May 1, 2013

High Highs, Low Lows

When you're serving in the Peace Corps, your highs are really high, and lows are really low. One day you can love your site, love your students, and love your Peace Corps life, and the next you can curse the day you accepted your invitation to serve. This might sound dramatic (because it is a little dramatic) but really, Peace Corps life isn't easy. You're faced with situations on the daily that the typical American couldn't fathom. You're put out of your comfort zone and forced to make the uncomfortable work for you for your 27 months of service. Some days it doesn't seem worth it. It seems like no matter how hard you try you won't make a difference. Then there are the days that make you realize that it isn't a hopeless cause; that you can truly change lives.

Since arriving in Mozambique I've had some difficult times. Yesterday was one of those times. I planned an activity for my classes. We were learning about exponencials and transformations to the graphs of exponencial functions last week, so I wrote out a different transformation on slips of paper, broke the class into groups, and told them to write out a table and graph the function they got. Later they would have to get up in front of the class and explain why their transformation affected the original graph (that I made as an example) the way it did. Sounds simple enough, right? WRONG. I started the day in my worst turma. I did my explanation, passed out the slips of paper and blank paper to draw the graph on, and got about 60 blank stares followed by: “But teacherrrrrrr, we don't know how to do this.” “Teacherrrr, this custa (this costs...basically, it's hard).” “Teacherrrr, we can't do this.” And when 60 kids are complaining and whining at the same time, it's enough to make a person that already has a headache (aka me in this situation) give up. I promptly told them that they could do it and I would do an example for them. They accepted that as an answer temporarily and we started to do the example. I explained to them how they had to put the values for x from the table into the equation and solve for y...yes...that was a necessary part of the explanation. The biggest problem came when the students were helping me work out the problem after we put x into the equation. The students didn't know how to multiply fractions. Not one student in the class of 60 could tell me how to do it. I stared at them blankly and asked them “seriously?” And one of the students had the nerve to say, “Teacher, we've never done this!”

So that's when I got upset beyond belief, considering last trimester we were multiplying rational expressions, which I introduced to them by reviewing how to multiply fractions. I stared at them. They were all talking amongst themselves. No one was paying attention to me. I slowly walked over, gathered up my stuff, and walked out of the classroom. It was about 20 minutes into the 90 minute class period. I walked over to see if any of the Pedagogical Directors were in their office, but no one was there. So I leaned up against a tree in the middle of the schoolyard and thought of the million other things I could be doing with my life besides spending 27 months of it living in Mozambique trying to teach unmotivated kids 11th grade math when they don't know the 8th grade material. About 5 minutes after I left, 4 girls from the turma I left came over to me, apologized for the turma, and told me to come back to class. I asked them why I should come back to class when they don't want to learn and they don't listen to me. They begged and pleaded and tried to defend themselves, but I wasn't having it. I let them take my stuff back into the classroom and said I would come back in a little bit, but I told them they had to do the assignment without my help. They begrudgingly went back into the classroom. I sat under the tree for another forty five minutes, pondering my life decisions, called a fellow PCV to have a break down, and answered a few student's questions that cared enough to come out to my tree to get some math help.

Eventually I went back into the classroom, helped a few students, and a short 15 minutes later, the class period was over. I didn't address the class as a group any more that day. I really didn't know what to say. I still don't. I'm gonna have to figure that out before I go in to the classroom tomorrow. One of the worst parts about the whole ordeal is that it was my first 90 minute class of three, all using the same lesson plan. So I repeated the activity in my other two turmas. The other turmas didn't do any complaining. I gave them examples, went around and explained to each group what they were doing, and they knew how to multiply fractions. Forward progress. The activity didn't go over as well as I hoped it would in any class, but it went better in my other turmas, so I'll take it. Can't be too picky after a disaster like I had in my first class.

Looking back to yesterday, I'm glad I left the class. I think it may have taught the students in my undisciplined turma that I'm not just going to sit around and let them treat me like dirt. I still don't know what I'm going to do about the fact that they don't know how to multiply fractions (and many other fundamental math concepts), but I'll figure that out as I go, I guess.

In the Peace Corps, the bad days are inevitable, but with the bad also come the good. And if you're lucky, the good outweigh the bad. I definitely feel blessed to be in Messica and to have a great support system both in Mozambique and at home. My good days do outweigh the bad, but unfortunately the bad ones creep in and mess with me. I'm looking forward to my next extraordinarily good day when I realize that my service is not all for naught. I'm sure it will come. That's why it's worth it...for those good days, for the students that want to be in school, for the students that come over for math help, for the students that ask for extra problems to do, and the students who turn in the Sudoku problem I gave them for fun. It is worth it. Sometimes that's just clouded by a low low. Thanks to everyone who helped me put that in perspective yesterday.


  1. Oh, Anna... I hate those days. You describe it so accurately. <3 Remember, if you ever want to vent, that's what I'm here for!