This week we are doing midterm exams. As every teacher knows, exams not only measure student achievement. They can tell us something about a teacher. If students haven’t learned, then whatever else they may have done, teachers haven’t taught. Any definition of teaching is inextricably bound up with learning.
I’m not sure that we have mentioned this here, but things are going much better in our classrooms this semester. We are sure that we learned as much as our students did last semester. (I shudder when I look back at our earliest lessons.)
It is quite apparent that our students learned something as well. The contrast between the students we have for the first time and those we had last semester underlines that fact. A large part of their learning was in getting to know our strange ways. We care whether they come to class on time or not. (Rory has begun providing snacks for those who are there on time.) We ask them to turn off their cell phones. We give them a notebook for their vocabulary lists and translations. We have weekly assignments and quizzes. We work hard to prevent them from “collaborating” during quizzes. We track their scores in a spreadsheet which we post. Sometimes it has felt like we are swimming upstream. But with only a little reflection, we realize that there have been noticeable changes for the better.
The students have learned some English as well. I have been pleased by how well students have done with oral drills compared with their performance last semester. If you asked Rory, she would also give you the names of several students who have undergone major improvements in both attitude and achievement. If you see her, tell her that it is her advanced teaching methods. <grin>
We’ve grown fond of these students. We talk a lot about them between ourselves, both about them as individuals and as a group. It’s complicated trying to figure them out, parsing cultural and character factors. Still, for all of their faults and weaknesses as students and mine as a teacher, my experience has been sooo much more positive here. I will save my EJ war stories for another time, but contrasting both sets of experiences has been helpful in making sense of the larger cultures.
In the US, public school teachers are confronted with an incredibly complex task. It should not come as a surprise to anyone that more and more schools are failing. They are symptomatic of the large-scale disorders that plague our families and communities. To expect schools to succeed when these problems continue inadequately addressed and unabated is naïve.
Timorese students are dealing with a distinctly different set of issues. They are trying to bridge a huge gap in the space of one life. Many of our students are from small, rural settings in which there is much more in common with feudalism than with the post-industrial, post-Christian west. They remember the Indonesian times and the experience of being ruled and “educated” by a sometimes ruthless colonial power. They are finding their way now in the early years of a newly-liberated nation. For them, it is about enduring the impoverishment and sufferings of Timorese student life and going through the motions for the sake of a credential. For us, as their teachers, and from what we can tell by talking to others, it is all about capacity-building. We have both noted that the Timorese are quite hopeful, even in the midst of diminished and challenging circumstances, a virtue that we can struggle to hang on to in the States. [posted by David]