The Corner Marks the Time and the Punishment

A short one today for your mercy and mine and since I’ve been in an Albania state of mind I think I’ll stay there.

Even though the Albanians were surprisingly fast language learners, my students all had a casualness toward class and studying that I think stemmed partly from Balkan machismo and partly from doing everything as a group under communism.

The first issue I encountered was keeping my students quiet and keeping them doing their own work during exams. Earlier in our first year, our TEFL trainer and her colleague from the British Council concocted one of the most complicated honesty schemes I’ve ever seen. They had a short test but the first few questions in the first part would be chosen randomly from 30 possible questions. The questions from the second part would be chosen from 50 possible questions. They gave the questions out only a day or so before the test.

Despite their best efforts, every student had the exact same answers.

I can’t even do the math on how the students arranged for different students to write the different answers and then share them with all the other students so that they could memorize them. I can only imagine they just had a giant group collaboration session somewhere and wrote them all together.

In my case, as soon as I handed out my British Lit exam–yes, I was in the United States Peace Corps teaching British Literature and no, I don’t understand it either–the men in the back row started consulting on answers. I stopped them and all was well.

However, the thing that bothered me the most was all the random student holidays the students used to take. The Faculty of Foreign Languages was a long walk from my apartment and at least twice a month I’d show up for work only to discover it was the 3rd anniversary of the fifth student summer uprising. Finally I told my students that I liked holidays, too, and I wanted a list of all their holidays. I told them that if I made it past the corner of the US Embassy (which was on the way to the Faculty) and discovered it was a holiday, I’d find a way to fail the entire class.

The students did all that. One time I knew there was a holiday but I had to go to the Peace Corps office (which at the time was just past the Faculty) and four different students told me it was a holiday.

I don’t know if that was the best thing to teach them, but at least I know they learned something.

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