Rwanda never fails to surprise me. Case in point: After the morning exams earlier in the week, two of my best students came to me all serious-like as I was standing out in the hallway. Together they said, rather breathlessly, “Teacher, you must come to the S2 room. It is very important. We have big problems only you can help.” I said, “What’s the matter?” “No” they said, “You must come at 5pm today after last exams of day”. “Umm…okay” I replied. All I day I wondered what could have been the matter…what could they possibly want with me later in the day that I couldn’t have taken care of earlier? At 5pm I went to the S2 room. I heard the squeaking of desks being moved and shuffling and whispering. I hoped they weren’t doing anything against the rules that I would have to witness. I didn’t need any kind of trouble, not at the end of the term anyway. When the door was opened I was greeted by my students with a HUGE amount of confetti cut into tiny pieces of old school papers and raucous cheering. They presented me with a bouquet of tropical flowers-gorgeous Irises, Lilies, Roses, and Wildflowers. The Chef de Classe gave me a gift bag full of Rwandan earrings, headbands, and bracelets in my favorite colors that they had(I thought) innocuously quizzed me about earlier that term. I also received 50 handmade cards which I read later that evening and choked up more than once from the dear sentiments they contained. My arms were full and all I needed was a tiara and long gloves to feel any more like the pageant princess they were treating me like. They even elected a student to come and brush the excess confetti out of my hair and clothes. What followed after was the stuff of memories: A full Rwandan style 30 minute review full of prayers, songs, dances, and speech-making in my honor. The nuns had made me a cake(a pound cake!) and my fellow teachers bought me beer. And of course, I cried, confusing everyone until I said, “Its ok. I am very, very happy!” They asked me to make a speech. I complied with some words about what wonderful students they were, how kind and thoughtful, how surprised I was and how very , very, touched. I couldn’t think of how to say it in English so they would understand my meaning so I touched my heart and my head and said, “This year, my body is so far from home on my birthday, but you have helped to make me feel at home here and here in Rwanda.” Then everybody clapped and sang Happy Birthday in French, English, and Kinyarwanda. After all we had been through with the cheating, and the punishment, and the quizzes where they had done poorly…the days I had despaired of how much I felt they didn’t respect me let alone actually like me. I couldn’t believe it. Only Sally Field could have voiced my feelings, “They like me! They really like me!”
Grading (or “Marking’ as it’s called in the big ‘R”) is not finished until your final grades are submitted to the Head /Class Teacher. So even if exams are over, your job is not done as a teacher. The administration still needs the final grades recorded for posterity and the Secretary needs them so she can prepare the final reports for the students before they go home for the long holiday.The Head Teacher is assigned based on some criteria I am not privy to. I can only imagine that one being selected for the title is the result of being able to provide a consistent supply of Fanta to the person who picks you for the role. No, really, I’m sure it’s nothing like that. Every grade has a Head Teacher. You(meaning me) not being the Class teacher have to track down the Class teacher and submit your final grades to him/her before all the grades can be tabulated and the students can be given the results. Now, if computers were in regular use in Rwanda, this would only be a matter of an Excel spreadsheet . Rwanda has not reached that stage yet. So all the marks have to be entered in giant ledgers devoted to each class…by hand. Each Head teacher has a ledger the size of the phone book for a small town. You have to get that ledger and laboriously copy your student’s marks into the ledger in the appropriate column/space for that student. It’s not hard, it’s just time-consuming. I schlep all my paperwork to the Living Room, then I have to go around the room looking for the ledgers, “Has anyone seen the book for S2? Anyone?”, “What about S5 MPG?” “No one’s seen it? No one knows where it is?”, “Oh, it’s in the office? Oh thanks…no I’ll go and get it.”,”Thanks”. The Living Room was pretty full of teachers all scrambling to find the books. The sooner the final marks are entered, the sooner they can go home. So two days before the end of the term, that’s where I was.
The atmosphere was the tiniest bit convivial but more determined than anything else. Sort of a “race to the finish line” vibe mixed with impatience and sheer exhaustion. As I entered my student’s marks in the ledgers, several teacher’s stopped to watch me. I have no idea if they were checking up on me or just blatantly curious about my student’s grades. One of them remarked, ‘I see you have no red marks. May I ask why you have failed no students?” A red mark/grade in the ledger means the student has failed the course . I answered him, still entering marks and not looking up, “Because none of my student’s failed.” He was incredulous. ‘No students have failed? Impossible!” I was getting annoyed with this culture of teachers seeming to enjoy coming down on their students instead of encouraging them to succeed, “Because none of my students did poorly enough to fail, that’s why!”, I semi-snapped. He still looked confused. “Some of my students did very poorly. They almost failed. But they didn’t. They tried very hard. I reward good effort. Most of them did very well. None of them did so terribly that I would fail them. If they try, if they really try, I think they deserve to pass.” He walked away ruminating on that fact. I finished entering my marks and handed them off to the appropriate teachers. I knew that later in the day the School secretary and they would have the arduous task of doing the final transfer onto the student’s individual reports. I was lucky. Now that I was finished for the day, all I had to do was a whole lot of nothing.
The next day, after all marks were turned in we were summoned to a meeting to review the term. The meeting had been announced two days before with an ‘Itangazo”(Announcement) put on the board in the Living Room: Meeting 10am tomorrow(the date). No disorder will be tolerated! I wondered what they could have meant by disorder..did they think we were planning to riot? I mentally shrugged. When the day of the meeting rolled round..well..the good news was: there was Fanta. The bad news was: The meeting, which was supposed to start at 10am, ended up starting at 11am. I had purposefully started my laundry early and then after finishing washing the clothes, not continued with soaking and scrubbing the sheets and blankets because I wanted to be sure to be on time for the meeting. Since everything I wash is by hand, that missed window where I could have finished washing the bedclothes and then hung them up in the strong African mid-morning sun to dry…it ticked me off a little. The meeting began with a prayer. Our Headmistress was in France for a conference so another Sister filled in for her and sat beside the Prefet des Etudes and the Prefets des Discipline. We went over the health and discipline issues for the term and discussed what elements of behavior the students needed to work on for the future. The students good points included: Esprit de Corps, Diligence in Studies, and Good Organization skills. The bad points were: “Sheep-like” behavior, Lack of Punctuality, and a Propensity to be absent at evening prayers. We talked about student health next. There had been an outbreak of Conjunctivitis in the Rwandan school system a couple of months ago and several students had been caught “faking’ illness in order to get out of class, be sent to the Health Center (woo! Field Trip) or even home to their parents. We also discussed how to be more encouraging as teachers towards our students and how to be more social with each other. Having spoken with my administration in casual conversation, they had let on that integrating non-Rwandan teachers in the Rwandan school community was a perennial issue. Rwandan teachers are apparently known to be not exactly friendly and more than a little xenophobic with foreign teachers who come to work with them. I can’t pretend I haven’t heard this same observations from fellow PCV’s. To wrap up the meeting the Prefets reminded everyone of when the third term would begin and wished everyone a safe and happy vacation. Those who taught S3 and S6 were instructed to report to the secretary’s office for further information regarding preparing their classes for the National Exams to be held in November. And then it was done. Second term was really finished. The Secretary would compile the final grades for the students along with the Head teachers. The final grades would be posted in the homerooms and the student’s would see their fortunes ebb or flow with the numbers on the paper and the color ink used when writing it out. The students would go home for the long holiday the next day. The teachers soon after.The school would be empty for six weeks except for the Sisters, the Abakozi working on repairs and cleaning, and a few staff like the Secretary who lives there full-time, the Minnesotan, and (theoretically at least)me.