With one year of teaching under my belt, I’ve started my second school year here in Liberia! We’ve finished the first of 6 marking periods and about this time last year I wrote my first post about my experience so far teaching in Liberia. So it feels like a good time to write an update, reflecting on what I’ve learned in my first year and sharing what’s new this year.
I started this school year feeling so much more prepared than last year. One thing I struggled with at the beginning last year was where to start! I was meeting all new students, many coming from different schools (as my school is the only government high school in the area) with a wide range of ability levels. But this year, I was able to follow my students: last year I taught 10th and 11th grade and this year I’m teaching the same students in 11th and 12th. So rather than spend too much time figuring out where to start, I at least know what they learned in math last year and could pick right up where we left off!
I’m also feeling more confident in my lesson planning, as I have a better idea of how much we can cover in one lesson and can better predict what questions my students might have (but not always!). Plus, with the exception of a few who are new to the school, my students are used to me–the way I talk, my teaching style and the procedures I follow during class. I’m already seeing it when I compare this year’s 11th graders (who I taught last year) to last year’s 11th grade class. With teaching the same material as the year before, I was able to get a little bit ahead and fit in an extra topic in the first marking period that last year I didn’t get to until the next. I don’t think it’s because one class is stronger than the other but because we, the students and myself, can better understand each other after a year.
With a new school year also came some new challenges for me. One is that I’ve got bigger class sizes this year. Last year, my biggest class was the 11th grade with 60 students. This year they’ve grown to about 65 in the 12th grade this year, not too big of a difference. The big change is in this year’s 11th grade. Last year, the 100 10th graders were split into two sections of about 50 each. This year, they’ve become about 85 but they’re all in one section because the school doesn’t have enough classrooms to split them into two (the school actually already converted the library–the only available space–into another classroom to split one of the junior high classes that was even bigger). So my classes of 50 and 60 students are now 65 and 85, and let me tell you, those 25 extra students make a big difference! So I’m working on figuring out what still works with larger classes and where to make adjustments in how I manage the classroom.
Teaching 11th grade for the second time makes my planning for school a little easier–with just some small adjustments, I can use the same lesson plans and follow the same sequence of topics as last year and don’t have to start from scratch. But teaching 12th grade is a different story! The 12th graders will take the WASSCE graduation exam in April. The WASSCE is an exam taken across West Africa and the students must pass it to graduate. The list of math topics that can show up on the exam is extensive and I know that we won’t be able to cover everything during class.
My principal and vice principal have given me free rein with the 12th grade to decide what to teach from the list, rather than having to follow a specific curriculum. It’s a pretty daunting task, but I’ve decided to focus on areas that seem to come on the test each year (I’ve got a couple previous exams I’m using as a resource) and make sure to cover the fundamentals. I started the year with a basic algebra review, making sure they’re able to solve for a variable, as so many areas of math rely on this skill. I’m also trying to do extra review sessions outside of school to review topics they may not have seen since junior high (like fractions).
The new school year has brought new challenges but with my experience teaching last year, I feel prepared to tackle them. And I’m excited to work with the same students again and to continue to watch them grow!