I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to drag myself away from City Year culture. I find myself doing the silent applause in meetings; I use hands-up in class to get the kids to shut up; I recite Ripples of Hope to my colleagues when they need a lift-me-up, and yes, I still do appreciations.
Hands up – I have an appreciation!
This month I’d like to give my school an appreciation.
Term three recently ended and all of our students took the Annual National Assessment (ANA) test. Primary schools take this standardized English, home language and maths test to measure improvement.
Rural South African learners abysmally fail this test – 15 percent of 6th graders passed English in 2012 – each year. Sometimes there are mistakes on the test, the wording of the test is beyond any primary school’s kids grasp of English, and believe it or not (earlier this year, true story) the test can have an incomplete story on it. This time around, we got lucky. The test covered most things I had done in class with my learners (besides poetry…sorry kids!) and was about topics kids anywhere in South Africa can relate to: a story about dogs, instructions about planting a garden and a poem about a family.
The teachers at my school started preparing a good few weeks before by giving the kids tests from past years; the maths teacher even offered 50 Rand to the learner who scored the highest on the grade 5 maths practice test!
As soon as my school received the envelopes of the tests, my principal had us open them to ensure there were enough tests for our kids. This – in no way – was a hint to cheat on the test. My principal is a virtuous and extraordinary woman and would never cheat on a test or do anything that disobeys the South African royalty of rules.
We counted the tests, put them back in the bag and brought them to the principal’s office to wait until test day. We then administered the tests according to schedule and everything seemed fine. That is, until the day the world ended.
On the last day of ANA testing, an advisor from the district randomly popped up at school. Grade six had not begun writing the maths test yet. The advisor saw that the tests had been opened and that one was missing. The grade six maths teacher took one to do the problems herself so she could grade the tests afterwards; we had yet to get the answer key from the district.
Chaos ensued and everyone was rushing around, whispering in Zulu and laughing. I knew something was up, but I always have to wait for my counterpart to brief me on the gossip in English.
As I was sitting in the library marking my kid’s tests, my counterpart rushes in me and to tell me our school could be disqualified because we opened the tests.
In situations like this, I have a hard time concealing my laughter. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not funny that we could get disqualified, but rather the irony. After being here for a year, those “oh, god, the world is ending” days are always related to one tiny problem that’s blown out of proportion or attention is being focused on the wrong thing.
“But why is that an issue? These kids are passing ANA, look at these scores!” I said to my counterpart. “Shouldn’t that be what the district is focusing on? I’m sure we’re doing a lot better than other schools are doing! They should be proud of us.”
My class had a 52 percent average on grade 5 English ANA, which is really good for rural kids. Ten or so kids even scored in the 40-49 point range, with 49 and 48 out of 60 being the highest grades (80 percent average, which is incredible). Of course I pulled aside these kids and showed them — there’s no better moment than to see how happy a kid, who really cares about their education, to see how well they’re doing in a class or on a test.
Some of my kids are so gifted. I can assure you they didn’t do well on this test because they had me as a teacher. They did well on this test because of the education they have received up to me. I just gave them an extra push by throwing them into an English-only environment.
Because of this test, I was once again reminded of how lucky I am to serve at my school and work with my staff. From watching my counterpart always spending time with the 16-year-old kid at my school who cannot speak or write, to have another teacher tell me she’s scheduling class for a weekend to catch up with the curriculum and feel the passion my principal has for her community and school daily, my school deserves one big ol’ City Year-style appreciation.
It’s been a long and tiring year, but I’ve found that I have nothing bad to say about my school. Of course we have our issues that rural schools alike have, but for a rural South African school, it’s high functioning. I have a lot of pride for my school, which has only made my Peace Corps service easier.
To me, it doesn’t matter if we get disqualified from ANA – to hell with it. I know the people I work with care and are doing the best they can to ensure our little rural school succeeds. If you’re passionate about the work you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.