The current generation of young teachers are often placed in government public schools which are now built in agricultural and mountain regions. I spoke with one of these teachers, an incredibly dedicated first-year English teacher, who is teaching in one of these schools, and listened to him describe to me the teaching conditions he has to endure.
He teaches in a school without electricity or any sort of heat (and it is winter now with freezing temperatures), and without enough chalk for him to use. The school finally was able to obtain one box of chalk to use. When I asked him how long this was supposed to last, he told me the whole year. I asked him if it might be possible for him to buy additional chalk from his own pocket (even though he shouldn’t have to).
He said that the problem was that as a new teacher, he hadn’t received his salary yet. When I asked why not, he told me that all the teachers placed in public schools did not receive their salary for the first one-to-two years on the job (although I am assuming that they do eventually get the salary to which they are entitled)! He said that teachers at private schools do get their monthly salaries upon starting, and that this is just a problem in the public-school sector. When I asked about salaries, it appears that new teachers in the public sector generally make about $400 a month; whereas veteran teachers of many years usually make about $700 a month. The top end of the salary scale is around $1,000 a month for the most veteran teachers in the most difficult subjects (possibly math, chemistry, physics).
My next question was, therefore, how was he managing to live, if he wasn’t getting any salary? I asked if students ever invited him to their homes for meals. He said no. He said that he was very fortunate, compared to some teachers, because his parents had actually moved to his new location with him (he’s 25) so that he could live with him and they could support him during his first few years in this job. (In this country, most new teachers are placed first in rural areas, and after several years of teaching in such conditions, they can apply to come to the city. But it usually takes many years to actually be able to get to a school in a city.)
School hours are from 8:00 am – 12:00 Noon, and again from 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm. This particular teacher is an English teacher in a middle school. He has 550 students a week. His classes average 46, and in each class, the age of students ranges from 13-20! Each of the 550 students spends about two hours a week in his class, once a week. So each day he has three classes. One goes from 8:00 am to 10:00 am. Then he has a ten-minute break. The next class goes until noon, followed by an hour for lunch. The third class is from 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm, and another class from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm. He has tried assigning homework, but has so far found that only five or six students out of 550 actually did the homework. He says that most students take notes, but never open their notebook once they have left class. The school has no library at all, and twenty classrooms which are equally as crowded as his. The school has no extra resources even to buy an extra box of chalk for the teachers.
I asked about the sex ratio in his classes. He said that being a secondary school in a rural area, it’s about 70% boys and 30% girls, but that the girls are far more serious, and study better. Some of the reasons behind the lower attendance of girls have to do with girls’ labor being needed in the home, as well as it being dangerous and far for the girls to walk to school. They cannot walk alone (for safety reasons). The school is 2-3 kilometers from most of their homes. The older girls get, it is more difficult for families to keep them in school, than it is for boys.
This teacher told me that he started his class year by having only two rules, which he explained to his students. These are to have RESPECT, and to DREAM BIG. He talked to the students about respecting themselves, about respecting others, about respecting their teachers, and about what it means to have respect in each of these areas. Next he talked to them about their dreams. He tried to encourage them in whatever their dreams were, to take steps toward pursuing them, whether it be becoming a soccer or basketball player, or becoming an artist. The saddest thing, he said, was that most of them don’t have ANY dreams at ALL. He said they have been raised in such a way that such thinking and ideas are not encouraged.
I told him (speaking as a teacher of many years) that no teacher can hope to be that “special” teacher for everyone, but that every teacher CAN hope and expect to be that “special” teacher for at least some students. Teachers can change the lives of students by opening up possibilities and giving emotional support. We discussed it, and he said that while middle-class students are now having dreams, that lower-class students (the majority) are not yet to that level.
As a first-year teacher, he told me that he desires to be a “modern” teacher, using games, songs, and playing. However, he quickly found this did not work. “If you have fun with them,” he says, “then they think you are a cool teacher who ‘lets them do whatever they want’ and they don’t respect you.” He has problems with students getting up out of their chairs out of their chairs without permission, and many students talking in class, disturbing the others. When he tries to get them to CALM DOWN they don’t want to listen. These are the same problems I had for many years in my classrooms in this country, although I found getting older (as a teacher) helps!
Interestingly, English teachers in this French-speaking country tend to follow Western models of teaching, and the education departments follow modern methods from America. They are not being taught in ed school just to have students “memorize” and the like; however, they have the same trouble as foreign teachers do with finding that often more fun and interesting methods don’t seem to work with students who have been raised with different sorts of ideas by their parents, and by the local culture.
This teacher and I live in different parts of our country, and I spoke with him over Skype. His English was unbelievably good, even compared to other English teachers I have met. We are a French and Arabic-speaking country (upper classes speaking French, and lower classes speaking the local dialects of Arabic). It was as good as if he had been raised in England or America, and only had a very slight accent. He spoke with perfect grammar and pronunciation, and in our two-hour conversation I heard only one slight mistake, which he self-corrected. I think it’s amazing that someone of this quality is teaching in such a far-off rural school.
I mention this teacher’s good English as a comparison to my daughter’s experience less than ten years ago in respected private school in a big city in our country. I went to a presentation for parents in a large auditorium. The English teacher got up and spoke to parents for five minutes from the stage, explaining what the students were going to do. Yet, I could barely understand a word! When my daughter (a native speaker) was in her class, she used to tell my daughter that she wasn’t speaking English correctly (not true). Since that time, I have found that the English standards of the public-school teachers generally seem quite superior to those of many private-school teachers (although I’m not yet sure why that is).
This teacher’s dedication really impressed me and made me feel as if I wanted to be a student in his class!
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