Friday, September 26, 2008

Teacher's diary: day four

It's the second day of exams today and I am proctoring grade nine class 'a', the same class in which one student cheerfully informed me that "Japan won the Vietnam War". Actually, I like this class but I really don't expect much from them in terms of exam scores, they have a reputation as being very weak and difficult to control.

Every class lesson and every exam should have both a farang and Thai teacher in the room. I am very lucky, as I have an excellent support teacher. Her name is Bun. While some Thai teachers try to help but make things worse, some couldn't care less about support and some purposely make things harder for foreign teachers, Bun is none of these. We have a similar style, stern but with plenty of love underneath it. However, as she is a lot older than me and of course speaks the native language, she can get her point across well.

These kids know me so I don't have to give much of a prep talk, I explain the rules they already know: write everything in English, nothing on your desk except question sheet, answer sheet and stationary, if you need help, put up your hand. No rocket science involved.

As they begin, I wander up and down the room as I always do. My mind inevitably wanders over various topics. I'm pleased about the exams this semester. Last semester, our exam sheet came back from 'head office' less than twenty four hours before the start of exams. Of course, nearly all questions submitted by our teachers were thrown out and those of the HO teachers used. In addition, the HO school, of course, know exactly what will be in the exam a month beforehand, we have less than a day and usually not a single class period in which we know the actual exam questions. This is no accident.

Of course, a good teacher has the students well verses in all the curriculum, but I defy any teacher to say they honestly wouldn't want to see the exam at least one class before it starts.

This time, thanks to some pressure being applied in the right places, we got a whole three days to preview the exam, take out incorrect (I mean literally incorrect such as: "Which of The Earth's moons...."etc.) questions and prepare the students. Most subjects seem to have quite a balanced set of questions for once, too.

My mind snaps back to the present as a student raises his hand. The students are permitted to ask for explanations of questions they don't understand. Naturally, most of them will craftily try to elicit an answer from the teacher during the discussion. I don't mind that, I'll happily drop a clue or two for students who try hard during class. Some teachers go overboard and basically answer half the questions for the students, I try to avoid that and take a more balanced approach.

My own exam is in the afternoon. Every teacher is permitted to do this before his or her own subject's exam. I don't expect it to help much with this class though.

I give the students a prep speech beforehand. We run over some aspect of human history. It bugs me slightly that however many times I explain that the idea humans originated from Africa about 200,000 years ago (yes I know there are other dates flying around, no smart assed corrections please! :-) ) is what scientists currently believe, the kids always take it as a solid fact. This is probably a cultural issue: students here are taught that you don't question what the teacher says, period.

The exam contains questions about Thai kings, the development of human beings and important events of the last one hundred years.

I won't know how well they did until I'm done marking but most of them seem to finish quickly. With the exception of one crafty student using a well placed face mirror to view his friend's sheet, I don't catch anyone cheating. Now it's time for the dull marking session to begin.

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