Friday, February 18, 2011

Tales from my Turmas

Well, I gave my first test this week. And not at all shockingly for
Mozambique, most of my students failed. Tests and grades are based on
a scale of 20 points, and a student needs to simply score a 10 to
pass. There is less of a culture here for studying at home (the
students, after all, go home and have hours of chores to complete,
like pumping water or making dinner for 12 from scratch), the students
are taking upwards of 8-9 classes a year and only attending school 6
hours a day (also, I am usually the only teacher still teaching during
the day’s last period thus students aren’t even in school that long
each day), there is a country-wide teacher shortage so some subjects
do not get taught all year, and the curriculum is too demanding and
covers too much material as it is trying to bridge a sort of
achievement gap. Therefore, many students are not able to score a 10
either without cheating or bribing the teacher, or may not even be
able to do so with corruption on their side.

Additionally, the emphasis here is on the community, so just as many people share
profits from the machamba (field) with extended family and friends, or
people turn up their stereos to allow (or force, depending on your
point of view) the whole neighborhood listen to their music, if I know
the answer on the test, I should also tell my friend. The idea of
academic integrity is a hard sell. This is not to generalize all
schools, all administrations, all teachers, or all students, but
simply to highlight a general trend. Most students do want to learn
and to pass, because they recognize the benefits to their futures that
actually graduating high school, and though it is not at all
widespread, that attending university, affords them. But, most will
not be able to take advantage of those opportunities. Furthermore,
many of my students have just been passed along every year (and even
the ones who passed may have only mastered half the material, if even
that) so even though they are in 11th grade and have supposedly been
taking English since 7th or 8th grade, they still do not know the word
“uncle” or how to properly conjugate “to be” in the present tense.
However, I still have to give tests and assign compositions despite
the inevitable battle against the almost institutionalized cheating
(in the form of cheat-sheets, and totally obvious copying from a
neighbor among many other things) and the lack of study and
test-taking skills. Yes, obviously, cheating occurs in the US as well,
but it is rarely condoned by teachers or as rampant as it is here.

On a positive note, I only had to outright fail one student out of 240
for cheating during the exam, that I saw at least (though with all the
rules, multiple versions of the test, and sternness I had and showed,
I think I controlled it pretty well). He had written a bunch of stuff
on his hand and was blatantly staring at it during the test. C’mon
dude, I’m not blind.

Best answers from the test: “I will have eaten my sister” and “A good
profession for João is October.” Surprisingly grammatically correct
statements in English, but not quite what I was going for.

Other interesting teaching moments from Mozambique:
We were making a list of irregular past participles a few weeks ago.
So I asked the class, “what is pagar?” hoping for the response to be
“to pay.” One kid yells out super loud “to take a shit.” Normally, I
would throw a kid out of class for saying something like that (like I
did when a kid answered “What will you have done by 2020?” with “I
will have killed my grandfather”), but in this case, I did not throw
him out because “cagar” is to take a shit and is similar to “pagar”
and he misheard me. I was the only one who laughed because none of the
other students knew what “to take a shit” meant. Their loss on a funny

The teaching ambiance in Mozambique sometimes leaves something to be
desired. The school never turns on the lights for any class, so if
it’s cloudy then the rooms are relatively dark. But one of my turmas
(classes) has this horrible room behind the gym/auditorium/large room
thing and it is extremely dark, and I have them first period
sometimes. So when it’s cloudy outside and 7am, they can’t see the
board. Awesome. Also, some of the chalkboards in some of the
classrooms are so old and cracked, there are random patches where
anything written there is illegible. But the thing that really gets me
is that there are not enough desks for students in the school. I have
over 60 kids in each turma. My classrooms have on average less than 20
desks in them. Granted, these are the desks that are more like benches
with ledges that are intended for two students, but doing the math, if
every student shows up (which I admit is a rarity on a non-test day),
that is 3 students to a desk, and there may still potentially be
overflow and thus students sitting on capulanas on the floor or
standing in the back. And since students always stand up to answer a
question from a teacher, they are at times unable to do so and it
becomes a whole process trying to work their way around the other
students next to them to stand up, wasting my precious little
class-time. Because of this shortage of desks and the fact that
students stay in one classroom and the teacher’s rotate, there becomes
a war between the turmas for desks. Before school every day, from my
house, you can see and hear students stealing desks from other
classrooms to make a more complete set for their own classroom that
day. Thus, one of my turmas will always inevitably have had their
desks stolen on any given day and therefore I will be teaching to a
class of half the students sitting on the floor. Sad. Especially when
I was giving a test and made them put everything at the front of the
room. Because I am apparently extremely harsh, they had nothing to
write on. But, given that Mozambican ingenuity, they figured it out.

It is now avocado and cucumber season. I have thus subsisted solely on
avocado, cucumber, and tomato sandwiches for a few weeks now. But I am
not in the least complaining.

Also, we had some other volunteers over last weekend, and so I went to
go fill up one of our caixas (crates) of beer. In Mozambique, you need
to give a bar a bottle if you want to take the full bottle home
because it is cheaper for them to get the bottles refilled than it is
to always buy new bottles (it has nothing whatsoever to do with
recycling though that is an added benefit). So we have two caixas of
beer bottles in our house that we can use to trocar (trade). And on my
way back from the bar where we got the beer, I carried the caixa of 12
full large beers on my head like a true Mozambican! That’s it. I’m
done. I can officially return to America now.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Tigger!!

    This is peachy/semmie from Camp Kesem at MIT -- I just wanted to let you know I visited your blog today and proceeded to read it all in one sitting -- I hope you're having an awesome and rewarding time in Mozambique; I'm jealous! Stay safe and healthy and I'll be visiting your writings again!!