Friday, February 3, 2012

And so it begins . . .

I just finished my first week of teaching Chemistry to the approximately 320 to 400 students (not exactly sure how big all of my classes are, some students still aren’t here), most of whom are just starting their first year at Estrela do Mar. Although they are technically all eighth graders (except one class of 9th graders), their ages range from 12 to 23. Each grade is split up into their various “tracks” – as this is a technical school, there are eight tracks ranging from sewing to accounting. Most of the tracks are geared towards future employment in the tourism industry such as the “table and bar” (serving) track and the “reception” track, however all students must also fulfill basic requirements such as math, Portuguese, and chemistry. As I expected, each class has about 40 to 50 students (which is fairly small for Mozambique), but what I hadn’t thought about before was how much the gender ratio changes between the various tracks. Out of eight classes (each taught twice a week), two are all male and one only has two females. Tracks such as sewing have more females than males, but I don’t have any classes with just girls.

The students are divided by track and by year, and each of these “turmas” have their own classroom, where they stay for the whole day. This means that the teachers are the ones moving from class to class and requires a bit of planning as I can’t just come in before school starts in the morning to prepare my classroom and board – everything has to either be portable or fit within the 45 minutes of allotted class time. I teach anywhere from 3 to 5 classes a day and don’t have class on Fridays (yay!).

I find the formality of education here to be very interesting. School starts every morning with the national anthem and a prayer (Catholic school) in the courtyard. During this time, the students are lined up in their turmas and the teachers with morning classes stand facing the students. This is where announcements for the day are made and after the prayer everyone heads to class. When I enter the classroom, the entire turma stands and says “Bom dia, senhora professora.” I then have to return the greeting and give them permission to be seated before class can begin. But the best part about teaching is the fact that I have to wear a white “bata” which is basically a lab coat. Every teacher (whether they teach a science or not) must wear a bata and I find it endlessly amusing (however, they are also a pain in the butt to keep clean). 

As I’m teaching in Portuguese, for the first couple lessons I have basically written a transcript of what I need to say and write on the board. When I practiced teaching English (‘cause that’s what I thought I’d be teaching) during training in Namaacha, it was easy to improvise if my lesson plan fell flat or went faster than I thought it would. While teaching chemistry, I have to be very on top of my lesson planning because at this point, my Portuguese/chemistry skills are still not quite up to the improvisation level. It’s getting better (slowly but surely). The first couple of lessons have definitely been difficult, but went much better than I initially thought they would. Keep your fingers crossed for a great next 17 weeks of classes!

Rat Strat 2012

There was a cyclone that passed by the coast of Mozambique about a week or so ago and while it didn’t cause any major damage (it stayed pretty far off the coast), we had some serious wind and rain for a couple of days. As I have a tin roof, this rain/wind sounded basically like the world was about to end, meaning that I didn’t hear the large branch that broke off and fell onto my shower drainpipe, basically shattering it. To continue the series of unfortunate events, the rain evidently displaced a rat, who decided to come into my house through the now broken drain. Ew.

I can deal with most bugs, cockroaches aren’t even that big of a deal now, but on the second night of the rat adventure, he (she?) jumped on my not-very-tall headboard, causing me to almost have a heart attack and leading to my rat paranoia of the subsequent week. I basically didn’t sleep because I was a) making sure the rat didn’t get inside my mosquito net and b) waiting to see if one of my rat trapping/killing strategies worked. Even though I had blocked the shower drain, the rat had figured out how snazzy my house is, and started coming in through the roof (a problem that I can’t fix). So, first I tried one of the scary traps baited with bread and peanut butter . . . and almost lost a finger. That night the rat ate the bread and peanut butter without setting off the trap. Second night, just peanut butter on the trap, but apparently Mozambican rats don’t like peanut butter (or are just really smart about their trap avoidance techniques) so he just ignored the trap. Third night I tried to put bread inside of a 5 gallon bucket, with a stick leading up to the bucket, the theory being he wouldn’t be able to get out. Turns out, the rat is large enough to get out of the 5 gallon bucket without tipping it over. Fantastic. The bucket trap took awhile to get any results, so it wasn’t until this week that I finally tried turkey jerky on the trap. Rat still ignored it.

It’s unclear if the rat is even coming in anymore because all of my food is put away (so I don’t have any evidence of his continued existence) and I was so sleep deprived from the period of rat paranoia that I have basically just passed out the last couple of nights. However, I did let the cat stay inside last night and am planning to do the same thing for the next couple of nights hoping that’ll either discourage the rat or be the end of the rat. But he also may have been eaten by the cat that lives on the roof, it’s all unclear. My mom is sending me sticky traps (to outsmart Mozambican rats), so next time (I really would prefer there wasn’t a next time) I’ll be prepared.    

Lesson planning - Mozambique style

Truthfully, I’ve never planned a lesson really before this last month. I’ve planned a number of meetings, etc. but never anything in a) a language I’m still struggling with and b) a subject I’m not completely comfortable with. So when the teachers’ meetings started, I was rather excited to get some guidance on the chemistry curriculum and to begin planning the year. However, things (per usual) didn’t go quite as planned. 1) I am the only chemistry teacher. While I kind of knew this when I moved to site, I hadn’t realized how much being the only chemistry teacher would matter. My sitemate, Zach, who is teaching English had someone to at least talk him through the basics of all of the required forms for curriculum formation, where as I was kind of just floating in space for awhile.

This was partially due to the fact that Estrela do Mar coordinates their curriculum and final examinations with another tech school in Inhambane City – so I wanted to wait to form my curriculum until I could coordinate with the other teachers. This meeting was supposed to take place on January 24th, about a week before school started. It ended up taking place on January 31st, aka the second day of school. So I wrote out an entire curriculum that I didn’t really end up using because the teachers in Inhambane City have actually taught chemistry before, and obviously have better Portuguese skills than I do, so the joining of curriculums ended up being a little one-sided. While I understand scheduling issues, it was just so strange to me that this meeting took place after school had already begun and after the teachers had already (theoretically) spent 2 weeks on their lesson planning.

I still am unsure how some teachers managed to do any lesson planning as we did not have a “final” (it’s been completely overhauled at least three times since then and I’m still missing a class . . . ) teaching schedule until the first day of school. While I at least knew that I would be teaching 1st year chemistry (because there are no other chemistry classes) other teachers only had a vague idea of what year and sometimes of what subject they would be teaching. On the first day, the national anthem started at 6:45 am and then all the teachers had a meeting at 7:00 am, the time school was theoretically supposed to start. I’m fairly impressed with students’ ability to go with the flow, the teachers’ meeting didn’t end until almost 9 am when they finally handed out our schedules (which, to be fair, are put together without a computer, so I’m really actually pretty impressed) and I found out that I had already missed my first class. A lot of the teachers didn’t even teach their classes the first week because they were engaged in the overhaul of the schedule – trying to make it so they taught 3 classes in a row, instead of having a lot of “free” time. I tried my darnedest to stay out of that process, my schedule is a little weird on some days, but I just did not want to get involved with all of the trading of class times, etc.

Anyways, I am currently attempting to collect little demonstrations and experiments that are feasible without any type of lab equipment (so if you happen to have any ideas, please email me). This weekend is devoted to looking through the new curriculum from the Inhambane school and trying to make it make sense to me while still ensuring that my students at least have the opportunity to learn everything they’ll need to know for the test. It’ll all work out in the end and I’m actually kind of happy that I now have no choice but to improve my Portuguese.