Career Dress-Up Day

Ms. Tatangis was appointed the head of the Academic Committee at our school this year, and so far she's had some really fun ideas. Her and the committee came up with the idea for a "mufti day" or, dress-up day, with the theme of "my future career."

The plan was put into place over a month ago. On this day, the students were allowed to come to school without uniforms as long as they wore an outfit that corresponded to their future career. The students also had to jot down a small speech, explaining their costume and career.

As the event nears, plans keep changing. Originally, the students would present within their own classrooms, and the teacher would choose the best student from their class to present before the whole school. A week before the event, the headmaster tells us parents want to attend, so we decide in a meeting that the best students from each class will present at the end of the school day, after 2:30pm, for the parents to attend.

The date changes, and now the mufti day is open to the public to attend. Instead of the best students presenting, all 280+ students will give all of their speeches before the entire school and all the parents. Usual classes are cancelled, with the school day replaced with a full day public event.  The night before, Ms. Esther and a handful of year 8 students stay up until midnight painting a banner for the event.

On Tuesday, April 2nd, Mufti Day is upon us!

At 6:45, the headmaster got on the microphone, booming his voice to the village that it was a beautiful day for an event, and Mufti Day would be starting soon. Students were told to arrive at 7am sharp, and at 7:30am, the DJ started blasting music in the speaker system. Parents were told to arrive at 8am for the festivities.

The school grounds are quiet at 8:15 when the students depart to walk a quarter mile to the village, where Ms. Tatangis announces on a megaphone that today is Mufti Day, and that the students have been working for a couple weeks preparing their speeches and costumes to dress as their future careers. I look around and see the students' hard work paid off. Even if they were missing key pieces of their costume, they take pride in them.

Police and Vanuatu Mobile Force

The students turn around and walk towards the school grounds again, and after gathering around for an opening prayer, parents and family start trickling into the school grounds.

The headmaster dressed as an Ambassador.

As teachers for classes 1-6 arrange their students preparing them for the speeches, the headmaster gives a short speech, explaining how he’s wearing a suit, dressed up as an Ambassador. He stresses how much money an ambassador makes per year.

The judging table.

The class 6 and class 5 teachers (Mr. Marietlang and Mrs. Nasse), myself and Elder Robert have been chosen to judge the speeches. We’re each assigned 2 or 3 classes to mark. I am in charge of judging every student in class 5, 6, and 7A. The lower classes have simpler criteria, but my judging sheet is a pass/fail for the following categories:
  • Speaks clearly
  • Speaks loudly
  • Speaks at a good pace
  • Content of speech
  • Appropriate costume for chosen occupation

Each paper only has enough space for 12 students. With over 28 students in each class, we request that one of the class 8 teachers run to get us notebook paper as the speeches already begin. We don’t have class lists except for a couple classes, so we fill in the names as we hear them. Some students don’t provide their name, so we look around and ask others for the name as the student moves on. For mine, I miss a couple speeches as I scramble to find a way to identify students.

Class 1 prepares.

All the speeches are in English, even the lower classes (classes 1-3, which learn primarily in Bislama). Class 1 has to start over two times as their speeches are so brief that Elder Robert barely has time to write the student’s name before the next kid is talking. Their speeches are simply, “My name is ____ and when I grow up, I want to become a ____.” One student, who follows six students sharing that they want to become a teacher, also tells the audience that he wants to become a teacher, despite his costume clearly showing that he is a police officer. Perhaps he tuned out and was just following the pattern of the kids before. The audience laughs at his honest mistake.

A class 2 doctor.

Class 2 at our school is so large that it’s split into 2A and 2B. The teachers for these classes choose a representative for each occupation instead of asking every student to speak. The students who do speak are surprisingly clear for not yet having officially learned English in school.

Marky talks about becoming a bank teller.

When Class 3 begins, the headmaster and staff arrange it so the students are no longer on the stage and instead presenting before the giant handmade banner for the event. Mrs. Nasse declares she doesn’t want the parents to be circled in front of the banner, so we judges can better see the presentations. Mr. Marietlang moves forward and asks the parents to sit aside. They pack up their tablets and smartphones and slide over to give us a better view. Rhys, a boy in class 3, cries as he gives his speech. He’s dressed as a police officer, which is his dream job because he “wants to save his country.”

Class 4 students

Before class 4 begins, the school chairman stands on the stage and angrily tells the audience that we don’t care enough, and we should be prouder and happier for the presentations. Following this comment, the cheering and clapping, which was already present before, becomes louder and more pronounced. The speeches for each occupation are the same (ie: all teachers say the same as other teachers, mechanics same as other mechanics, etc).

Sandy is a cop.

Leilanie is a cop.

Tawia wants to be a pastor.

