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Rentrée (Sunday, 2011 January 9)

January 9th, 2011

Many things I am about to write about. For the moment I just want to relate that the first week back wasn’t intolerable. Wednesday was an assemblée generale, where among other things the most absentéeiste teachers were called out. Highest was something like 84 hours of absence. Turns out every time you don’t take attendance, they mark you as absent. I’m sure I was on the list somewhere. We also talked about the premiére classes — did I talk about my première class, which handed in 49 test papers, with 25 obvious cheaters? — and what we could do to rehabilitate them. The proviseur exhorted us to think of them not as stupid or worthless, but instead as a class in need of help, and ourselves as doctors, qualified to give them this help. Also, I think we’re instituting mandatory study hall for them until 17 o’clock every day. We’ll see, I guess.

Also fascinating was the announcement that despite my understanding of when the sequence ended, we were actually supposed to have finished giving tests by the end of that week. We what? Well, OK, if not, make an effort to have them finished by the following week. Right, but I’ll be in Yaoundé for two-thirds of my classes..

So, given that I had sixteen hours to prepare tests and hadn’t actually taught anything, what’s a poor guy to do? Two words: practical exam. Thanks Ryan for the idea.

I still have a couple classes to do tomorrow but generally it’s gone pretty well. Here’s what I did: pick ten computers, so about half of them. Pre-load them with data, since the students can’t type very fast. Bring in groups of 10 students at a time. Read them an instruction and give them two minutes to do it. Those who don’t finish in time, you do for them. Four instructions, each at four points, makes sixteen points. Two points for labwork from before the holiday and two points at random and you’re done. No grading after the test is over. Call it a day.

I experimented with volunteer assistants. In some classes this worked well. In some, the assistants just gave hints, so I had to ask them to leave. Also, I used the first group of ten as guinea pigs; as usual, I overestimated the students’ understanding and needed to tone the questions down a bit for every other group. There was a marked difference in performance between 3e and 4e, despite having almost entirely the same material, which surprised me.

Had a scary moment Friday morning when the power was out until about 8:05 AM, but overall I’d call it a success, especially since in general the students were super psyched about the idea of a practical. One of my favorite students in 3m1, whose name I don’t recall, lit up like a Roman candle when I said it was time for practical exams. She doesn’t always do so great on the theory stuff, but she got 17 out of 16, the highest possible score, on the practical.

I’ve also been spending a bit of time in the lab. I’m trying DeepFreeze on one of the computers. It’s not completely wonderful because the students lose all their work every time the computer shuts off, but then again that’s exactly the idea, because mostly their work involves putting games/viruses on my machines. A couple computers are up that were down before, and I’m mostly over the disappearance of a hard disk. The student that we caught taking stuff from the lab and selling it is going to get a conseil de discipline. How could I have forgotten about this stuff? Well, at least I’m not as burned out about it.

So that’s the first week back. Be sure to say "Bonne année à tous" to every class. They might say it back in English. Nothing like your native language to make you feel a little more welcome.

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