I’ve been keeping busy with only about a month of the school year left here in Morocco. I’m usually at school, sitting in on math classes, speaking with students and interviewing and getting to know teachers.
Months ago, getting my foot in the door at these schools was a major personal challenge. Email is not an effective means of communication, and I had to gather the courage to just pop in unannounced. When I did put my need to set an appointment aside, it was easy to miss my contact due to his varied teaching schedule. Like most middle school teachers in Morocco, some days he teaches five hours of classes in the morning, some days all five hours in the evening, and other days his hours are split.
Now, spending time in the middle schools is invigorating, though also draining: middle school is a place absolutely bursting with energy. I am handed glasses of mint tea and slices of pound cake in the teachers lounge as they reflect on their frustrations and chronicle their successes. Crowds of students surround me in the yard after class, asking me questions on everything from my love life to English grammar to my opinion on the royal wedding. Sometimes they take the time to listen to my answers, but most of the time just giggle at me and my accent.
Strikes have been a regular feature of the school year. This past March, emboldened by the successes of protests in North Africa, school teachers demonstrated for higher wages and better benefits in Rabat. These protests were met with force, and some participants were hospitalized: some articles state as many as 65, others say only 17. In any case, teachers have been staging nationwide strikes to protest this violence, as well as in hope to receive pay increases and the benefits they’ve been demanding. Just this past week schools were closed in Fez for two days.
In response, the Education Minister has extended the school year an extra week to make up for these lost days. You can read an article about this here.
Clearly, I hang out with teachers all day and cannot claim to be completely neutral, but it must be very difficult to be a public school educator in Morocco right now. I’ve heard a lot of criticism directed at teachers, similar to the comments made in the article. Much blame is dumped on the teachers for the state of the public school system, and yet I haven’t sat in on a class with less than 32 students. Teachers can be assigned to schools miles away from their families. I’ve been told that the starting salary for teachers can be only 2,500 dirhams a month, what I pay in rent. To supplement this pay, some teachers are put in the ethically murky position of offering paid tutoring sessions to their current students. It seems as though there is constant talk of education reform in Morocco, and I hope this time teachers’ demands are heard, and soon.