In June of 2015 I embarked on a memorable journey that has had a profound impact on my life. As a participant fellow in the Teachers for Global classrooms I was selected to travel to Brazil with a group of 16 American teachers from across the United States. For 18 days we visited schools, taught workshops, conducted lessons, made presentations, talked and laughed with Brazilian students and teachers, shared meals and attended festivals, enjoyed the beach, and explored cities. The preceding pages of my blog were recorded while I was happily immersed in this experience in Brazil, and shortly after I returned.
An article in the University online newsletter about our presentation:
We visited many more classrooms and spoke with students of all levels of English language learning. It was fun to engage them in conversations where they could practice listening and speaking. I co-taught lessons in grammar and pronunciation and demonstrated some activities to engage students in their learning.
At mid-day we made a trip to the city center where we bargained for souvenirs in the market and explored the “Troca Troca” swap market where all kinds of useful items (refrigerators, power cords, tools, and bicycles to name a few) were traded. Marcos, our driver (and aspiring politician), led us a good number of blocks in the strong sun and we finally had to admit that Teresina’s heat was living up to its reputation. We weren’t down and out yet. We still had some shopping left in us at the Central de Artesanato, a co-op of craft shops.
We returned to CCL for an afternoon workshop for the English teachers who gave up precious time to come listen to us. We shared Power Point/Prezi presentations of our lives back home and our work in our schools and about teaching techniques that we have found useful in our classrooms. We ended the workshop demonstrating a number of Improv activities designed to get students actively engaged in their learning. Soon we were all getting silly, pretending to be drivers and hitchhikers, talk show contestants, roller coaster riders, and movie stars whose gibberish needed a translator. It was good to laugh and step outside our usual serious teacher selves for a while.
A very memorable experience followed the teacher workshop. Josélia had told us that she was preparing a “box of surprises” for us during the 5-6 pm break. We were led into the faculty break room with great fanfare. In our absence, the room had been equipped with a karaoke machine, courtesy of Gildo, a teacher with musical talent and a fun and generous spirit. What ensued was the most fun I’ve ever experienced in a staff room.
We were treated to dinner in the late evening at an open air restaurant that served northeastern fare – MariaIsabel (rice and beef), pork rinds, shrimp pastel, and Carne de Sol (sun-dried beef).
Back to reality and a new school week in Teresina, Allison and I jumped into a full day of classroom activities. Cento Cultural de Linguas (CCL) is a tuition-free public school whose teachers are employed by the government. Class sizes there are manageable – ranging from 10 – 20 students, unlike the larger traditional public schools where classrooms are packed with up to 60 students. The age range at CCL was from 14-70+. It is a unique public school, with only 2 campuses – one in Teresina and one in Parnaĩba. Most are full-time university students of engineering, medicine, public health, accounting, education, and law, who find time to squeeze in English language courses at CCL. Some students fit their high school classes around their language studies. In one class we were surprised to meet a grandmother who was learning English alongside her daughter.
Teachers in Brazil struggle with a number of challenges that make teaching a noble profession not for the faint of heart. Most teachers we’ve met cannot make a living with just a single teaching position. They have to cobble together jobs at 2, 3, 4, or even 5 schools around the city. Their work life takes a toll on their time with their families, and they often work from early in the morning to late at night.
Primary and high school students in Brazil normally attend classes for just 4 hours a day, and they juggle up to 14 classes per semester, with most classes meeting just once a week. Public school classrooms are often overloaded with students and have few resources to work with. The teachers in these schools tell us that discipline is a problem they face in classes so large, and their one overriding wish for their students was for reduced class sizes so that students could learn without so many distractions. At CCL the teaching and learning environment is relaxed and more suited for learning. Many of the teachers have traveled and studied abroad in programs like the Fulbright, and their teaching methods reflect their expertise.
Our time in the staff room is spent conversing and laughing with the teachers, sharing coffee and snacks. They tell us that having guests is great for the quality and quantity of snacks that they enjoy while we’re here. I am privileged to get to share in their world for just a short time.
In the evening we got to experience Teresina’s Festa Junina, Brazil’s Harvest Festival. Youth groups from around the city came to perform their choreographed dances, in 30-minute rounds before a panel of judges. Their costumes were elaborate and they had worked so hard to get there. It was amazing to see so many young people so dedicted to keeping the culture of dance alive.