This year, one of my biggest and most challenging projects is monitoring and teaching a group of advanced English speakers for the annual Model UN Conference. Although this is my second time participating, things have not been any easier. A fellow volunteer wisely said that we're essentially attempting to teach these kids seven years worth of information in a short span of time. What did she mean by that? We're not teaching them to read or write but to actually read, to study, to explore, to question those around them, to research and to not plagiarize. Plagiarism is the way of life here. Students take what they find on the internet and literally copy and paste whole articles without even taking out the links. This is acceptable in daily homework, special assignments and even projects. Whole essays can be ripped off of Wikipedia and accepted. A hand written poster project can be photo copied with the name scratched out and replaced and still be considered acceptable. But I digress because this is not the issue that I am currently facing head on.
When it comes to MUN, I have prepared slide shows, lesson plans, discussions and tips all in the hopes that my students will listen, study and follow along. I've had to repeat instructions numerous times, drilled the importance of memorizing the rules and procedures and assigned them the task of conducting research after every single meeting. Have they done this? A few show promise but the rest make me question my teaching capabilities. I have resorted to pleading, begging and asking them politely to at least research. Are they capable of writing a single page position paper on the stance of Turkey in relation to their delegation's topic? No but they could if they had followed my steps. Can they answer my simple questions regarding their topic? No but they could if they had followed my advice. Can they give me hard facts or evidence to back up their open ended opinions that anyone could make? No but they could have because I had covered the material. Have I said that if they can't, then that's what they have research? Yes.
In return, I am treated with disrespect, greeted by confusion over the simplest tasks and reaching barriers all around. One time I gave a test and was met with uproar because it was not fair. "Why is it not fair?" "Because we don't know this stuff." "But I covered this material, everything I test you on is stuff that I have taught." Although I do recognize that my kids are great kids, it is easy to say that they lack something necessary as students and by that I mean the personal drive and awareness that only they can learn for themselves if they choose and want to. Anytime they can't answer a question about their topic, I am met with a barrage of excuses from "We're really tired" to "We're really busy" to "I don't understand." I was completely surprised by this attitude and responded with "Don't you think the other 150 students or so that are participating aren't busy either?" By American school standards, the first two would never be uttered in a class and the third would have been addressed immediately after new material was introduced because it is the students responsibility to ask questions and learn. And these are just a few examples of obstacles that Albania's education system faces. It takes a village to raise a child and it will take the support of an entire country to raise a new generation that can adapt and keep up with our constantly evolving world. I have no doubt that Albania can accomplish this with time but I do have fear that they might not figure it out in time. I also have no doubt that my kids are equally capable of preparing themselves for the upcoming conferences but I fear that they will fail because they don't see that the most important lesson to be gained by this experience is the individual responsibility that everyone should hold for themselves when it comes to learning.