One Semester Down

29 01 2012

It’s hard to believe that we’ve already been at site for almost four months. So it was a rude awakening when my coteachers told me that semester exams were coming up already. These months have been both busy and slow, productive and not, and, naturally, rewarding and frustrating.

I think my time here is significantly different from Katie’s, since I have much more structured time at the school than she has at the health center. Peace Corps requires education volunteers to be in their school for at least 16 hours a week (slave drivers, right?). It is somehow surprisingly difficult to teach much more than 22 hours at my school based on English teachers schedules. So between my English Club and public school classes, I’m at the school for about 20 hours a week in an ideal week. Once you take away holidays, community service days, coteachers not wanting to teach days, and whatever else comes up, it seems rare for me to put in a full week’s work at the public school.

When I am at school, I’ve been having a blast most days. My coteachers and I have really started to work well together, trust each other more, and have a good time while we teach. As a result, the famously stoic Khmer students are more relaxed, have more fun, and (hopefully) learn more. As I’ve slowly introduced new teaching techniques, my hesitant coteachers have seen the response from students and began to teach in the same way. This mimicry has been one very big positive sign here for me that the capacity building that we were sent here to do is happening – even on a very small level.

So this week the students have semester tests so I’m not teaching. In fact, I’m not allowed to be at the school to even observe the very tests that I wrote. Tests are always a contentious issue at my school (and probably most schools around Cambodia) due to several corruption issues. First, most public school teachers teach private classes immediately before or after school, and may choose to have a “review” session before the exam just for their private class for 4 or 5 times the regular price.

Second, at my school all the students are required to pay the teacher for each test, which is illegal in Cambodia. Early on, I recognized that making copies for all the students can be expensive so I decided not to tackle the issue since it would probably make me more enemies than friends. Recently, however, I found out that the teachers charge ten times the amount that it costs them to make copies. All told, this little test scam contributes about 20% of my coteachers’ monthly income. Not surprisingly, this makes the kids’ relationships with teachers more like customers than students. I found this out after I told my coteacher that I gave three ‘zeros’ on tests after rampant cheating in a class I was observing. He said, “The students paid for the test, so maybe we can’t give them zeros.” In spite of all the rigidity, formality, and militaristic emphasis within the Cambodian education system, it only cost twelve and a half cents for those students to completely flip the relationship of student and teacher.

But this wasn’t meant to be about corruption. A running joke in our private advanced class is how many minutes will go by before someone mentions corruption. Whether we talk about education, the environment, development, gender issues, or sports, corruption seems to come up.

Speaking of private classes, they have been going well too. I really enjoy being able to teach exactly what I want to my private students without the constraints of a book. I still have private classes four days a week. The advanced class continues to be the highlight of my week as we are able to talk in-depth about Cambodia in a structured way. I think I tend to learn more from the class than they do, but mostly they seem to be happy to be able to practice English in a relaxed setting.

With the first semester over, the thought of summer is starting to loom larger and larger over my head. I’ll need to find some work independent of the school for 3 months. There are a couple of NGOs in town that I may be able to work with; otherwise I’m going to have to get creative.

So since I have the week off, I’m taking advantage by cooking a ton, thinking about secondary projects, and spending some much needed time with my rabies-free wife.

-Tim

 

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2 responses

29 01 2012
bibliopirate

Things are always way to rough on educators. Which is a pity as they are the most important jobs in any society.

22 06 2012
School Year Wrap up « TimKat's Travels

[…] but assumed that the students would not be directly affected. However, as I mentioned on an earlier blog, students are not only charged to take exams, but they are overcharged by a factor of […]

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