Hello. Are you a woman? If so, yesterday was your day! Congratulations. I hope you enjoyed yourself, missy.
Ryan and I both had the day off from work. As far as I can tell, people celebrate Women’s Day in Mongolia through the giving of flowers and cakes to ladies. My coworkers also informed me that yesterday (and yesterday only) Ryan was responsible for all the housework and cooking. So as it turns out, every day is like 38% Women’s Day in the Leitch-McGibony household.* Who knew?
Let’s Break Down Those Numbers Shall We
Cookin’: Katie 96%, Pizza Delivery Guy 4%
Dish Washin’: Ryan 78%, Katie 22%
Laundry: Katie 50%, Ryan 50%
Sweepin’: Ryan 56%, Katie 44%
All other ways of cleanin’: Not done often enough to calculate; sorry, mothers
So anyway. Ryan and I were out and about, staving off depression by walking around and looking directly at the sun, when I got a call from one of my 10th grade students. “Happy Women’s Day, Teacher!” she said. “Where are you? I want to give you a present.”
Fifteen minutes later, she met us in front of the shopping center with a rose and a bar of chocolate. She thanked me for being her teacher and for helping her prepare for the English Olympics last week. We hugged and chatted and then parted ways: Ryan and I to the market to buy socks, she to the orphanage, which is where she lives, being an orphan and everything.
Here she is, accepting her 1st place medal in said English Olympics last week:
Obviously, she rules.
Another 10th grade student from our school nabbed 3rd place. Here I am with both of them, as though I had anything to do with their success:
I guess here is where I should explain the English Olympics, for those of you who
are fortunate enough not to have ever experienced them don’t know. Before I do, I’d just like to reiterate the disclaimer at the top of the page: These opinions are my own, nobody else’s but mine, etc. I say this because I don’t think I’m capable of describing the Olympics in a positive or even neutral way. I can’t sit here and say, “In Mongolia they do this certain thing in this certain way! And isn’t that fascinating?” When it comes to the Olympics — a series of extremely high-stakes yet inexpertly designed language assessments that cause an inordinate amount of stress for teachers and students and that almost certainly measure nothing at all, thanks to their exclusive use of unvalidated (and occasionally grammatically incorrect) multiple-choice items — “fascinating” is not the word.
Where to start. When I say the Olympics are high-stakes, I mean that they confer enormous amounts of prestige on the winners, their teachers, and their schools. Jobs are on the line. Everybody is under pressure to perform, including me. I’ve been informed by various directors on multiple occasions that “because we have an American teacher, our students will win the Olympics this year.” The people saying this to me are usually making intense eye contact and their tone of voice is, shall we say, apocalyptic.
Basically, every year, at every school, the top five or so students from each grade are selected as that grade’s participants in the aimag (i.e province) Olympics. Some schools pick their competitors super early in the year; we got around to it in December. Emotions ran high during this first elimination round. I was tasked with putting together a multiple-choice test for the 10th and 11th graders (thereby making me part of the problem — unvalidated multiple-choice items! Are really terrible! NOBODY SHOULD EVER USE THEM GAH), and I had to do a tie-breaking speaking assessment with a couple of 10th graders (I spent about ten minutes with them one-on-one, with a rubric in front of me, trying to pull an Oral Proficiency Interview-type thing out of my butt. This was apparently an excessive amount of time and effort on my part — my supervisor sat next to me the whole time, tapping her pencil and checking the clock and sighing). Before the results were announced, my supervisor asked me to write a letter to the winners. I ignored her and wrote this:
To those who earned high scores on this test: Congratulations! I know you must have worked very hard to achieve your level of English proficiency. This is no easy feat, and you should be proud of yourselves. I look forward to working with you in the coming months as we prepare for the Olympics.
To those who did not place in the top five, I would also like to extend my congratulations. You, too, should be proud of your achievements in your language learning. I understand that you may be disappointed, and I understand that the Olympiad is an extremely important competition. But please remember that test scores are not the only measure of achievement. A truly successful language learner is motivated, enthusiastic, and, above all, unafraid of making mistakes. Don’t give up!
It was posted next to the list of finalists. Pretty sure nobody read it or understood it, but it made me feel better, kind of, at least?
Then come the Olympics preparations. Teachers keep the competitors after school for hours at a time, day after day, week after week, running them through practice grammar tests. These grammar tests are usually old Olympics tests, i.e., a neverending series of decontextualized, unvalidated multiple choice questions. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a teacher come to me with a test, pointing to a question like this, asking me which answer is correct:
1. He ___________ here for three years.
b) has been living
c) will have been living
d) other thing that is ALSO CORRECT IN A VACUUM
Surprisingly, the only thing I’ve been asked to do is run my own Olympics prep class for the 10th and 11th graders every Friday. This is fine by me — I get the ten brightest, most motivated kids all to myself for two hours, and I get to have my own small, petty rebellion by insisting on calling it a TOEFL prep class.
So anyway, this is boring and I should stop whining to you. At this point, you can probably imagine how the aimag competition itself is run (Our aimag’s language methodologist, to another volunteer here in Erdenet, three days before the Olympics, in passing: “Oh, by the way, will you and your friends make a speaking test for the fourth graders?”). Despite all this, those two ladies up there should be proud of themselves. They’re bright as heck, they’re hard workers, they’re movers and shakers, they’re going places damn it. And they also beat the pants off a bunch of private school kids, which is always satisfying in a class-warfarey kind of way.
If I continue to whine about the Olympics, though, it’s because it’s not over yet: For some reason, the 9th and 11th graders get their own special competition at the end of this month, and the winners get to go on to a national competition in Ulaanbaatar. I can’t tell you how excited people will be if we manage to send a kid to the finals.
And then there’s the Teachers’ Olympics, which is basically the same thing, but for teachers, and it actually affects peoples’ pay grades. Just, I mean, OH MY GOD AW7RG I76#$&#$ RFY
Okay I’ll stop.
Hey look Ryan took a nice picture of me this weekend! Wonders never cease:
And check out what was waiting for us outside our apartment yesterday:
It took everything we had — oh lord everything — not to bring her inside. I put a little milk outside our door for her. Other neighbors set out plates of rice. For a brief hour or two, we entertained visions of her becoming our building’s mascot. We would raise her together, the denizens of Apartment Building 11, and it would be glorious! Ryan and I would be able to both have a pet and, come 2012, leave it in Mongolia guilt-free!
Then, later in the afternoon, we checked to see if she was still there and she wasn’t.