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!

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