Monday, October 22, 2012

Being a Healthy

Whenever my life as an English teacher in Moldova seems like it is too difficult, I am always able to make myself feel better by reminding myself that at least I'm not a Health teacher. There are four programs in Moldova but only the Health and English programs work in a school environment. And while trying to teach students in a language that is not their own might be difficult I have consistently found that I much prefer being able to teach in English over the alternative…teaching in Romanian. Unlike English volunteers, the Healthies, as they are lovingly called, teach in Romanian with partner teachers who usually don't know English and so all of the planning involved in lessons are also conducted in Romanian. I also like teaching English for the simple fact that I already know the subject matter backward and forward. I have been living it for 23 years and so I always consider that a person knows their native language better then they can know any other subject matter because they learn it without actively working for it. And while teaching contradictory English grammar rules can be exhausting it is still better to me then Health because our knowledge of Health changes so rapidly and things that used to be taught as fact are regularly being revised or thrown out all together. Which in a way is a lot more contradictory then English grammar rules because at least they are stable in their contrariness.

The reason I bring all of this up is because recently I was contacted by the Health program who wanted to use my school as a test group. In an effort toward transparency and evaluating their program the Health program created a questionnaire that would test students knowledge of Health and to chart the difference in learning the questionnaire would be given both at the beginning and the end of the year. Of course with every experiment you need a control group, a school that doesn't have a Health volunteer to calculate the difference of learning between schools which have and don't have Health classes.

While I knew I would have a role in the questionnaire I didn't think I would be the one conducting the questionnaire in my own classes. The questionnaire, of course, is written in Romanian so while conducting the questionnaire I didn't feel it would be appropriate to speak in English. So I spent the classes speaking Romanian. I have to say that it is indeed a different feeling then teaching in English and while I'm not teaching per se I think I have an idea what it would be like.  The main difference being I don't feel like there is a wall between me and the students. Normally when I say something or make a point in English I can look around the room and see the a handful of faces light up slowly as they understand. It's a much more satisfying feeling though when they don't have to translate what I am saying and all of the students light up together at the same time in comprehension. Though no matter how satisfying it was also uncomfortable as I am not confident in either my ability to speak Romanian in a classroom environment or my knowledge of Health education, especially after seeing the test that they had created. As I mentioned I was only meant to conduct the test so I wasn't expected to know the answers nor to provide the answers to students even if I did know them because that would skew the results. But having reviewed the test I found a lot of the questions on the evaluation were similar or only semantically different and if you hadn't studied the subject recently you wouldn't be likely to choose the correct answer. For instance I struggled with trying to decide what whether saturated, monounsaturated, or polyunsatuated fats can lower cholesterol. The evaluation, however, did not only question about general health but a broader health understanding encompassing emotional and mental health as well as relationships and general life skills. I was surprised by the general lack of understanding from my students about what the words stereotypes, abstinence, or assertive means; all the way to my 12th grade students. But in general I wouldn't say their understanding of health was much different from Americans their age.

The Health program are the ones who are actually going to evaluate the results so I can't speak as to just how well my students did. As I mentioned I wasn't too positive myself on which was the right answer on quite a few questions. But it was definitely an experience I'm glad I got to participate in so that I have at least a little better idea what life is like for the other half of the volunteers who work in schools in Moldova.

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