“It’s Part of the Culture”

Disclaimer: I think the following post is essentially all complaining. It’s me trying to process working in another culture. Proceed with caution.
“If you have any questions just ask, otherwise nobody will say anything. That’s just part of the culture.”

If I had a nickel for every time I heard, “that’s just part of the culture”, I would be flying home to celebrate the Christmas holiday. The last three weeks have been particularly confusing for me as a primary school teacher. Being the only new teacher this year (actually, the only new teacher in six years), no one went out of their way to explain to me how a semester of school should wrap up. Thankfully, I had all of my lesson plans setup so all of the material I had to cover with my boys was already finished and we were in review mode. None of my students missed out on any of the information they were supposed to be given, but just the opposite—we had too much time on our hands. I was under the impression that the examination process would begin sooner than it did. Also, I had this overwhelming feeling as the third-to-last week of school wore on, that I was the only teacher continuing to “man” their class. It seemed as thought some of the other teachers were letting their boys run wild, which is SO distracting in our little school.

When the second-to-last week of school began, I was told that examinations would begin on Monday. They didn’t. They began on Wednesday. I went to school on Monday expecting to be proctoring a test, but I didn’t have to, now I had two more days to fill. On Tuesday, I was told that I would be proctoring the exam for the second graders. I didn’t understand why I had to give a test to a class that wasn’t my own, but I tried to shrug it off. This was a mistake though. It was SO difficult to keep five boys in grade 2 focused. And, as I watched them circle the incorrect answers and write random letters in the margins of the paper, I couldn’t help but think that they would receive higher marks if I wasn’t the one in charge of giving them the exam. In American, we get testing over with as quickly as possible because everyone from the students to the teachers to the principal hates it. Not in Guyana. Giving these tests the last two weeks took a total of six days. This was completely frustrating too because when I would finish a portion of the exam, I would have to try and keep a bunch of boys I’m not used to disciplining in line. At the conclusion of the first (exhausting) day, I was informed that we, as teachers, do not grade the tests that our class takes, but instead grade the tests of the students that we monitored testing for. This made no sense to me. Why would you want a teacher who is not familiar with the material to grade a test? Confusing.

After the first three days of testing, it was Friday and I was ready for a break. When the confusion resumed on Monday, I was ready for just that, for it to resume. Instead, the headmistress told me that she hadn’t gotten around to prepping the test for grade 2. So, while all of the other grades took their tests, I had to baby sit. Testing, of course, ended early, on Tuesday instead of Wednesday. I should have expected that even the conclusion of testing would be confusing. When it was finally over, I was SO ready to get back to my boys. But, the confusion continued. On Wednesday, some of the grades still had portions of their exams to go through. I wasn’t given any instruction as to how to proceed with my kids or what to do with the examinations. I had my boys do art projects all day while I did my best to mark and organize the second grade tests. I am happy to report that I remember everything from second grade. This was my sliver of silver lining. On Thursday, I arrived to school ready to hand the second grade exams over to the appropriate teacher and get my exams back from the grade six teacher so I could record the grades in my grade book and call it a semester. When I walked in the gate, none of the boys were dressed in uniform and there were no teachers present at the school. I shouldn’t have been surprised; this was par for the course since all week teachers had been arriving late. All six days, testing started at least an hour and a half late. But, that’s just part of the culture. All day on Thursday, I waited for the teacher who proctored my exam to finish grading and give the tests back to me. She handed them over to me at 4:00, even though the school day is over at 2:30.

When the day started, I assumed the boys wouldn’t be coming to school. I figured this made sense to give teachers a day to get their grades done. But, of course, I assumed wrong and all of the boys showed up for school at 10:00. I had nothing ready for my class to do. So, we did more art projects—they didn’t seem to mind too much. Around noon, for no reason in particular, they went home. There was a party being set up for on the orphanage grounds that was suppose to begin at 1:00. The teachers were suppose to attend the party, but at 1:30, everyone was still sitting around the school, not doing anything in particular, and just listening to the music from afar. At this point, I was too confused to try to make any sense of anything anymore, so I just went to the party. I ate chicken and rice, I danced a little with the matrons and boys, and I left work hours and hours later than I usually do.

Now, school is over. Three weeks of vacation are upon me. Three weeks! The length of time also speaks to the culture of Guyana. Everyone must take the time they need to relax. I’m so, so, so happy that examinations are over now. When the Easter and summer term exams happen upon me, I WILL BE READY.


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