I am fine, and you?

I’ve been putting off writing about teaching, because it hit me that before doing Peace Corps, I thought teaching was going to be the most overwhelming and important part of my time here in Mozambique. It turns out that it is quite the opposite, teaching has quickly become the only normal, scheduled thing about my life, and though teaching here is the exact opposite of what I imagine it to be like in developed countries, I am somehow getting the hang of it.

My mornings begin at 6:30, with a line-up of what is supposed to be all the morning students (about 2,000 of them) to sing the himno and listen to announcements. Announcements can sometimes be infuriating— “ladies, lipstick is not allowed, you look promiscuous, keep that for the weekends” while calling out the girls who have broken the rules to stand up and get their faces wiped by the director. Other announcements include threats to cut off the tie off of the uniforms if they are not tied correctly, and a personal favorite, the announcement that said they would never interrupt the himno no matter what– said right after a girl fainted in the middle of it, and no one budged until the 4 minute song was over. 

English classes begin at 6:45, with a chant of “Good morning tee-cha, how are you?” to which the response is always “I am fine, and you?” “We are fine, thank you.” The first period is always the slowest to start as students who sometimes don’t have an alarm tend to walk in late. The classrooms are barren—  broken chalkboards, chalk, stolen lightbulbs, and in the background- the smell of breaking pit latrines. My turmas average between 84 and 102 students. At the beginning of the year, there were enough desks for three students to share each one, some have since broken, others just disappeared, so the late-comers are forced to sit on the floor. I am Teacher Leonora, teaching 11th grade English, a government issued curriculum that includes going over the future conditional and writing their resume in English for homework on week one. The reality of my students’ English is that we have gone over the conjugation of the verb “to be” four times, and many still are having trouble grasping the concept of an infinitive, let alone understanding the homework directions when they are written only in English. I can’t blame the students for not being up to the standards of the curriculum when their 10th grade teacher had the reputation for kicking students out if they didn’t do the homework, (or talked in class, showed up late, answered a question wrong… etc) causing an endless chain where they missed the next day’s homework, thus never making it back to class.

Teaching without textbooks also makes it borderline impossible to stay on track with the curriculum. My school has just a single copy of the English textbook to share between three teachers— it is rumored to cost about 500 mets ($8) but no one knows where to find other copies. Needless to say, the students have no textbooks. A small notebook and pen is what they are armed with when they come into class — copies cost 2 mets ($0.03) each, and teachers don’t pay for them themselves, students (who have no jobs as the  unemployment rate is Mozambique is above 30%, even higher for youths) find themselves with their only resources being the words they’ve copied down in the notebook (which are usually copied wrong, in addition, there have been many reports of stolen notebooks at school).

Needless to say, inventing methods to keep class interesting(ish) and using the very limited resources available to me have at least forced me to be creative, and I think I might be in the running for coolest teacher in Malema after bringing in my portable speakers and playing Justin Bieber’s Boyfriend to teach the conditional. On the other hand, it is fatiguing to know that many of my students might not pass the year if they don’t pay a bribe to the director, and sometimes it is hard to admit that I am (attempting to) teach English as a third or fourth language to kids who might never use it other than saying “I am fine and you?” to the white person they see walking around town.

But I am fine, I would even say I am good (though, that does seem to throw off my students in the mornings).


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