Monday, April 27, 2009

A piece for me, a piece for you!

Present day Mongolia is a very communal society, and this should come as no surprise given the history of its people. As nomadic herders for thousands of years, it was necessary for Mongolians to group together, work together, and share in the profits of their labor. This tribal mentality still lives on to this day though in a different form. As I am a school teacher, I will give you my accounts of the group versus the individual mentality in the classroom.

When taking tests, students almost view it as group work. Thus, cheating is a huge problem in the Mongolian educational system. As a secondary school teacher, I’ve witnessed a fair share of students looking over another student’s shoulder for the answer. And the student that is being cheated off won’t care that it’s happening, or for the most part will help the cheater in getting the correct answer. In my classroom I have three rules while taking a test: no talking, no looking at your neighbor, and absolutely no cheating. If they do any of the three no-no’s, I dock a point from their total score. Though effective, I still have to dock points off student’s tests because the stronger students are always helping out the weaker students. Though frustrating, it’s somewhat nice to see that the better student is willing to risk points off his test in helping another student that might not even be his/her friend.

This group outlook is also translated into regular classroom activities. When one of my 5th graders answers a question correctly, the other students would clap in unison of support. Every time this happens, it gives me a boost of energy while I am teaching and it makes my day that much better. Their willingness to support and contribute to the group cause can be best seen in the “token economy.” As a way to curb hooliganism, background noise, and general misbehavior in the classroom, I’ve implemented a “token economy” in my classroom. I have two jars, one marked ‘good’ with a smiley face and the other marked ‘bad’ with a sad face. When the students are ‘good’, I add a piece of candy to the ‘good’ jar, and when they are rowdy I take the candy from the ‘good’ jar and place it in the ‘bad’ jar. When the candy in the ‘good’ jar fills up to the number of students in the class, each student will be given a piece of candy. In this way, the whole group is responsible for their desired outcome. This method has been wondrous in keeping the students under control, but what was more surprising was the collectively effort of the students to contribute to the whole.

As a practice tool for my younger students, I play many games with them; bingo, hangman, around the world, mad dash, bang bang, etc. To the winners, I usually dole out candy as a prize. Some students would win multiple pieces of candy in one sitting. They would eat their first piece, and what came as a surprise to me was that all my students would give up their second, third, or fourth pieces that they have accumulated and put it in the ‘good’ jar to help reach their collective goal. Remember that they have won this as an individual, but they are willing to give up their pieces of candy so that the whole can profit. That my friends is something else!



Teacher Jim said...

I had a similar experience: One day I bought a candy bar for one of the guards where I work in Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia). I knew he didn't really make enough to spend on things like candy bars. I didn't think much about it at the time but there are about 10 people working in my center. A few minutes later, he was walking around looking for all the other staff to share the candybar. He had cut it up into 10 very small pieces and was passing the plate around to everyone. I was humbled by his generosity. Amazing people, the Mongolians. I know I learned a huge thing that day.

Tony said...

Hey Trinh, just found your blog after speaking with Mary O'Sullivan this afternoon. This is a fascinating story and it's great to read about the life lessons you are learning. Sounds like you are really making the most of your time in Mongolia and enjoying the experience - which is great to hear.

I'm glad everything is going well and I heard about the spices from the school...hey remember when the school bought Neale a Dreamcast? Haha, I miss those days.

Talk to you soon buddy!

Trinh Thach said...

HAHAHAH... Yes, I do remember that. Lucky bastard, well, not really. LOL. I'm doing well because of all the spices that were sent to me. The best care package that you can receive!