Friday, April 13, 2012

End of the Trimester

Things have been hectic in Zobue, lately.  We are finishing our final week of school, proctoring and grading provincial exams, and calculating trimester averages.  It’s been exhausting, really, but I have learned a lot about the Mozambican school system. 

The rush started about two weeks ago, with the arrival of the provincial exams. This year, for the first time ever, our final exams came from our district headquarters in Moatize.  This means that our tests were written by people who have no idea what we are teaching, where we are in the curriculum, or how adept our students are in any of their subjects.  In short, the tests were very unfair.  Take this example:

This is what I taught my eighth grade class, during our week entitled Adjectives:

The kids practiced these adjectives and learned how to form simple sentences, like

“Dan is tall!”


“I am short!”

I was proud of them.

Unfortunately, in terms of adjectives, this is what was on their final exam:




More beautiful

When I received this test (five minutes before my students received this test), I wanted to cry.  This wasn’t fair!  I hadn’t taught them this information.  We simply weren’t there yet.  I rushed from turma to turma, breathlessly, practically shouting- “Add ‘-er’!” and “Add ‘-est’!”

Here is the first thing strange thing that I learned about final exams in Mozambique.  In an attempt to counter cheating on the part of the professors, no teacher is allowed to proctor their own subject.  Unfortunately, Dan and I realized that the other teachers don’t proctor our subjects, either.  By this I mean-- they simply walk out of the room when the students start taking a test.  At first, Dan and I were flummoxed by this behavior.  The kids were cheating!  Why didn’t the other teachers realize that?  The students were exchanging tests and flipping through their notebooks!  Then, we slowly came to understand.  The professors knew that these final exams were unfair, and their method of countering this injustice was to let them cheat.  It was an attempt to settle the score. 

Unfortunately, Dan and I only realized this after a full week of being “The Nazi Proctors from Hell.”  The other professors, who were sitting outside on the grass, watching us, must have found us to be despicable.  But we didn’t know. 

Our kids bombed the exam, of course.  Most of them bombed spectacularly, even with the use of their notebooks.  Luckily, as their professor, I have control over their grades.  Final exam worth 5% of the overall total?  Click!

After proctoring, it was time for grading and grade calculations.  In Mozambique, we use grade sheets called “Cadernetes.”  Most of our colleagues seem unwilling or unable to enter or calculate grades in Microsoft Excel, and spend hours on their cell phone calculators, completing their calculations by hand.  Dan and I drew up our grades on an Excel Spreadsheet and were finished with our calculations in a few minutes. 

All grades in Mozambique are out of 20, and, as a teacher, you quickly learn to celebrate any grade that is higher than a 14.  A passing grade is a 10, or 50%.  Standards are low here, but so is ability.  There are reasons for this, and I will address this problem at length in the future.

Example Cadernete for turma 8E

Finally, after exam grades and semester averages have been calculated, there is one thing left to do before the start of the trimester interval:

The Dreaded Final Week of School

The final week of school, that strange, dangling week between final exams and the official start of interval, is really nothing more than a cruel joke played on the eighth graders and their American teachers.  Here is how it works, as I found out on Monday morning.

The two American teachers will come to school, wearing lab coats and clutching their precious lesson plans.  Most of the eighth graders will come to school, too, because they are sweet and innocent and don’t yet understand that the process of teacher absentee-ism.  The students will mill around in the school yard, for a while, looking lost and confused while waiting for someone to lead them in their own national anthem.  Nobody will come, so eventually, they will file into their classrooms and sit at their desks, looking around and wondering if they have accidentally come to school on a Saturday or Sunday.  Oh, sweet children, that is not the case.  It is a Monday, but your teachers are at home. 

A few teachers will come to school to hand back tests or collect notebooks, but they will only stay for a few minutes before leaving again.  Kids will alternately sit at their desks in empty classrooms, sit outside on the grass, or passear around the school, too bored to stay, but too scared to leave and miss something important.

As a teacher, you quickly realize that it is impossible to teach during weeks like this.  Instead of teaching the simple present tense (positive and negative!), you lay your lesson plan aside and rack your brains for a few good games and activities.  Quick!

I ended up teaching the lyrics to “Wavin’ Flag” by K’naan and playing noisy, raucous rounds of “Slap the Board.”  For nearly every period, I was the only teacher in the entire school.  My classroom would be packed with kids, and the rest of the school would be hanging through the windows, watching.  Week 13, I have discovered, is absolute mayhem.

Now that it is Friday, however, Dan and I have finally made it through the worst of the storm.  I have one more dupla to teach and one more bag of prizes to hand out.  I have one last round of dictionaries to grade, and one final set of class averages to calculate.  I will sing “Waving Flag” one final time and then, to the lingering tune of the Coca-Cola chorus, I will wave goodbye and slip away for two (TWO!) weeks of inter-trimester festivities. 

Zobue!  Hoye!
Intervalo!  Hoye!

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