Back teaching math—with a few desks missing

Lay missioner Loyce Veryser recounts her return to teaching in Tanzania

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Loyce Veryser outside the Mwanza high school where she teaches math.

By Loyce Veryser

I’d like to share a bit about my experience traveling from Tanzania to Maryknoll in New York and what’s it’s been like to return to the job I’ve been doing in my home country for 15 some years, but now in a new role as a missioner.

First, I was very happy to be part of the 2018 Orientation Program in New York with other new missioners. I met many people with different backgrounds and experiences and learned a lot from my fellow classmates and the Maryknoll staff.

It was difficult for me at first because I’m not used to speaking English all the time, but I got used to it and by the end of the 10-week program I was confident enough to be able to speak in front of the group and ask questions. Though it was a great experience, I was very much looking forward to getting back to my students in Mwanza.

When I came back to Tanzania, my students and other staff at school were also very happy to see me. Some of the staff members had thought I wouldn’t come back from U.S. The headmaster said he was relieved to have me come back just in time for the beginning of the new school year, especially since there’s only one other math teacher for the whole secondary school of more than 1,000 students. As an academic mistress, I’m also helping him to manage the school—especially with the class schedule and coordinating other teachers.

I decided to start with new, incoming first-year students this year, since the last class I taught just graduated in November. I plan to stay with these students as they progress through each class until they graduate in four years. This way we get to know each other well and I can help them succeed as I have helped other classes in the past.

It’s always difficult teaching the incoming first year class because most of them don’t know English yet (primary school here is taught in Swahili but secondary in English). I end up explaining things a lot in Swahili, to make sure everyone understands, though officially the curriculum is in English and all of the written materials are in English.

The main challenge we have at the school, aside from a shortage of math and science teachers, is overcrowding of the classrooms. Fully half of the population of Tanzania is under 16 years of age and it’s difficult for the government to keep up with the number of students in terms of building enough classrooms, training teachers and even building and equipping schools. At my school, which is in a high population area of Mwanza, a city over a million people, we’re always scrambling to keep up with the large numbers of incoming students.

This year, we don’t even really have desks for these 250 new students. We always used to hear about this happening in village schools, but it is my first time teaching students without them having desks to sit at. It’s not easy to control the class because it’s hard to see all the students, it’s difficult for them to take notes, and even the classroom floors are not so good, like the cement has broken up in places, so it’s dusty for them to sit on.

There’s a parent committee trying to organize a contribution for desks (just $4 a student), but with only few that have contributed so far, most students will probably be sitting on the floor for at least the next month. The parents mostly are struggling to make ends meet—many being fishermen, construction workers or working in small trading, and the vast majority of them not having studied secondary school themselves.

It’s wonderful to now be a part of the group of missioners here in Mwanza and Musoma. We have already met a couple of times since we’ve been back, and it’s good to share experiences with and learn from each other.

It’s also been nice for our children to play with Anne Berry and George Stablein’s children, and they seem to get along very well. The new missioners, Sam, Marilyn and Kevin, have been in language school in Musoma, and we look forward to seeing them more this month. We got to know each other well in New York, and I hope they are enjoying being here in Tanzania.

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Photo by Stephen Veryser.

Loyce Veryser teaches mathematics at a government high school in Mwanza, Tanzania. Together with her husband, Stephen, and their three children, Claire, Justin, and Abigail, she joined Maryknoll Lay Missioners in 2018.

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