I do not hold out much hope. I try to be positive, really. However, I have only previous met a couple of groups of students who were so blithely disinterested in learning.
At my own secondary school there were plenty such candidates; their home lives were messy and most of them would grow up to be farmers. Although I foresaw that being literate and numerate would actually help a great deal in this pursuit, most were under the influence of families who had been doing it this way for years and would be damned if modern poppycock like fancy paper showing exam results would interfere with their daily running; animals can’t read y’know and they have managed to survive the 67 million years since the age of the dinosaurs. They must be doing something right.
The other group were the surly children in Greece. They had lessons from 10 pm until 11 pm, as well as on Friday nights after a busy school week. The sanctions for misbehavior were never followed through and they soon learnt that the pattern repeated itself; teacher shouts, student goes to the boss, the boss threatens to call the parents, child says sorry, parents are duly forgotten. Click and repeat ad infinitum. It was never any surprise to me that they were disengaged and I faced an uphill battle. I suspect that the young teachers here fall squarely into the first category; most plan to marry a cousin who lives in their village and have children. English is certainly optional in making that scenario a reality.
The day was hot. Hotter than a mere use of the word hot can convey. At 38 degrees centigrade I wondered to myself, not for the first time, if teaching these young people in the midday heat was a sensible undertaking. We arrived in the library. There were 14 students sitting patiently waiting. We had 10 test scripts. Despite my rusty math even I knew this would cause problems. The printer didn’t work. After a 20 minute intermission (can it be an intermission if you haven’t yet started?) the teacher trainee returned and barked a few Arakanese words at his friend. Twenty minutes later they returned with the hard-won scripts. They had had to run the generator, use the photocopier and battle the toner, which had won if my trainee’s hands and fingers were anything to judge by.
The students sat the test in sweaty silence. We weren’t able to split them as much as I would have liked. The room is small with only 4 trestle tables taking up the bulk of the floor space. The number of students is a little variable nowadays; we split the group into two and some pupils enjoy a cross over between high and low levels when they feel like it if the wind is blowing in the right direction. They finished within an hour or so. After completion we allowed them to leave until we had the end stragglers finishing up. The test was all in English with translation from my local teacher where necessary. I always try to keep the instructions as simple as possible in tests as in lessons. I am happy to paraphrase instructions for my students; I am not happy to provide content help on the test.
There was an even distribution of scores. The highest was 65 of 75 or 86%. I was surprised by the student who attained this as he is a rather quiet person whose presentation was not outstanding. However, his grammar is sound and his listening is sharp. One of the volunteer teachers has been protesting that he isn’t being taught enough by the foreigner and that he only came back to the village from his job in Yangon because the monk promised him a foreign teacher. It’s a little silly really because when the students were under the tutelage of the new teacher they complained that they wanted my trainee. When they have him, they want me to teach. I am present in every lesson and I micro manage each plan and even jump up during the lessons to correct anything gone awry or amiss. I am as close to teaching as I could be without actually being the teacher. The volunteer teacher in question scored 57 of 75. It is an acceptable score, but is certainly not the high marks which might suggest boredom in a class with a local teacher teaching. I will admit that his free writing passage was very impressive, but his grasp of the basics seems lacking. In order to complain, I feel that a student should be achieving into the high nineties with only careless, stupid errors being made and not many of those even. Otherwise, how can you prove that you are bored; if you do not score highly, then you need to be in the class. It really is that simple in my opinion.
They did better than I was expecting, which I am very thankful for. I think that they did manage to retain some of the information. Upsettingly, the areas where they all lost the most points were on the “S” endings. No real surprise, but certainly a disappointment. I also tested the head monk and our other trainee; both of whom did significantly better than the group of teachers. We shall wait and see how the grade 9 pupils do on the same test.
NEH Coordinator and Teacher Trainer
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