Last year when I was director of a class a couple times the student who was “chief of hygiene” came up to me telling me that certain students hadn’t brushed their hair. And a couple other teachers made comments too, so I asked one of my female colleagues to explain the situation to me. She called a couple students over to show me living examples of both brushed and un-brushed hair. I couldn’t tell the difference. The students shouldn’t be allowed in the classroom with un-brushed hair, but I didn’t pay much attention to it, mostly because I couldn’t really tell the difference, but also because I thought it was strange and didn’t matter. (It’s all a matter of perspective. At my high school, if our hair was wet, it had to be pulled back, it couldn’t be down and still wet. I am sure many a Mozambican would think that was strange…also they often can’t pull their hair back.) Yesterday afternoon I saw that Margarita, the 4-year-old, hadn’t brushed her hair, so I scolded her, grabbed a comb, brushed her hair telling her how it only took a few second and now it looked so much prettier, and sent her on her way with a pat on the rear. All of that happened so quickly that it was a few seconds later I thought to myself, “wow, that was weird.”
This morning my director asked to speak to me and led me to sit on a bench under a tree for a serious discussion. I thought to myself “am I in trouble?” I couldn’t think of why I might be in trouble, but one of the joys of living and working in a foreign culture is that expectations of right and wrong and good and bad can be very different. She explained that they had finally been able to find another English teacher for 11th grade (I had heard this from students at mass yesterday) and that they were going to give many of my classes to him, but they didn’t want me to be mad or offended, but they were planning for the future, as I will only be here this year. I assured her that I wouldn’t be offended and told her that I was more than happy to teach any discipline and any grade level. Apparently Peace Corps has a rule that PCVs can only teach during one section of the day (or either morning classes or afternoon classes, but not a mixture of the two) which is good because it protects the PCVs who are sometimes exploited and abused by their schools. But my school has always treated me fairly, so I told my director I was more than happy to have class during both times as long as it wasn’t too many hours, whatever helped the school the most. She and my pedagogical director were both incredibly grateful for my flexibility and availability. (Does availability work there? I just had to look up a Portuguese word in the dictionary to see what it is in English, but I don’t think it translates adequately.)
They decided to give four of the 11th grade classes to my new colleague and let me keep two, which will be good because now we can return to meeting 5 times weekly, which 11th grade English is supposed to. My pedagogical director let me choose which two classes to choose. For second cycle, 11th and 12th grade, the students choose either Letters or Sciences, and this is the focus of their studies until graduation. It is common knowledge at all schools that the Sciences students are either more intelligent or less lazy or some combination of the both—they are the better students. So I quickly chose the two Science classes over the four Letter ones. I did feel a little bit bad later though when I saw some good students from a Letters class who asked me which classes I would be teaching and seemed really disappointed to not have me anymore.
Apparently class #11 of tenth grade only has only five disciplines, because there simply aren’t enough teachers. They don’t have English, History, or Geography classes. I might be forgetting a few. This is an especially huge problem because 10th grade is a national exam year, so in October they will be expected to take national exams in every subject, including the ones they don’t have a teacher for this year. My guess is that, with such limited resources, the school decided to use them where they thought they would have the greatest payoff. Classes are arranged by age, so class #11 is the oldest kids, the ones who have failed the most times. It’s a shame to realize that they are just being given up on, but here where there are so few resources and so many students, schools don’t have another choice. Because of their strange schedule, this class doesn’t even have a single class on Thursdays, so my pedagogical director said he wants me to give classes then. He seemed to want me to give lessons more to the tune of “Life Lessons,” but I think I’ll give straight up History, Geography, and English lessons—these kids need to prepare for the national exams!