A Semester in the Books

60% of my students failed. Failing is below 50%. I knew this was going to happen, every step of the way I was warned.

Sure, I thought, that comes with the territory.

Now the semester is finished.

Nothing could have prepared me for the overwhelming guilt.

To grade the final, about 20 of my 120 students got above a 50% on it, and all I could think about was each child whose fate was being determined by that score.

Only two fifths of them will continue on to tenth grade and of my 120 students the expected number going to 11th grade is 1 or 2 (My school has particularly low numbers, most of Ethiopia isn’t to this extent).

Memories shoot across my mind. Walking into the classroom and hearing the class erupt into a good morning Mr. John. Students convulsing into laughter as I sit at a desk with a student waiting for any type of answer, I just want Biratu to talk in class instead of putting her head down in shyness.

My students know they have to say something, even if it’s in Afan Oromo. Students waiting until they are almost out of ear shot before screeching Mr.John! Mr.John! Then scurrying away in a fit of giggles.

I look down at another 15/40 on the final and wonder what I could have done differently. There’s a million thoughts overwhelming me.

I didn’t know how to schedule tutorial classes during the first month or two.

The book is wretched. I should have skipped the useless reading lessons. Why did I spend two days of class about a reading on god damn karate.

Why wasn’t I more emphatic about seeing the final before it was given to the students? (Verbatim from the English final T/F — If the sentences is used to talk about something that depends on something that depends on something else. — True –) I should have… I would have… I didn’t …

I have had almost the same conversation with my 4 best friends in Peace Corps, Nick, Mads, Alex and Anna. It’s remarkable how such a deep, sentiment can be felt by different individuals, in different communities with different people about the same reasons.

How am I going to move past this? I won’t.

I will move with it.

There are deep foundational issues in the Ethiopian education system. There are incredible obstacles to teaching a language to students who can understand next to nothing in the language (By the way, I have recently learned a language and am teaching a language, the whole immersion in the classroom is bullshit in my opinion. If a student cannot comprehend what the teacher is saying the student is not going to have some enchanted transfer of knowledge.).

But, there is one question I always come back to. Would the students of Lalo be better off without John Keller? No.

And universally with other Peace Corps members they have responded in kind.

There are significant problems without answers, and that is what it is. I sure joined the Peace Corps for idealistic reasons, most people do.

After this first semester, staring down at my grade book idealism has collided with reality.

We all like to think we harbor some idealism, it is the trait that changes the world. I haven’t seen a President run with the campaign slogan of Make America Shitty Again.

I’m lucky to have a job that allows me to apply my own idealism to a community.

For that very reason it is hard. That’s okay. I’m not changing the world or Making America in any way, but I do have the opportunity to effect 120 9th graders.

One thing I know they, and I, never question is whether I care or not.

I make mistakes.

I will continue to make mistakes, but I will learn, and I hope they will too.

Enough bumbling about ambiguous values, time to pound some Cheddar ‘N Bacon Cheese Wiz.

God Bless America, thanks Mom.

One thought on “A Semester in the Books

  1. Maybe it’s a human thing, but it certainly is an American thing that we embrace competition and a competitive idea of measurement of success – a grading system. I’ve always believe it was a flawed idea in that the basis omitted the most important value – that being the human spirit and emotional development of the individual. Everyone has value and everyone learns at different speeds and in different ways. Not all methods apply to all people, yet tests taken by everyone will only measure people who learn a certain way leaving behind those who learn in other ways. By its very nature testing is biased and prejudicial. Rather, here, it seems to me that the value of this interaction over time with a set of students is how this interaction and learning experience changed lives and attitudes including the teacher’s.


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