Monday, April 23, 2012

Testing, Tainted grades, and ToTs

Hello everyone! I hope you are enjoying a beautiful spring. Over here in Moz, the weather is cooling, the activities are hopping, and the time is flying! Since my last update, not much has changed in terms of what’s going on at site. I am still loving my time in the classroom and am happily busy outside of the classroom, too. We have just finished the first trimester, and the end of the grading period came with a few notable events, both good and bad.

The first surprise that came at the end of the trimester was the new “provincial wide exam” policy. I remember learning during training about how final exams usually worked at the end of the term, with the students receiving an “exam schedule” where all students write their Portuguese exams one day, then English another day, etc. In this system, all teachers proctor all subjects. I recalled this being something visiting volunteers shared as a frustration, as not every teacher vigilantly proctors or controls cheating. Anyway, I was relieved to see when we got to site that this wasn’t how things actually worked in Kaunda, and each teacher was expected to just give his or her own final exams during regular class time. Well, about 4 weeks before the end of the trimester, I started hearing rumors about “provincial exams.” I tried to ask as many questions as possible, and finally learned the following week we would receive a final exam from the provincial capital, written by someone in the Ministry of Education, to give to our students. Not only would we not get to write our own final exams, but we were also going to have an exam schedule like I had heard about, so I would be leaving my students to be proctored by teachers who have no qualms with cheating or giving answers. What a nice surprise! Another fun aspect of this new system is that they block of the 3rd to last and 2nd to last week for these exams, leaving the last week for “recuperation.” This essentially means the students feel they are done a week early and leave for break. So, suddenly the 13 week trimester that I had planned for was 3 weeks shorter. In addition, since I only found out the new policy a week before finals, I panicked as I realized I had barely touched the majority of what I should have covered according to the 8th grade curriculum. Call me crazy, but for some reason I found it more valuable to drill basic concepts and give the students a very firm foundation first trimester instead of rushing through the obscene amount of subject matter mandated by the national curriculum. I did all I could in the last week to review with my students, and when the day of the exam arrived, I nervously opened the envelope. To my relief, the exam covered exactly what I had taught! There were 3 variants, and this one only used verb tenses that I had covered. The students succeeded, more or less, and I counted my lucky stars, especially as I saw the other two variants and realized the other two versions would have been impossible for my students. So, disaster averted… at least until next trimester finals.

After grading all the finals, I calculated my students’ final grades and got ready to participate in my first midyear “conselhos de nota.” I had managed avoid taking part in these grading days both trimester breaks last year, as I had heard many stories about grade changing and corruption from other volunteers. Well, this year I decided I was ready to see what really went down in the grading days. And guess what? As it turns out, I’m a corrupt teacher, too. I was shocked to find myself changing grades right alongside all the other teachers. But don’t worry, I can justify it… or at least that’s what I’ll tell myself.

So here is how grading days work in Mozambique. I think I’ve explained before my role as a “director of turma.” I am essentially a homeroom teacher for one of turmas. In Mozambique, the students all stay in one class for the whole day and the teachers rotate. So for the 31 students in turma 8C, I am the one who is responsible for collecting all their grades for each discipline and entering them into one big class grade sheet. After this, I have to look at each student and calculate their overall average, and then decide if this student can pass. To pass the trimester, the student is only allowed to fail (below 50%) two disciplines, and those disciplines cannot be considered under the same branch, like 2 sciences. In addition, they cannot have a single grade below an 8/20, even if they are passing all other disciplines. Well, my grades were slightly lower than most other teachers. I also have much higher grades, though. I approach my grading with a more American mindset than other teachers. A student who does all their homework and does well on tests, for example, should get a final grade of 18 or 19 out of 20. Not a single other teacher, though, had given a grade above 13. Consequently, a student who does not turn in a single homework assignment and leaves all answers on his test blank will get a 2 or 3 out of 20. Not a single other teacher had grades below 6. So, my grades were causing some problems. Although I had planned on combatting grade changes at conselhos, I allowed a little wiggle room when I realized that several students were going to fail the entire trimester only because I gave much lower grades than all the other teachers. Some students had all passing grades, but then a 6 or 7 in English, so would be considered failing. I realized this just wasn’t very fair, and decided it was appropriate to move those grades up to an 8 in order to allow them to pass the trimester. They were still failing English, but would not be at risk of failing the year just because of me. But I didn’t stop there. I also stooped to asking other teachers to change their grades as well. One student, for example, had all passing grades (including English, which I take to mean he was a decent student), but had a 7 in gym class. It just seemed a little silly that he would fail the whole trimester because of a 7 in gym. I asked the teacher, and he accepted my request to change the grade to an 8. When did this happen? When did I suddenly become okay with changing grades? I’m still unsure about how I feel about it, but the circumstances and details of the education system in Mozambique make some ethical standards a little blurry.

The weekends around conselhos were both taken up by “ToTs,” or Training of Trainers. The first was for JUNTOS, the coed youth group organization, and the second was for REDES. I had not worked with a JUNTOS group at my school, but there already existed a “culture group” that I thought would easily into JUNTOS. I invited the teacher who works with that group, a really nice female teacher named Neolet, and she went down to Chimoio for a weekend with other new JUNTOS group leaders. She was the only woman and the conference, and really enjoyed hearing about how to work with a group and is excited to start adding gender equality components to her meetings. The group will also go to a workshop, where they’ll have a weekend with 3 other schools full of activities. I think she will be really successful, and I’m hoping that this will be a very sustainable project as she is doing the majority of startup work. She is really excited to propose the program to the school direction, and I’m excited to work with her!

For REDES, I decided that Veronica could get more out of the ToT than Celsa. After some drama getting her to go (she has twin babies and her husband at first refused to stay and take care of them), she and I did travel down to Chimoio together to spend 3 days with 22 other Mozambican women counterparts. She did great! She was a very enthusiastic participant in the sessions, and I think is really excited to bring more girl-empowerment components into our weekly meetings. She plans on transferring out of Kaunda as soon as possible to be back near her family in Maputo, so it’s nice that she has this training to take with her when she goes and could start a new group somewhere else. At the same time, Celsa can continue the group in Kaunda. Overall, I feel very good about the sustainability of the REDES group in Kaunda and I am anxious to see how the rest of the year goes. I was struggling getting the group to meet when I updated last, but they finally got involved right in time for Women’s Day, and I now have a pretty strong group of girls that is excited to actively meet every week. Fingers crossed, but I think between the girls’ involvement and Veronica’s enthusiasm, 2nd trimester is going to be very good for REDES.

That brings me up to date, and I am excited for a successful 5th trimester of teaching in Mozambique! Just 2 more to go! I remember last year that it was around this point that time started to go unbelievably fast, and I imagine that only becomes more intense during Year 2. To add to that, I have a visit from my mom to look forward to during the next trimester break!! I am so so excited. Well I hope that this post finds you well. I am always happy to receive e-mails! The song for this post is Stepdad’s “My Leather, My Fur, My Nails.” It’s catchy! Until next time!