School, Training, and Lemurs!

I can’t believe it has been over a month since my last post, but it has been pretty busy.

Malagasy School

A couple school buildings

School – Well, the trimester was off to an exciting and overwhelming start. After all the students were officially registered I ended up with between 50-60 in my 10th grade classes and 60+ students in my 2 sections of 11th grade. I teach anytime between 7 am and 6 pm, but there is a break from 12-2 everyday for naps. It has been quite the challenge andnice to try to get a feel for their level in English and interests, though. Everyday presents a new struggle and usually produces a good laugh too, although 3 of my sections generally cause the same problem: classroom management. Trying to discipline classes this large and figuring out which strategies are actually effective and which aren’t has taken many class periods and I still have not nailed down a preferred method yet.

Malagasy School

One of my classrooms

One of the other biggest challenges I have faced so far with teaching has been finding ways to explain words and concepts with only English and very limited, if any Malagasy. The students level is very basic, which is a little disheartening because they’ve technically been studying it for 3-4 years, but know and understand very little. Explaining rules and even a simple thing like giving directions is a task that always takes much longer than anticipated, so I always use the full 2 hours for each class period. Another roadblock is that it gets dark around 6, but inside the classrooms darkness hits around 5:15-5:30 and without lights I have to let class out early because they can’t see anything. I’m sure the students love it, but it’s hard to complete the lesson and give them the practice they need to better understand each lesson. I say better understand because I don’t think that they ever fully understand the lesson as hard as I may try. Having such large classes results in a wide array of abilities and levels and that is another aspect that is a struggle. However, for the students that are really motivated and enthusiastic to learn English it is exciting and encouraging for me. Through the many trials I am facing it is even more important to focus on the positives that occur in each class and each day.

Training – My stage just had our In Service Training (IST) back in Mantasoa for 2 weeks. This was a very nice break, although it felt like it came right at the time that I was starting to settle down into my schedule and community and start observing and asking about secondary projects. However, it was nice to have running water, tea available at my disposal, electricity, toilets, showers, cooked meals, snacks, etc. once again. 🙂

The training consisted of courses to be able to receive TEFL certification at the end of our service as well as language and some administration sessions. They were informative and helpful, but what I really enjoyed were the reports given by each stagemate about their community and school and experience so far. During the second week of training, I learned a lot more about cultural differences and the different teaching styles between the Malagasy and (US) Americans. Counterparts for almost every volunteer were able to make the journey to help explain these differences as well as give helpful advice. A counterpart is basically the person in the community that is willing and motivated to help each volunteer with everything from teaching to secondary projects to advice on where to buy the best mofo bols (bread balls) – for us education PCV’s most of our counterparts are also English teachers to make communication a little easier.

The social aspect of IST was great, but also exhausting. We had all made it 2 months at site and it was so great to catch up and exchange stories and teaching advice. Everyone was used to being on their own and all of a sudden being surrounded by 28 other Americans and basically living in “mini America” as I call it for 2 weeks was overwhelming for some. I also definitely needed some quiet time every few days as well to gather my thoughts again. There were several themed parties in the evenings as well as just hanging out. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about everyone’s experiences and being able to joke about all our struggles, while making new memories together. The next time we will all be together again won’t be until next September, so I tried to take advantage of our time together.

Lemurs! – Right before training I was able to spend a short time at Andasibe National Park on my way to Tana. I met a few others there and we were able to do several hikes and I believe we saw a total of 5 different lemur species. It was an incredible experience and I could have sat in the forest all day and just watched them play and eat and sleep and jump. There was also nothing quite like waking up in the morning to hear the loud cry of the indri species resonating through the air. It was indeed a truly amazing adventure and great to share it with friends.

I am returning to site and will administer 2 more tests in the next 2 weeks and then have a few more classes until Christmas break, which is less than a month away. I cannot believe how quickly time has passed already. I do anticipate a little bit of an emotional struggle during the holidays as I am close with my family and always looked forward to our get-togethers, but hopefully I will get to spend some of the break with at least a few other PCV friends to ease my thoughts. It is comforting to know that I do have a PCV family to be able to talk to and that can relate to what I am going through on a daily basis, besides not everything can be “easy as pie” and I look forward to the ultimate outcome of enduring and accepting these hardships. Also, as Thanksgiving is on Thursday, I just want to emphasize how thankful I truly am for all the support I have received before I left and while I have been here. Family, friends, new PCV family, bosses, former co-workers, professors, even acquaintances have offered so much encouragement that has sincerely brightened my day on so many occasions.

Madagascar Lemurs

Forget a parrot on my shoulder, I want a lemur from here on out.