15 February 2011


It's difficult to give you a peek into my English classes, but I am determined to try. English III had their first "real" test today, and I knew they were nervous. I had printed out the twenty, one-sided tests the night before, because I can only print when I have city power, and I didn't want to risk it. I wrote three rules on the white board in red marker to show I meant business. 

1. No cheating. (I didn't have to explain that, but I did have to translate it.)

2. No Creole. (My last class was famous for whispering in Creole; they were "just asking for a pen.")

3. No yelling out the answers. (We do yell them out when we practice together, so this is a harder skill to master than it might seem.)

The test began. "How much time do we have?" As much as you need. "Can we use a book?" Yes, you may use a book to write on, but only if it stays closed. (We don't have desks.)

I watched them think. I love watching people think.

I watched E, my nursing mother. She finished in a fraction of the time with 97% accuracy. She only has to be told a word once, and she's got it. Her ability to generalize and synthesize what I teach her is incredible. I want to put her on a plane to Harvard, yesterday. She and her son J live in a tent on the church property.

I watched M, who was fishing for a hint, even though he didn't need one. "Is that a breakfast food?" I nod, smiling.

I watched U, one of my older students who tends to struggle. She tried to convince me that goat was a fruit the other day. She's a hoot.

I watched F, who hardly says a word, but was acing the test nonetheless. It's always the quiet ones, I find, who surprise me.

I watched B, the only student who had to repeat my class...the test wasn't going great for him, and it's hard to watch. He really tries hard.

Tests have always been hard for me. In a well-crafted test, fairness and challenge are carefully balanced, and there are no misleading or "tricky" questions. I always agonize over how much time to spend in the test as related to the time spent on a subject in class, how much credit to devote to certain concepts. Today, I had to scrap part of it, because they just weren't understanding what I wanted. They knew the concepts, but they'd never been asked to express them that way, and it didn't take. Cultural blunder. So I modified. I'm getting pretty good at that.

I corrected their tests while they chatted together and watched a review lesson. C came up and offered me a lollipop, and I took it, grateful for the kind gesture, even though I looked ridiculous teaching with a lollipop in my hand. They all seemed fairly satisfied with their grades, and we squeezed in one more video segment which introduced colors. 

But it wasn't until English IV that I remembered that the pain of tests is universal. Though we're studying I Thessalonians, we somehow got onto Mark 4, the parable of the sower. S has been asking a lot of questions lately--quite a switch from last session, when he more-or-less tolerated the Bible studies, giving the "right answers," but I knew he was playing me. It started like it starts for so many: controversy. "My friend said women can teach in the church, but I heard that wasn't true. Can you give me some verses so I can argue with him?" I laughed and obliged. Next it was spiritual warfare--"How do we know if a spirit is good or bad?"

And today, I could tell his heart was heavy. I thought it might be Valentine's Day; he's in a long-distance relationship. But it wasn't. He came up after everyone else had left, and pointed to my crude drawing of vines choking the plant. "That makes me sad," he said in English, "because I feel like that. I want to have faith in Jesus, but it's so hard not to have work. I just pray and pray. But this Bible study is good, because it reminds me that I can trust Him, that everything is possible with Him. So thanks."

If I ever find a more humbling job than this, I'll let you know...but don't hold your breath.

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