Monday, November 30, 2015

Love and Teaching in Brazil

When you're a teacher, you mark your time in chunks...80 minute class periods, 5 day weeks, 9 week quarters, 2 always seems like time flies!  It's hard to believe we've been in Brazil 4 months already and that we are 2 weeks away from Christmas--bring on that loooooong break, baby--I'm ready!

Adjusting to cultures requires a tremendous amount of flexibility in every aspect of your life, both professional and personal.  What to hang on to, what to let go, when to go with the flow, when to stick to your guns.  It's exhausting, more than you sometimes realize.

One of the more interesting aspects of teaching is adapting to the culture as it plays out in school. We are heavily influenced by our host country.  This is especially true here, where our students are predominantly Brazilian.  Our school is celebrating its 95th anniversary this year, which means we have 2nd and 3rd generation students here.  We also run a Brazilian studies/diploma program as well as the IB and standard diploma, so we have a large number of host country teachers as well.  As an international school we have our own culture, but the Brazilian influence is much stronger here than a host country culture might be in other schools.  Before we arrived we were "warned" about the very social, warm, and interactive nature of Brazilians--exhibited by both parents and students.  The principal told us that, compared to our experiences in China, we might find ourselves rethinking class management and instruction in light of the personality of the Brazilians.

So true!  Brazilians are warm, friendly, sociable, and love to talk...from the oldest to the youngest. And, of course, that plays out at school, where our students are very social and chatty...all through the day.  Any classroom management, discipline, encouragement, and relationship building strategies that you have developed need to be rethought and tailored to the population of students you're working with.  That part about when to flex, when to stick to your guns?  Much more challenging, but (in some ways) much more important in an overseas setting.

One of the biggest ah-has has been the idea of students liking you as a teacher.  Of course we want to be liked, but I think my experiences would be have more along the lines of building positive supportive relationships, understanding students, earning their respect, etc.  When all of those are in place, along with good teaching, it's very likely that students do like their teacher.  Here, having students like you and having them feel like you like them comes almost before the other things.  I've never had to think about working to have my students like me in that way before.  I wondered if it would feel like pandering for a superficial "friend-y" feeling and would that come at the expense of being able to really get students to push themselves?

Turns out that it hasn't worked like that.  It's definitely required a shift, not for the worst, but just different, a way that works here, but may not in other places.  It's a set of skills that have to be adapted to be a teacher that moves from country to country.   I used to be surprised at the physical contact between students and teachers, something I've never experienced before (and what would certainly never be OK in the States) but when my middle school students started to hug me, I think I realized I've hit a milestone in my adjustment to my teaching life in Brazil.  I've come to enjoy that aspect of of getting to know my students!

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