Maria Atalia Matola: Exuding passion in her profession | Aga Khan Academies

Maria Atalia Matola: Exuding passion in her profession

Courageous and confident, Maria Atalia Matola travelled out of Maputo, Mozambique for the first time in her life to teach at the Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa, Kenya as part of the Aga Khan Academies’ Teacher Preparation Programme (TPP). Over the last academic year, she taught Grade 5 in the Junior School at AKA Mombasa as part of this unique school-based programme that provides in-depth, hands-on experience in teaching the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum.
From early on in her career, Atalia exhibited qualities of perseverance and courage toward achieving her dreams and receiving an education. Despite initially facing challenges in her plans to attend university, Atalia remained strong-willed and pursued her studies in teaching English at a teacher’s college in Maputo. The one-year intensive programme rewarded her with a teaching qualification for students from Grades 1–7 and ultimately, entrance into a university programme for English language teaching, which qualified her to teach at the secondary level as well. “After that one-year course, I realised that I really love teaching. When I get to the classroom it’s as if I’m connected to a socket. It just comes naturally  my communication with the students and delivery of the lessons,” she claims. Atalia taught for four years in both private and public schools before coming to the Academy.
During her programme at the teacher's college, she had the experience of teaching English to adults and was able to gain many skills, which she built upon and adapted during her time in Mombasa. She continues to search for new experiences and enjoys being stretched out of her comfort zone. As she has taught younger students and adults, she says, “I would like to challenge myself and teach teenagers.”

With bravery and a determined mindset, Atalia embraced the opportunity to teach at the Academy in Mombasa. Previously, Atalia was teaching at the Matolajhota school in Maputo, and frequently attended the Professional Development Centre (PDC) training and development sessions at the Aga Khan Academy Maputo, which is where she learned about the TPP. After a rigorous selection process, she was one of six individuals who were chosen to participate in the TPP.

Atalia experienced culture shock when transitioning from Maputo to Mombasa. The dressing style, the hospitality, the dominant religions and the culture are all very different from her hometown. She began to appreciate the cultural nuances and slowly adapted to the different social and cultural environments of the city, including the language. “I came to Mombasa thinking I have to work on improving my English, but I’ve also started learning Kiswahili!” 

Not only was she exposed to a new culture and belief system, but Atalia also reflects upon the many lessons and skills she learned whilst in the classroom. She is always willing to grow, learn and unlearn, all in a bid to further develop her mindset and philosophy of teaching. “There are so many things that I learned here that I’m going to take in my luggage to Maputo…[especially] the inquiry-based learning, because here in the IB curriculum the student is at the centre of the learning, it’s not the teacher.” Atalia also feels that the collaborative learning approaches and the integration of the Aga Khan Academies' (AKA) Learner Profile attributes within the classroom make a large impact on the development of the child. “It makes a lot of difference…the way the students behave inside and outside the classroom really mirrors the AKA LearnerProfile.” She emphasises, “No doubt [my experience at the Academy] has made me a more effective teacher.” 

Atalia has returned to Mozambique to teach at AKA Maputo. The language of instruction in Mozambique is normally Portuguese, but the Academy implements a dual-language approach and teaches in both English and Portuguese to ensure that students are fluent in both English, which is taught across the Academies network, and the language spoken in their national context. “I’m really passionate about English,” says Atalia. Many students entering Grade 1 at the Academy speak little to no English, which can make teaching in English challenging. “The main language of instruction will be English, but we’ll have Portuguese as a scaffolding language for students who don’t understand English well,” she notes.

Atalia speaks about the need for a teacher to develop a relationship with the students that goes beyond conveying information. “To be an IB teacher, you need to be someone who is passionate about your profession. You have to play so many roles apart from being a teacher…You need to be someone who is aware of the life of the student… so that you can properly guide the student.”

Having grown up in Mozambique, Atalia is looking forward to teaching at AKA Maputo, which is currently expanding its physical campus and its curricular offering to include the IB Middle Years Programme. Atalia and the other TPP graduates from her cohort will have the opportunity to bring their newly wrought skills to bear on helping to grow the school. She is embracing the challenge of nurturing the next generation of students. One of the most memorable moments of her earlier time as a teacher in Maputo was teaching young students who didn’t yet know the alphabet how to read. “It was a great moment for me to see those students opening their books and reading, joining words together, making a sentence, counting…It really touched my heart.”

Atalia has learned a great deal through the TPP but is looking forward to continuing her growth as a teacher. She says, “This course has changed me totally, no doubt. But I still want to learn more – there are so many things that are still in my mind and that I want to know how to implement. I will still learn.” Atalia also hopes to work with the PDC at AKA Maputo and share her experiences with the next cohort of teachers engaging in the TPP.

By: Karishma Bhagani and Sarra Sheikh