In order to preserve the typical Mozambican practice of starting any given appointment 1-7 hours later or any event 1-7 days later than scheduled, the 1st day of school actually happened over a week later than it was supposed to here in Angoche. The Mozambican ministry of education completely changed the 11th grade curriculum 3 days before the calendar start of school, which threw a monkey wrench into our already troublesome organizational process. I didn’t receive my schedule or even an idea of what grade I would be teaching until one day before classes started. After getting through 2 lessons with all my students, I finally received the 8th grade curriculum which one of my colleagues luckily had bought off the streets of the provincial capital city. Silly American teachers wanting to plan ahead!
My roomie, Alex teaches 11th and 12th graders who go to school in the morning, so I was left to be the one white wonder in a crowd of curious 8th and 9th graders after the rather toasty midday walk to the outskirts of the city my first day of school. After some chaos, one of the other few teachers present lined up all the kids for the singing of the Mozambican national anthem at attention in a clearing lacking any mentionable shade, a twice daily tradition. It was everything I could do the first day to keep a straight face after hearing the line of 8th grade boys nearest to me try to make it through all the note changes with out screeching. If you ask me, they really should consider shortening the anthem…or growing more trees because sometimes students pass out during the process. After the anthem—more chaos.
Our director showed up fashionably late with class lists which were posted inside the classrooms which started a pushing, yelling stampede of hundreds of students in and out of the rooms to find out which class they’d be in. I escaped a classroom I had entered a little bewildered by the yep-this-is-just-how-we-do-things-here vibe I was picking up as no one attempted to control anything. I spotted a few colleagues standing in the shade under a nearby tree and joined them asking what the heck was going on. One explained that no one would be teaching today because of the chaos, so I joined them under the tree, not knowing what else to do. One of my directors walked by and asked me why I wasn’t teaching. I gave her my best cross-cultural are-you-freakin-kidding-me-? looks, motioned toward the war zone that was our classrooms, and tried to mutter something in Portuguese that reflected my utter cluelessness and frustration. She then launched into a less than encouraging or helpful mini-speech about American teaching approaches, half of which I did not quite understand probably to the benefit of my self esteem. She then ordered me to enter a classroom and walked away. Mouth hanging open, I turned around to my colleagues for any sort of help and received some dude-I’m-just-glad-she-didn’t-pick-me shrugs. A bit more courageous only because of some boiling anger, I headed toward one of the 8th grade classrooms, picked one at random (cause I didn’t know which one I was supposed to enter), kicked out everyone who was in stampede mode, and started teaching the rest. Walking home that day, I congratulated myself on not crying.
Things calmed down a bit since the first day and will probably continue to get better as more teachers decide to come to school and teach. Some don’t come for a while because of the chaos and because the students’ attendance is spotty. So the students don’t come because the teachers don’t…so the teachers don’t come because the students don’t…and you see the vicious cycle. So far I’m the only teacher to show up every day.
Anyway, so I teach anatomy to three 8th grade turmas or groups of students of the same grade. Here in Mozambique, the students stay in the same classroom and the teachers enter to teach their discipline, instead of the students changing classrooms. Each of the 3 classrooms I enter has a blackboard and enough desks to seat about 70 of the over one hundred kids per tiny room. The unfortunate 30 or so left over plop down on the floor, leaving numerous legs to tip-toe through as I write across the chalkboard. I’m actually quite impressed at their attentiveness so far despite all that’s going on. I’d like to attribute it to my stellar classroom management skills, but I think they just pay attention to me much in the same way visitors to zoos stare in wonder at strange creatures they’ve never seen before. I showed them pictures of my family and my fiancé and they went ballistic like a bunch of girls in the 90’s would if Hanson walked into a room. The weirdest things tickle them. The goofballs amuse me.
I gave them an assignment that first week to draw a picture of a cell, and what I got back was definitely a learning experience. I wanted to see where they were at as far as knowledge of biology goes. I got everything from houses to flags to people to autobiographies, to cell diagrams. I have my work cut out for me. Nerve-wracking as it is, I’m pretty pumped that I finally started teaching—I feel like I’m at least trying to do something constructive now. After I survive this first trimester, improve my Portuguese, and figure out how best to teach them, I suspect I’m really going to love this.