I walk into our sala at 6:45am on Monday mornings feigning energy, as I’m learning teachers must often do.
“Good morning Teacha!” my class shouts in unison.
“Good morning class! How are you?”
“We are fine thanks, and you?” They ask.
“I am fine, thanks. Go ahead and sit.”
The same oddly formal greeting begins my every aula and every time, it strikes me as a little funny. I come armed with white chalk to write on the room’s old chalk board. Each student (for the most part) is equipped with just a notebook and a pen. There are no text books, work books, markers, staplers, binders, erasers, extra pens and pencils, computers, dictionaries or other resources we might normally find in any American classroom. Chalk, chalkboard, notebook, pen. That’s all we’ve got.
I teach 4 turmas of 12th grade. Two of them, I adore. They give me energy and purpose and I leave their classes brimming with pride. My third class is full of indisciplinados. They’re smart but they talk back, talk over me, and over each other. It’s senioritis – I get it – but teaching them is both physically and mentally exhausting. Their turma is my penance for the many, many, “Talks too much in class” reports my parents received in conferences and report cards over years. 10-15 students show up in my last turma. Those 15 students, who are the polar opposite of my indisciplinados, stare at me blankly and getting them to shake their heads yes or no or respond to a question is next to impossible. At one point, I got so exasperated that I asked them to stand up and spin around in circles with their arms out. When they continued to stare, I started doing it and made them join in. Laughing, they spun and spun until they were dizzy and afterwards (sort of) participated. Hey – whatever it takes.
We have a curriculum to follow. The first unit expects students to be able to:
- Compare and contrast behaviors and attitudes of their idols
- Express opinions on famous people
- Present a short biography
- Use an outline to organize an argument
- Read articles for details
- Write reports
On our first day in class, I asked my 12th graders (who have been taking English since 6th grade) what they felt like they needed to learn or what gave them the most difficulty. Responses included:
- The alphabet in English
- How to form complete sentences
- How to use in, at, on
- Action verbs
- Parts of speech
Alarmingly far from the debates and essays the national curriculum expects. Students struggle with the most basic of things, including the process of learning. I can give them a rule and multiple examples, and then ask for another example and nothing. Nada. Blank stares. I can’t quite understand the root problem yet but whatever it is, it goes deep. The effects of the domination, enslavement, and terrorization that make up so much of Mozambique’s history are alive. It’s been an emotional process to understand that my student’s and neighbor’s struggles are the direct result of what the country as a whole has been through on a national and international scale. The civil war that tore Mozambique apart “ended” only 30 short years ago after all. The best I can do every day is find patience, pay attention, listen, and make sure that everything I do comes from a place of love.
With that said, I have some fantastic, smart, curious, bright, ambitious students. Most of my students really do care about learning. So many of them, along with our colleagues in the primary and secondary schools, are truly excited about the community library that Sidney, Jhalak, and I are working to open up sometime next month. 70 eighth-tenth grade girls showed up to our first REDES (Raparigas em Desenvolvemento, Educação, e Saude or Girls in Development, Education, and Health) meeting. 70 girls! That means we had 70 girls excited to learn about how to make good life decisions, how to avoid HIV/AIDS and other illnesses, how to keep themselves safe and healthy and how to build a future for themselves. There is so much good.
I’ve been happy, I’ve been busy, I’ve been healthy and I’m grateful. I still get homesick, I’m hard on myself for what I feel like I should have already achieved but still haven’t, I still can’t quite sleep all the way through the night, and privacy remains a distant dream but when I stop and think about the opportunity for learning and understanding that I am offered with each day, I feel filled completely with purpose and life.