Class 5 speeches are the only ones that are completely memorized, and are more creative. This is Mrs. Nasses’s class, and it’s the first class to give unique speeches for each student. This is understandable, given that class 4-8 are taught in English, so this is a class that is advanced enough to have students write their own speeches. However, one of the class 5 students, Gloria, told me yesterday that she wrote her speech and memorized it, but then the teacher re-wrote it completely, so she was fumbling to memorize the new one. Gloria and I worked on her speech yesterday and today she recited it without error. “Good morning everyone. My name is Gloria and I am 11 years old. Now I am in grade 5, but when I grow up I want to become a teacher because I want to help students learn with just the right mix of chalk and challenges.” Gloria’s was clear, but for other students who mumbled theirs, Mrs. Nasse jumped on the microphone to repeat the final line of their speech in case the audience didn’t catch it.

Jacky dressed as a pilot.

Class 6 has even longer speeches and more of a connection with why the student wants a particular occupation. I am the judge of this class, and I give best speech to Meriam, who clearly and coherently explained how she wanted to become a pilot to fly as far as Port Vila to Luganville. Class 6 onward provides advice, and Meriam tells her fellow students to keep up with their math because it can help with lots of future jobs.

Displays around the school for parents to explore

At 10:15am, we have a break, just after completing the class 6 speeches. Parents and family wander around the school grounds as music blares from the speakers. There are posters and displays created by the teachers, explaining different jobs and what studies can lead to them. I head to my house, which is six feet away from the highly trafficked canteen. I see one of my buckets is missing and someone broke my outdoor thermometer. I realize that I haven’t yet made a sign as I usually do at these public events that take place a meter from my house, so I create signs and tape up barricades to my patio that say “please keep out.” Hopefully no more of my dishes break by the afternoon, as has happened before.

Year 8 Caroline wants to be a police officer.

A teacher, lawyer, teacher and flight attendant.
Mechanics and electricians from Class 7 & 8

From 10:30am to 12:10, the speeches for the split class of 7A and 7B take place. Instead of breaking for lunch, the speeches continue for class 8 from 12:10 to 12:45pm. The first student in class 8 to speak is a girl dressed as a police officer. She tells the audience that she wants to work as a police officer so she can “get justice for domestic violence, which should not be tolerated.”

Overall, teacher was the most popular career choice, with 115 students choosing the career.  The most diverse career choices were in classes 3, 4 and 6 with nine different careers represented in those classes. Bank Teller and Lawyer were the only careers equally represented by genders, with 2 male and 2 female bank tellers, and 1 each of lawyers.

The most popular male career choices were focused in blue collar work and trades.

Females were less diverse in their choices, with teacher being the dominant career. 

We break for lunch, and I prepare my lunch at home. As I am cooking and the lunch break continues, more speeches from community members take place. One woman gets on the stage to share how important reading is, and how students need to go in the library and learn all that they can. One man talks about how proud he is to hear his daughter give a speech today in her third language, so clearly and confidently. He thanks teachers at the school and myself for our hard work in English literacy.

The headmaster gives a thank you speech, and urges the parents to do all they can to do their part at home for students’ learning. He declares that it’s not just up to us teachers but also the parents to ensure that students are studying and getting good learning habits at home. The headmaster also draws attention to the fact that two officials from the Ministry of Education are present today at the festivities. On stage, he tells them how enrollment numbers get higher and higher, and this year we have two split classrooms because those classes have over 40 students each. He asks for their help for staffing shortages and enrollment numbers.

At 1:20, Ms. Tatangis and the academic committee of our school take the stage to give a thank you for the audience for attending. They apologize for taking everyone’s time with an event when they know parents are busy. Ms. Tatangis asks some elders to come to the stage to give out prizes for the best speech and best costume in each class.

I note to Madame Caroline, who stands beside me with a “customs officer” badge tacked on her shirt, that we haven’t had a chance to explain our occupations. Ms. Tatangis is nearby, wearing a short sleeve rash guard shirt and a lavalava around her waist (professional surfer, I’d presume). I didn’t wear a uniform, but I wanted to talk about video editing and how not all jobs require uniforms. Madame says she’s too embarrassed to speak. The three of us shrug off the chance to explain our "careers."

Miriam receives "Best Speech" for her pilot career speech.

Around 1:50pm, as awards are still being passed out to students, I see about a dozen students, all ages, in the class 2 classroom. As with other school events, when all the teachers are on stage giving out rewards, or laminating certificates, or helping the canteen cook pass out refreshments, the 280+ students are unsupervised. In this particular classroom, the students are throwing the building blocks from the numeracy kit over the classroom divider to the other side, while some students are simply throwing them at each other. I ask the students to collect the blocks and then promptly kick them out of the room.

At 2pm, Elder Joseph closes the ceremony with a prayer, and the headmaster tells everyone that students can find refreshments in each of the classrooms. He guides them to head to the rooms and wait for their teachers. The DJ blares music in the speakers as the students race to their respective rooms where they shout and sing and play until trays of papaya, coconuts, and grapefruit make their way inside.

I wander around wondering when our after-school meeting will take place, but don’t see the teachers doing anything but snack on refreshments and talk to parents. I head home and hang out inside until the music stops an hour later at 3pm. I see the teachers gathered off to the side, and they tell me the meeting’s been postponed until Thursday.

I made a video of some highlights from the event, which you can watch below: