventually I managed to form reading groups, spelling groups and maths groups which worked best when I had some help from others. Because there were no graded readers in the school and no curriculum, we teachers were managing to download reading booklets from the A to Z website, along with Maths lessons. I also had the indispensible help of the Smart Board in my classroom and the Copacabana Public School (Australia) website with links to some excellent lessons at my fingertips (when the internet was working that is).
We plugged along and as the year grew to a close we managed to even have an exam week and write reports. Unfortunately there were other problems connected to this school to do with the owner. We knew it would not continue beyond June so we packed up the little photocopied books, the bits of maths games that had survived, the wonderful Art program and charts and took all of the posters off the walls. How sad for the children - I am not sure where they all are today but I am sure that they think of us often and wish we were all back there together.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Where Have I Been?

It has been over a year since I wrote on my blog. During that time I worked in a small school in Doha teaching Grades 3 and 4 to Bedouin boys. What fun that was! When I met them they were climbing out the windows and running back into the classroom through the door. They had an attention span of about 4 minutes, then they would start yelling over me in Arabic and would not stop. I managed to tame them over a period of 5 months, taking small steps each day and with the help of a Canadian team of teachers who were flown in to help this little school get through to the end of the year (June). These children had met 11 teachers in the year they had attended our little school. Each teacher had left due to poor living conditions, no written curriculum, limited supplies, inability to effectively teach and probably reasons I do not know. So the challenge was in front of us to get these boys through, to give them a positive experience and to all survive!

I had a smart board in my little classroom, some reading books, a set of excellent art manuals, a vast array of maths games- some useful, some not, and many with pieces missing - gone home up the sleeves of little boys!

I decided that I would start with art- so I set up a side room (I was in an old villa) as an art room to excite the boys and to offer a reward for finishing the smallest task first! This worked wonderfully and away we went painting portraits, (the first attempt had the boys picture themselves with cigarettes , bazookas, swords, scars, blood dripping---) , landscapes, people, patterns etc. I found that copying another artist's work was far more successful than having them create their own in the beginning. This showed me that they had had very little or no experience with artistic creative expression. None of them had ever mixed paints to create colours- they loved that lesson!

As we painted they talked- always in Arabic but eventually in English. I had decided that this would be my way in to their hearts and minds.

Eventually they learned to trust me- I was not going to go away like all of the other teachers. I turned up each morning with a smile on my face and off we went. My principal, Robert, was also consistently there at the gate waiting for them with a firm hand and a kind heart. He helped in time out procedures, speaking to parents and settling these boys down. We even had a uniform on everyone in the first few weeks. Before that these guys would be turning up in their thobes (long dresses) and long underpants trying to kick a ball around the concrete playground. - bit of a disaster!

More later!!