Well, I’ve been at the school for almost a month. I have not been in a classroom in the United States for many, many years and yet I know intrinsically that there are huge differences in the educational system. First and foremost is the way students are scheduled. Classes are not the same any given day. Grades 6-9 have different teachers at different times every day of the week and generally they only have three days of given subjects. So I only see the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th graders three days a week. Our time slot is for 40 minutes but we never arrive “on time.” We wait about five minutes until after the bell has rung and then go in. The students will have washed the chalk boards and all will stand when we enter the room and say, “Gooood morning, teachers.” Then my counterpart will open up the red book (a master book for that particular grade level) and enter the days activities after checking the master plan from the government to see where they say we should be. So now we are down to 30 minutes for class. Jeta conducts the class primarily in Shqip. My intent is to do as much in English as possible. I can usually understand what she is saying but I have this archaic concept that a foreign language class should be conducted in the target language. When the bell rings indicating the end of class she then assigns homework and that can take about 5 minutes because she goes totally over the homework and then expects them to go home and write it. Again, I think homework is something that you use to practice skills/vocabulary taught that day not how well you remember what the teacher said the answer was. As we depart, they all stand and say “Goooodbye teachers.”
And talk about rigorous class schedules! Not only do they learn English but they also have Shqip, Macedonian and French! I seriously doubt that most American students could handle that much language in one week. Add to that history, maths, geography, science , health and anything else they choose to throw in and you have a wild schedule. Students come to school at 07.30 and at 09.15 get a 20 minute break where they all run to the local bakery and get something for breakfast. Somewhere after 12 noon they are dismissed. It depends on where that teacher is with lessons. They can be dismissed as early as noon or as late as 12.30. They must be gone by 12.30 as that is when the 1st-5th grade students are expected for class. Now we have 30 minutes with 3rd, 4th and 5th graders. But the same pattern emerges–do the red book, explain in Shqip and hope to teach one thing in the time we have. We don’t have the 1st and 2nd graders.
At year end students (not sure which grades) take an “external exam.” Two days before the exam the students find out in which two subjects they will have to take exams. The tests are mandated by the state and they are also the creator of the tests. From what I have heard, they are some of the most poorly constructed tests ever made. I hope to be able to provide examples soon. And they ask for technical terms. How many native speakers of English can identify modal verbs, pluperfect tense, subjunctive verbs and ablative case? Not many I am willing to wager and yet, these students need to know this. Is there truly a practical use for this type of knowledge? I certainly can’t think of one. If the students score on the test is not equal to what the teacher gave them in class then the teacher takes a salary cut! Talk about pressure! It certainly has everyone walking on a tightrope! Teaching in Macedonia is very different from the United States and these teachers have incredibly difficult challenges. I can see why they want assistance from Peace Corps Volunteers. It helps them catch their breath!