Volunteer to Teach English at Westminster Comprehensive School, Ghana

Interviews with Volunteer Teachers at the School

In October 2010, Osei Tutu Boateng from Westminster Comprehensive School conducted interviews with three of the volunteer teachers, Rachel Overington, Megan Gray and Neal Gruer who are all currently volunteering at the school and asked them to describe what it was like coming to Ghana, working at the school, getting to know the community of Fumesua and life in the busy city of Kumasi.

Interview with Rachel Overington

Osei: Hi Rachel!

Rachel: Ma kye! (literally morning)

Osei: How are you doing?

Rachel: I'm great thanks (Me ho ye!)

Osei: Can you spare me five minutes of your time?

Rachel: Sure

Osei: It's almost three weeks since you came to Ghana, how has life been?

Rachel: Life in Ghana is great. Everyone is very welcoming and friendly - nearly everyone you pass will greet you. Fumesua is a lovely village about 25 minutes from Kumasi so it's neither too rural nor too urban. I've enjoyed trying some of the local dishes like jollof and 'fufu'! The weather varies quite a lot. We've had plenty of cloudy days, some thunderstorms and some extremely hot days.

Osei : Great!

Rachel: Yea!

Osei: Is this your fist time being in Ghana?

Rachel: Yes this is my first time in Ghana and Africa but hopefully not the last

Osei: It seems you are enjoying your stay here in Ghana

Rachel: So much

Osei: Can you share with me your perception and uncertainties about Ghana and more especially being your first time before coming?

Rachel: Well, I had to have five vaccinations before I could come to Ghana, so I guess my biggest worry was my health. However, I haven't seen a single mosquito since I've been here and we're only given bottled water thus so long as you're careful there's little to worry about. My friend told me that Ghana is a friendly country and they couldn't have been more correct. There is practically no racism towards white people apart from the odd person/place trying to charge you a higher price.

Osei: Let's come to volunteering at Westminster. How has it been?

Rachel: I've loved my first three weeks at Westminster. All the teachers help you to settle in and give you advice about teaching. All the students want to know your name, hold your hand or hear you attempt to speak some Twi. I've been teaching Science and Maths to the upper years but there's some freedom over which classes and how many you want to take.

Osei: How would you describe your relationship with the students?

Rachel: The student body is very friendly and lively. The kids ask you to take their lessons and join in with games. The younger students are slightly 'fascinated' by you and think you look a bit strange – they touch your skin and hair. The older students, who are more fluent in English, ask you lots of questions about your life and home country. I'm closest to the boarders as I see them the most, they're good fun.

Osei: I know you speak a bit faster, how do the students cope?

Rachel: Well if I spoke at my normal speed they wouldn't take in a word I said! You just have to remind yourself to slow down and be patient as they may become confused if you pronounce any words differently to what they're used to.

Osei: What do you say about the school after spending almost three weeks with us?

Rachel: The school is very good by local standards (it's probably the best one in the area). School days run efficiently and the children are well behaved.

Osei: Have you any challenges so far?

Rachel: The biggest challenge is probably controlling the class as the normal form of punishment is caning and they know that I won't cane them. However, the other teachers will cane any of my students who fail to hand in homework or misbehave, so they've settled down now!

Osei: What do you think could be done to raise the standard of Westminster School?

Rachel: There is a smaller range of teaching methods at Westminster compared with the UK. If more were available, the children may enjoy the lessons more and find it easier to learn.

Osei: How different is teaching here from that of UK?

Rachel: Teaching at Westminster tends to involve the teachers telling the students something, the students learn it then do a few exercises on the topic. Teaching methods here are more limited as the school budget is lower than those for UK schools.

Osei: Do you recommend volunteering at Westminster to others who are considering applying?

Rachel: I would definitely recommend volunteering at Westminster. The teaching is great fun and rewarding. Also everyone is extremely welcoming which helps you to settle in quickly.

Osei: Thank you Rachel!

Rachel: Thank you Osei!


Interview with Megan Gray

Osei: Hello Meg!

Megan: Hey Osei!

Osei: I need to talk to you for five minutes, possible?

Megan: Sure!

Osei: Is about four weeks your stay in Ghana how has life been in the school and in Ghana?

Megan: Life in Ghana has been great. All the people are very friendly and there is a real sense of community here in Fumesua. Eric is looking after us exceptionally well. Life at school is hard work but very rewarding. The school has a very positive atmosphere. It is a very happy place.

Osei: I learnt it's your first time being in Ghana.

Megan: Yes, this is my first time in both Ghana and Africa. I had no idea what to expect. My biggest worry was that I would get bitten by mosquitoes all the time! But thankfully they have not been a problem!

Osei: How has volunteering in the school been so far?

Megan: Volunteering at Westminster has been a wonderful experience. I have learnt a lot about teaching and about Ghana. Madam Felicia and all the teachers are always there to help us if we need it and even though teaching is often tiring, it is very fulfilling and I love being able to help the children with their Maths and English.

Osei: How would you describe your relationship with the student body?

Megan: Good. It was difficult finding the balance between being their friend and being their teacher, but I think we have achieved it!

Osei: Have you encountered any problems yet?

Megan: My biggest problem has been implementing discipline without using the cane. Often my not using the cane has led a class to behave very badly, so I have focused mainly on the older classes, where this is not the case.

Osei: in your opinion what do you think could be done to improve the state of affairs at Westminster?

Megan: I think the caning system should be monitored and amended where necessary to ensure effectiveness. It seems pupils are often too afraid of their teachers to tell them when they don't understand something, whilst others continue to not do their homework etc, despite the cane. I also believe the children would benefit a lot from reading more English books - novels etc. and I hope to be able to provide some books to the library to help achieve this.

