The End of Term 1

There are three more days of school. Actually, two and a few hours on Wednesday.  End of term means that very little teaching is done but there are a lot of exams (assessments) for several weeks for the kids to take.  Then, the teachers spend their class time marking (grading) papers and figuring out Term 1 grades for the first report card.  Being an American teacher, I do no marking in class time but do it all in my free periods or take it home and work on it.

Grade 7 English teachers in Kwa Zulu Natal Province had a “surprise” exam.  Grades 3 and 6 were scheduled to do Provincial exams but one-day prior to the exam date, the Provincial education department added in Grade 7 too.  So much for what teachers had planned!  When there is a formal country-wide (ANA) exam or a provincial exam, there are strict guidelines on how it must be administered.  There must be only 30 learners in the room and it can not be administered (invigilated) by their own class teacher.  Fair! There is an exact time limit as well.  So, due to space considerations, grade 5 played outside while we spread out grades 6 and 7 into three classrooms.  Because I teach English to grade 7, I could only invigilate grade 6.  It was a very pleasant hour and a half.  There were 30 kids, it was very quiet, and they all were working diligently.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to only have 30 students in a class?  I remember when grade 3 at North Star went from 20 to 30 kids and how shocked we were.    Now, I would give anything to have 30!

Oddly enough, although you can’t administer (proctor/invigilate) your own class, you are the one to mark (grade) the exams for your own class.  The grade 7 exam is two hours long.  It took me 11 hours to mark the 50 exams!  Also, the test was just awful, in my not-so-humble opinion.  There were mistakes in the English, there were poorly written questions and instructions, there was a story about a car accident where someone died, and the rubrics for marking the writing portions did not go with the prompts.  (I got permission to create my own rubric.) By the end, I wanted to call whoever wrote the thing and have a long “chat” with them.  It also seemed that they did not even know a twelve-year-old child let alone make any allowances for the fact that these kids are second language learners. Their instructions need to be clear, familiar, easy-to-follow and well-written, with some important words in bold or caps.  Not on this test!

As you might imagine, my kids, except for a very small handful, did not do very well. But, because the English pass rate is set at 40 percent, only 13 actually failed.  I personally felt that only 10 actually passed, given a 70 percent cut-off. I have spent the last week “revising” (reviewing) with Grade 7 instead of doing the mandated curriculum.  I am teaching them to read the instructions, what words in the instructions actually mean, techniques to answer reading comprehension questions (look in story!!!!), how to write a narrative paragraph, never leave a multiple choice question unanswered because you have a 25% chance of getting it right, never just copy the question and think you have answered it, and follow all the directions.  I hope this will help them in their future government exams.

This was very frustrating, annoying and sad.  Also, it was super hot this last week, uncomfortable for teaching, taking exams, and marking exams.

On top of this, the tests for maths (they don’t say ‘math’), were three-and-a-half hours late in arriving on their given test date.  Students from grades 5, 6, and 7 just stood around talking and playing because they couldn’t start something else just in case the tests arrived.  The maths teacher said only 22 out of 50 passed the maths exam.

I am sure I will have more to say on teaching, exams, standards, marking and answer sheets in the future.

On another note, I am including pictures of my garden.  Every single vegetable plant was a victim of bugs and drought except those three pathetic radishes I included last time.  However, the flowers are doing well, along with a volunteer melon vine with no melons.  Because it is all inside the four-foot high fenced area, I can’t really see the flowers but I walk over and say “hi” “I am glad to see you” and dowse them with soapy water.  It has rained a bit so they even got a good soaking.   I bought a small shovel to use. I will try again with vegetables after my holiday, perhaps using yogurt containers and bringing them inside at night.


I had 6 lovely sunflowers blooming brightly all at the same time


My flowers are doing very well

Soon, I will be leaving here for several weeks.  I am going to St Lucia on the Indian Ocean with three other volunteers.  It is in the Isimangaliso Wetland Park and is a World Heritage Site.  From there, we all go to Regional Training near Hluhluwe Park Game Reserve.  There I hope to learn how to write the grant to get donations through Peace Corps to electrify Okhayeni Primary School.

Last Friday, I went to Newcastle with my principal and two members of the School Governing Board. It was a 4-1/2 hour drive each way!  We went to Builders Warehouse to get the invoice for the parts needed on the project.  We spent just about all the R20000 donated by Empowerment Concepts.  The rest of the project will be funded from your donations through Peace Corps. I will let you know more later.

Oh yes, I have done more stenciled paintings on my little house.  It makes it even cuter!
And unique!


I have stenciled trees and flowers on the front of my little house. No one here does this! I think it makes it look even cuter.

And lastly, but not least, I received a Care Package from America! Lori and Sumaya were the engineers who took great care in putting it together.   I got the cutest blouses that I get tons of compliments on, my favorite denim shirt, seeds, three good books, lots of cards and letters, Clif bars, and other stuff.  It was so exciting to get the package! It took just under a month and didn’t seem to have been tampered with.  Thank you! Thank you!


Here I am at school, very happy to have received a care package from my friends.


My wonderful Care Package arrived from America. It made me feel loved and cared for. Thank you.


4 thoughts on “The End of Term 1

  1. Fantastic to hear from you again, Karen. It sounds like you are doing well at the moment. It is fun to hear about you going to St. Lucia and Hluhluwe Game Park as I visited both places when I was in South Africa. It seems really odd that flowers prosper in your garden but not vegetables. As for testing, I think you need the job of head test preparer for South Africa. Wouldn’t you like to spend a few more years over there?
    Have fun, Judi Kerfoot

  2. Wonderful, newsy post. I know it must be hard for you, Karen to see, once again, how different the schools/teachings are in Africa but I know you make a difference. You put so much energy into the students and their learning.

    Your flowers in your garden and on your house are lovely. Have a wonderful time on the coast; you deserve a break. We all love and miss you!

  3. Karen: I’m so glad that you are feeling more upbeat. Being able to dig in and contribute to your learners’ progress is a very good sign of the good you are doing. I love reading about how you are doing your teaching. Have a great time with your fellow volunteers. Your flowers are so pretty. Maybe the bugs don’t like them, so you get to enjoy them.


  4. Dear Karen, It’s always wonderful to read your reports. I think your reaction to the test in helping the children to understand how to take tests in stride and what the instructions really meant, etc, was brilliant. It’s just what they needed. I bet they spread the word around to the other children. AND I absolutely love your sunflowers. I wonder if any of the mamas there know what plants to plant with your other seedlings that will keep the bugs away. The American Indians used to plant corn, squash and beans together as the plants helped each other and also repelled some of the insects. Maybe there is such an arrangement for African plants to keep the bugs down. Love that you have a vacation coming up, you so deserve it. looking forward to your posts about that. Let us know what else you need as I’m sure we will be working on another care package soon.
    Hugs, Tempe

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s