Saturday, April 27, 2013

You better make up something quick . . .

Last year I couldn’t stand teaching English. It sounds ridiculous. When I came to Moz, my assignment was to be an English teacher. I went through a 10 week training in order to be a good English teacher. And then I arrived in Inhassoro and was told I would be teaching chemistry. Not only would I be teaching chemistry, but I would not be teaching any English classes and would be the only chemistry teacher. This completely freaked me out – but luckily I had almost two whole months to figure out the chemistry thing before school started.

Because I live in Mozambique, the teachers’ extra hours were cut right at the beginning of the school year (teachers here have to teach 24 hours of classes a week to be considered full-time – in the years before if they taught more than 24 hours they would be paid overtime) and, understandably, no one wanted to teach extra hours for free. So I got stuck with a third year English class that hadn’t had any English classes that year since it had taken the school administration about two months to figure out the whole horas extras debacle (two months of twice a week classes, by that point they had missed almost sixteen classes).

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the nine students in my English class. It was the waiting/bartending group, so they really wanted to learn English, never cheated during tests, and were generally good kids. But I had over 300 kids in my chemistry classes . . . and nine kids in my English class, using a curriculum and lesson plans that I had to plan two months into the year. It sucked and I felt awful, but I just couldn’t devote nearly as much time to my English lesson plans as I had to devote to my chemistry plans. With chemistry I was able to get into a rhythm – I taught the same lesson eight times. Boring, but for someone who had never taught (or communicated in Portuguese) it meant that my lessons substantially improved and that I was able to become comfortable with teaching chemistry by the second semester. With English, however, I would give a lesson once, and then write another one. And repeat. All of my English students passed the national test, but I was not satisfied with my lesson planning or engagement with the material until about a month before the end of the year.

This year is different. I fought really hard to only teach chemistry this year – I didn’t want to have that one token English class that I just didn’t have time for (especially since this year I’m also involved in other activities outside of school as well as attempting to get my life together before moving back to the states). But this is Mozambique and despite having the schedule all put together, the Friday before school started I had four of my eight chemistry classes taken away and was given three third-year English classes. And I was not happy about it.

Luckily, teaching English this year has been a pleasant surprise. I expected it to be like last year – dreading to put the lessons together and having to sacrifice English lesson planning in order to put together chem lessons and to grade a fairly large stack of seemingly never ending chemistry assignments. But with half as many chemistry students and an already planned curriculum I am able to devote so much more time to my English students. True, I have under 40 English students and between 150 - 200 chemistry students, but the balance has become much more reasonable and I’m actually happy with how my English classes have gone this year. It’s most definitely not perfect, my lesson plans probably could be much more inspired and innovative, I could spend many more hours giving after school help and correcting endless essays and other homework. But I think I’ve finally made my peace with teaching English and every time I have a student tell me that they are “wonderful” today (instead of the route and oh-so-tiresome, “I am fine and you?”), it makes me feel as though maybe, just maybe, I am actually balancing teaching chemistry and English. Whatever it is, I might actually like teaching English. Maybe even as much as I like teaching chemistry. Basically those last two sentences should make you think the world is one crazy place.

Also, the most important thing happening in my life is that tangerine season has officially begun! Which means that winter is just around the corner and I'm back to sleeping under blankets, eating oatmeal in the mornings, and feeling cold (although those of you in the midwest might disagree, this is truly a wonderful thing). 

Random Note: I have been in an ongoing war with my blog font. But despite my best efforts it keeps changing back to the same font. I give up, the cursive stuff isn't what I want, but I refuse to spend more time fighting it (if you don't see the cursive font, that's a good thing). 

Monday, April 1, 2013

I'm not much into health food, I am into champagne

This past weekend I made the trek (five hours for what in a private car would be a little over an hour . . . apparently I looked like a super-sketchy hitchhiker that day as no one would stop) to Mapinhane for Passover 2.0. This is actually the first holiday I've celebrated twice since site placements (Thanksgiving was in Namaacha year 1 and Inhassoro in year 2), so it was awesome to reflect on how much things had changed in the last year. While Passover was amazing last year, this year it involved eight people and twice as much food/etc as the year before (I'm quite proud to say that I contributed a flourless chocolate cake with a fresh passion fruit syrup - Martha in moz for the win). While last year's Passover seems simultaneously FOREVER ago and like yesterday, the fact that I am able to teach chem in Portuguese without grasping for dear life onto my notebook (and not trembling with fear every time someone has a question) is just one example of how much has changed and how much I have learned.

Rewinding the calendar a bit (to the day before) another example of how much more confident I am about life/Portuguese/chem/school/etc is that I was actually able to respond when my vice-principal started chewing me out. Usually I am so upset/close to tears that the only language I am able to speak is English - which does me absolutely no good as she doesn't speak any English. The Thursday before I headed to Passover I stopped by the school to finish entering my grades in the livros de turma (books containing all of the info for every class). I had a quick question about the format and since I'm trying to have more positive interactions with the vice-principal, I went to ask her about the correct way to fill in the book. Of course, despite the fact that my grades are infinitely better than they were last year (97% pass rate in English!), she started yelling at me for the zeros that I had given my students for cheating and told me that they made the livro look ugly (which obviously should be my chief concern in life). I replied that they had cheated and that's the way I run my classes cheating = zero. The students are informed in advance and if they choose not to study it's their own fault. She told me that, while she understood, there are always two ways of looking at things and that the district office was going to say that I wasn't a good teacher and they may decide not to have Peace Corps Volunteers in the future. Of course this was her oh-so-passive aggressive way of saying (yet again) that I fail as a teacher. But this time I was finally able to confront her about the whole thing and informed her that I'm one of the only teachers that is there every single day and in the classroom for the full 45 minutes and that if she has a problem with my teaching she needs to talk to me about it (plus I know the district won't decide to not have pcvs - they haven't paid teachers on time for the last four months so I'm fairly certain they need all the free help they can get). She got really flustered (victory!) and said that no, I must have misunderstood her, she thinks I am a wonderful teacher (lies, but there is only so much I could address in one conversation). Anyways, the conversation went on and she still probably thinks I'm the worst teacher at the school, but I feel SO much better now that I was finally able to calm down enough to argue the point in Portuguese.

I spent Easter in Inhassoro, in one of my favorite churches in the world (check out the pictures that I posted in an earlier blog post). After spending thirty minutes during mass on Holy Thursday kneeling in prayer on a hard wooden bench (American Catholics are much less intense about this whole kneeling/long mass thing), I was slightly concerned about the rest of Semana Santa. But Easter mass was wonderful (albeit without a live goat being carried to the altar as part of the offering - I was kind of disappointed). And I made a passion fruit cream pie for dessert - another Martha in moz moment. Although I'm looking forward to masses in English instead of Xitswa when I get back to the States, I'm going to miss the enthusiasm and genuine happiness that is present in every mass here (if anyone knows of Catholic Masses in the States that involve clapping during the songs and carrying live goats to the altar, let me know).

And the best news of all - it's almost tangerine season