Sometimes, in the middle of class, as I’m writing formulas on the chalkboard, I have a spontaneous moment of reflection. I start to think, here I am in Mozambique teaching math in Portuguese to 60 some 9th graders. How crazy is that? At the end of the day, sometimes I have taught 5-6 hours back to back. I am amazed that in a few short months I have learned enough Portuguese words to be able to fill that much time, and sometimes without notes!
How did I get here? Since I first turned in my application I knew that I really wanted to teach math in the Peace Corps. There are only a handful of countries that have Math Education programs so I was thrilled to be invited as a math teacher to Mozambique. Despite very frequent warnings that I would probably teach English instead, I hoped and requested and begged for math during all of training and after arriving to site. And I got it! But as I feel those 60 pairs of eyes on me and 60 pairs of ears listening to my American- accented Portuguese I sometimes start to think, am I crazy??
My school is better equipped than many in Mozambique. There are almost enough desks for every student, there is a large blackboard in every classroom with plenty of chalk for all of the teachers. Every student comes with notebooks and pens for each class. And the classrooms I teach in are located on the 3rd floor, with a nice sea breeze and views of the ocean. Not bad…
Students are organized into Turmas and stay in their one classroom for the whole day while teachers rotate in and out. All students wear uniforms, sing the Mozambican national anthem before school starts, and stand up to greet each teacher as they enter the room. The teachers all wear batas, these white lab coat-looking things, which are polyester and super hot (temperature wise, definitely not attractive wise). But the up-side is that they also help cover up the fact that it’s a million degrees and I’m sweating like I just ate thai chilis mixed with habaneros and wasabi. 11th and 12 graders meet in the morning for classes, from 7am to 12. Then in the afternoon the 8th, 9th, and 10th graders have class 12:30-5:30. So I usually spend the mornings planning and grading then I go to teach all afternoon.
After not teaching the first week of school because the schedule wasn’t ready, classes started full force in week two. I had three turmas with 90 students in each class, but luckily the schedule was just changed to divide up the number of students. Hopefully I will have about 70 students in each class when that is finalized.
I’ve been facing a lot of challenges I expected to face as a first year teacher, and some that I hadn’t even thought of. I’ve been spending a lot of time just trying to figure out how to organize lesson plans and grading. But it’s the small challenges that are also surfacing. For example, I had no idea how hard it is to write in a straight line on the chalkboard! (I have so much respect for all of my teachers who made this part look easy, not to mention everything else). Plus, I am still trying to figure out how I am going to learn all 273 names of my students.
But everyday it is getting better. After one particularly brutal day when a class was getting out of hand, I was walking away from the school feeling particularly exhausted. As I passed a group of 6 year old girls with my bata slung over my shoulder, one started yelling “Acunha, Acunha,” the word for foreigner in Koti. I’ve gotten used to being called out like that and I was prepared to just forget about it, as usual. But then another girl replied in Portuguese, “No, she’s not an Acunha, she’s a Professora.”
I was smiling for the rest of the walk home.