…for such a time as this

Stories about the adventure that is Peace Corps Tonga

The Ups and Downs of Teaching in Tonga

When I applied to Peace Corps, I applied as a Business Advisor. When I got invited to Tonga, I was changed to a Business Educator. That meant that my primary job would be to teach business classes. When I got to St. Joseph’s, they needed an English teacher. In the spirit of being flexible, I agreed and taught 2 English classes, a computer class and one business class. I started this year with 2 English and one business class. Looks like that “business educator” title is about to change again…

Last year, I volunteered to work in the vocational program at St. Joseph’s. This is a program for students who have opted out of the traditional form 1-5 academic system. They (or more likely their parents) don’t think they can pass the national exam after form 5 so they send them to our program to learn job skills.

Since the beginning of last year, it has been difficult for me to teach in this program. When I came, there was no curriculum and when I asked about it, I was told there was no money to purchase any. The idea (in my opinion) would be to teach these students about catering, carpentry, plumbing, iron work and what it’s like to work in an office. But, there is a lack of skilled teachers in these areas. If you are a good plumber, you move to the main island to run your business, you don’t stay in Ha’apai to teach.

During one of our conferences on the main island, I met with one of the technical schools in Tongatapu. I professionally begged him to give me his curriculum to “look at” and maybe copy it. He begrudgingly agreed and I spent the $125 pa’anga (about $75 USD) to get copies for the teachers. I handed it out around this time last year, to my knowledge it was not used.

Last year, I had about 13 students in my English and Business class. This year, there are 23 of them. There English level is lower than last year’s group and I can’t spend the one on one time with each of them that they need. Also, they know that I am not going to hit them, so they are not respectful. I hate to admit defeat, but 2 hours a day with them is overwhelming. I talked to Peace Corps and they are trying to work with the principal to some how split the class in two. They only problem with this is that I will probably have to drop my business class to make room for the second English class. That will be 3 hours of English teaching a day.

To top it all off, yesterday, the school break scheduled for April 4-9th was changed to April 8-15th. I already made plans to go to Fiji with Blair. What’s frustrating about this is that I am trying to model consistency and hard work to my students. That will be difficult when I am in Fiji and no one is watching my classes.

My hopes for term 2 are a split class and therefore and improvement in my vocational student’s English. They’ll have to learn business some other time.



  Brian Heagney wrote @

I am glad I teach diving because no one can talk underwater. Plus, any bad manners and drowing becomes a distinct possiblity.

  scribble wrote @

thank you for what you’re doing in my home country. Although it is difficult, you never know the impact you have on those students lives. Though they don’t say it or show it, you’re being there with them is a lesson in itself. Malo!

  Mele Makisi wrote @

Dear Ms. Burke, Thank you for sharing your experience and I have so much respect for what you are doing for the Tongan community in Ha’api. I’m a first generation Tongan Australian and I am studying to become a Primary school teacher. I do look forward to teaching in Tonga for a year but I do realise the obstacles that I will encounter. Thank you again for all that you are doing and may God richly bless you for all your hard work. Looking forward to hearing more about your experience.

  Jules wrote @

I understand your frustration and being a tongan, teaching in New Zealand, I can feel your pain because I know what it’s like to go to school in Tonga. I just wanted to encourage you to just do what you can and don’t feel like you are a failure because it’s a whole lot of reasons behind it. Our poor little country is so under developed and it’s need a reform of the education system but it’s up to the Government.

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