Managing Expectations

Students teaching students.
Students teaching students.

Teacher’s Day is a particularly popular holiday for teachers. It usually includes a multitude of events culminating in a large party where teachers gather together to celebrate their hard work. One of the events leading up to the big celebration is a day when 11th grade students take over teaching responsibilities for teachers.

In my mind, students would collaborate with the teacher they were replacing, get some guidance on how to prepare for the lesson, and then the students would teach the lesson. I thought the teacher would be in the classroom to assist to avoid potential pandemonium.

This was not the case.

What seems common sense and efficient to me may not necessarily be what the local populous feels to be appropriate for a given event. A lot of the time, it’s tradition: It’s just how they have always done it. Why change it? It’s supposed to be like this. I am oblivious to this thought, more often than not.

It should be noted that none of the teachers came to school that day at my school.

The one class I could observe (their scheduling was very disorganized, from my point of view: students wandering the halls aimlessly, visiting each other’s classes, certain classrooms left completely empty for hours at a time) left me rather disappointed. The lesson was on present simple, and the topic to teach this was about going to school. What interesting activities did they have planned? Nothing. They wrote three exercises from the book on the board and told the students to start doing them. The book exercises took no time at all, but the teachers never checked the answers. After the 10 minutes it took students to do the work, they stood at the front of the class for an additional 20 minutes, talking to each other, talking to their friends who visited, taking pictures, and so on. The students lost interest rather quickly, resorting to tried and true ways of keeping oneself amused: chit chat, playing cell phone games, and hitting each other.

It wasn’t until one of the students asked the teachers if they could do something with English that something happened. They played a game for five minutes, then the bell rang. The teachers rushed out, and the class leader made some announcements. After trying to find another English class to watch for 15 minutes, I gave up and went home.

At least I wasn’t in the second building, where, I am told, several fights broke out during the course of the day.

Why the chaos? The pandemonium?

I understand the thought process behind this: To show appreciation for their teachers, and to gain an understanding of how difficult it can be to wrestle 35 kids into submission, the graduating class takes over teaching duties. The teachers get to relax, and their chosen students step into their shoes and follow this proud tradition. My expectation of what I thought it should be, however, made the actual experience a bit bewildering. Maybe it’s supposed to be just this fun day where students just hang out and try to learn from each other. Maybe the English classes are just particularly difficult to teach. Either way, I wonder why I had the expectations that I did given the little information I received about it. Cultural bias, perhaps?

That’s hard to learn when you work in development work: Managing your expectations. I have found this particularly true in my work in Mongolia. I’ve gotten pretty good at doing this for my day to day dealings, but there are events like this that still throw me for a loop. There are a lot of good ideas that are thrown about out here, but poor execution sees those ideas shrink to half their potential. There’s not much to do other than to pick up, look at what went well, what didn’t, and hope the next event or activity goes a little better.

Previous Posts

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