Osei: Have you taught before?

Megan: I had done some teaching before - mainly poetry. Teaching here has been a new experience, but I have learnt many things which will help me teach in the future. The range of abilities in each class is quite broad, so one of the main challenges in dealing with each pupil effectively. This is helped by the enthusiasm of most of the pupils to learn, which does not exist to the same extent in the UK, children are generally more mature and more respectful here, which makes teaching here different to teaching in the UK.

Osei: Do you recommend volunteering at Westminster to those considering applying?

Megan: I would definitely recommend volunteering at Westminster. I would say that it is useful to have some teaching experience before coming. Applicants should be prepared to be challenged and in return you get to experience all the wonderful things about Ghana that make it such a special place.

Osei: Thank you Meg.

Megan: Osei, I hope this helps.


Interview with Neal Gruer

Osei: Hi Neal!

Neal: Hello Osei!

Osei: Would you mind if I take five minutes of your time?

Neal: Not at all.

Osei: It is four weeks now in Ghana. Do you say life here is hard and bored?

Neal: No! Life has been far from hard and boring in Ghana and the school. When we are not at school, on the weekends, we have been filling our time with all of the local attraction that Kumasi and its surrounds have to offer, or simply visiting Kumasi market and enjoying looking around or buying things. At school, we are always kept busy; preparing for our next class, marking jotters, teaching or discussing the students! Everyone, particularly at home, has made our lives very easy here too - we are looked after very well.

Osei: I know it is your fourth time of being in Ghana. Of what reason do you come to Ghana?

Neal: I have always visited Ghana in the past to visit family and on average I have visited every three to four years since 1997. However, since I have enjoyed my time so much in Fumesua, I hope to visit at least once every year in future.

Osei: That sounds very optimistic

Neal: Sure

Osei: Had it not volunteering at Westminster, you hadn't been to Kumasi, the Garden City before?

Neal: I had visited Kumasi once before, but I was only 12 years old and it was only for a few short days. So, yes; really volunteering at Westminster has introduced me properly to Kumasi

Osei: What were your expectations before coming?

Neal: Before coming, I didn't have any particular expectations. I suppose I knew children in Ghanaian schools are disciplined and hard working, so I expected to find it enjoyable to teach them. Other than that, I waited to see what I would encounter here and have been pleased with every element.

Osei: You came one week before school re-opened. How did you spend the first week?

Neal: In the week before school opened I enjoyed having the opportunity to get a little used to the area and our accommodation; and get to know Eric, Nana and our other hosts better. I had a very relaxing first week.

Osei: Let's come to your work in the school. How has volunteering at Westminster been?

Neal: It has been great! First, I would say that I don't feel like a “volunteer” here - I feel more likea member of the staff, whose job happens to be as on English teacher and I happen to be from a different country. I think this demonstrates the sense of responsibility we have been given, and that I take the work just as seriously as I would any other job. In return, I have learnt a lot from the students and from my teaching, and enjoy getting up to go to work every day. At times it can be tiring, but I enjoy working hard and trying to push the students to progress further.

Osei: Can you tell me something about your relationship with the teachers, students and the entire staff of Westminster?

Neal: My relationship with the teachers has been good - they are always friendly and easy to talk to, and I enjoy all of their company. We play football together on Saturdays and even attended the Ghana v Sudan football match together. With the students is also good. They enjoy learning (most of the time!) and have been extremely welcoming. They have responded well to my teaching and are always respectful. The same can be said for all the other staff at Westminster, always friendly and helpful and generous with their effort to make us comfortable.

Osei: What is your general perception about Westminster school?

Neal: My perception about the school is that of pride. All the students are proud to be Westminster students, but more fundamentally, they are proud to be in education and receiving such a good one. A lot is achieved here with few resources, so a sense of hard-work is always present.

Osei: Any challenges yet?

Neal:The biggest challenge so far has been the teaching itself. It demands a lot of ingenuity and thought to best find how the children will learn. Often a planned method will need to be adapted to accommodate those students who are not understanding a topic while still keeping interested those who do. Another challenge has been the disciplining of children - the caning. Although it didn't take me long to become used to doing it, it was initially difficult being that in the UK, we are so unused to such a practice. But once I understood when and how to discipline, I was able to do it without a problem.

Osei: Hm great delivery! So tell me what do you think could be done to improve the state of Westminster school?

Neal: Since I am teaching English, the main improvement I can suggest for the school would be more books and more reading. I think that, often, when I have taught something, rather than just doing a few exercises, the children would greatly benefit from seeing what they have learnt in a book. It would help their English progress much more quickly.

Besides this, perhaps the bus routes could be reorganised to be more efficient, so that Tony's bus will always, definitely arrive at school before 8:30am. Also, if it were economical, a basic time tabling computer programme would be a one off cost, but would help at the start of every year. We have experienced some timetabling problems that went unnoticed for a while, so a computer programme would solve this.

Osei: Do you recommend volunteering at Westminster to others who are considering volunteering?

Neal: I would absolutely recommend volunteering at Westminster to other volunteers. However, I would recommend to Westminster school that they be selective about those who come to teach here. The standard of teaching is very high and it needs to be maintained by any volunteer joining the staff. Any volunteer must be capable of improving the teaching at the school to make it worthwhile. Hopefully I have done that in my time here, particularly in English class where I am bringing the element of “nativeness” which is different from any local teacher. Any volunteer coming here has every reason to have a wonderful experience. I cannot fault it!

Osei: Am short of words. Thank you Neal!

Neal: Thank you Osei!