Saturday, September 09, 2006

Ce, Ion? Vrei detention? Ti-e distractiv?

Moldovans, in general, are always running late. If you tell a group of Moldovans to meet you at 7 p.m., you can call them at 7:15 and they probably haven't left home yet. The first guests at a 7:30 wedding will come at 8:15. School events that are slated to start at 6 p.m. usually start at about 7 or 8. One punctual Moldovan friend of mine often gets to work at 8:55 a.m. to start the day at 9, only to work alone in the office until someone else comes at 9:45.

This is part of Moldova's culture to the point that "to be late" is its own verb in Romanian. When planning weddings or social events, Moldovans automatically factor in the delay and there are no problems. But there's one place where tardiness corrodes the work environment and the respect structure, and one place where tardiness cannot be tolerated. School.

At every class in a Moldovan school, at least one student always comes late, and it is usually more. In a 45-minute lesson, I usually lose at least the first three minutes because kids come late. Students come to class as late as they want and there is no discipline structure in Moldovan schools to punish tardiness or reward punctuality. In fact, you're often lucky if your students are only late; they often don't even bother coming to class, and they aren't disciplined for that, either.

Teachers often complain to one another about students who are consistently late or don't attend school, but schools don't structure a system that expects punctuality and attendance. Unlike in America, students who cut class (or translated from Romanian, "run from the lesson,") don't receive calls home to their parents, nor do they risk failing a course or serving detention if they are consistently late or absent.

Not a single Moldovan will say that student tardiness and class-cutting are good things. Students coming to class whenever they want without reprimand damages a teacher's credibility as an authority figure and encourages laziness and irresponsibility later in life. However, the problem does not receive much attention.

Last year, my school announced a system in which multiple tardies or absences would be punishable by a fine paid at the mayor's office. I think I was the only teacher who wrote out tardy slips, and when I gave them to students' homeroom teachers, the teachers didn't carry the process out any further. At one teachers' meeting, I told the teachers that the system was "a shark without teeth".

I refused to teach a second year under this system, so I introduced one of America's greatest institutions: detention.

This year, students who are late to my class must serve a five-minute detention at the end of the day, unless they have a note from a teacher who kept them after class in their previous subject. In addition, students who miss class and do not have a written excuse from a parent receive 45 minutes of detention. Students can also receive detention for bad behavior in class. In my English lessons, I also have class rewards and punishments for attendance, tardiness, mutual respect and homework participation.

On Thursday, I gave detention to eight students for tardiness and one student for misbehavior. I only taught 50 kids that day. All of them served except one, who had to leave school early, and he will serve it when he returns to school. On Friday, my first day teaching computer class, I gave detention to over 15 of my 120 students for tardiness. Because most of the students only had five classes and I could only run detention during seventh period, only five of the students served today, but the rest will serve Monday.

So far, my authority to give detention has only been contested once, and that was by an 11th grader who complained that he was only late because he had been talking to the school principal. After class, he walked away from me as I tried to talk to him.

"Vitale, if you don't come back right now, you won't touch a computer all next week," I called after him in Romanian. He came back, and I told him that if the principal wrote an excuse for him, he wouldn't have detention. I also told him that I didn't care whether he liked my rules or not, because those were the rules. I'm sure I wasn't his favorite teacher for the day, but I'm not bringing the concept of detention to this school to win popularity points with the students. Also, I have plenty of popularity points to spare.

It's not just the concept of detention that is lacking in these school systems; it's basic accountability. No teachers seem to want to teach accountability, especially in my school, and I think that is partly because the faculty comprises 16 female teachers and 4 male ones; among the male teachers, I am the only one who both teaches every day and is under 60 years old. Male students lack a positive young male role model at my school, and those whose fathers are working in Russia, Portugal and Italy completely lack male role models, just like fatherless children in America. Also, the vast majority of young men who stay in my village after finishing school don't attend university and simply get drunk and go to the disco. They are not good role models from which to learn accountability. Girls, while less likely to cause major discipline problems at my school, are just as likely to come late to class or not do their homework.

To put it simply, students of both genders need a young, strict, male teacher who won't put up with their bullshit. I'm happy to fill the void.



At 2:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Peter, not to offend or discourage you in any way, but I just think the kids don't see any authority in you... and this is not your fault at all... I guess they perceive you as a foreigner who is unlikely to punish them severely... reminds me the situation when we had a PC volunteer in my school... she was very nice and we had lots fun but we as a class naturally (don’t really why) assumed we can get away with certain things that otherwise were impossible with our Moldovan teachers... She also introduced some rules, which eventually were dropped.... it would be interesting to ask other teachers if they have the same “lateness” rate…

At 11:42 PM, Anonymous levi said...

Do you think this will work for kindergarteners or should I just put their parents in Detention for bringing their kids to school late??

At 4:49 PM, Blogger Peter Myers said...

Anonymous- I was in a similar situation to the volunteer you described last year, but this year I have had every one of my detentions (over 60 by now) honored, including the 11th grader I wrote about in this entry, who finally came today and served for 20 minutes since he didn't show up the first two times. Kids come late or not at all to other classes at my school. Entire teachers' meetings are spent complaining about no one in the 11th grade does their homework (one such meeting was today). This is not a Peace Corps vs. Moldovan issue. This is forcing students to take accountability versus teachers bitching about it during teachers' meetings.

Levi- Hit your students, and when their parents come, hit them too. You wrestled in high school; it's time to show them what you've got.

At 5:04 PM, Blogger Peter Myers said...

I want to add this may or may not just be my school. I don't want to make generalizations, even if I mistakenly have. Maybe attendance and tardiness are better taken care of in other schools, but it's a problem at mine. And based on Levi's post above, we can all see that tardiness can be a problem in America as well. As for the effectiveness of my system, we'll see what happens over the course of the first month. I maintain that it's always better to try to improve a situation than to simply talk about it.

Also, for Levi: I was chronically late to kindergarten, and my teacher came up with a system of giving me stickers when I came on time. I improved a little bit, and now I'm a complete jerk to my students about being late. So I guess Miss Burns's system worked. Try it if you haven't already. Or, as I said in my previous comment, you could just put them in a spladle.

At 11:31 PM, Blogger Nightpie said...

Kudos to you on your detentions. Keep up the good work, you mean, mean man.

At 7:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think you should give your kids 3 chances, and talk to their parents. if they are tardy a 4th time, just kick them out of class.

those kids seem like spoiled rich kids. i know it's moldova, but if they got family members who are abroad working or they were able to get into a school with a foreign teacher, THAT IS A PRIVILEDGE.

peace corps classes are a priviledge. it costs big money in Bulgaria to have a native speaker teach English/whatever. Check the prices for language schools in Sofia or even Warsaw/poland.

do not feel sorry for those kids. or fall for their sob stories that they are poor because communism is over...

if they hate your class, tell them to go to a school where the gypsies live!

At 7:05 PM, Anonymous Ionas Aurelian Rus said...


There can be no doubt that there has to be a penalty for being late without a formal excuse. While teaching at the college level at Rutgers both as a teaching assistant and as an instructor, I decided that 10% of the grade had to be for class participation and attendance. And, unlike other instructors and teaching assistants, I also penalized those who were active in class, but were sometimes late. If you have rules, you've got to enforce them, because employers in the "real world" do. Once I also used the technique of rewarding students who came on time for every single class, a few bonus points on their grade. It was an introductory summer class at 8:15 AM, and most students were commuting. More than 80% of all the students always came to class on time. You have to scare your students early, but don't forget about rewards.
When I was a middle school student in Ceausescu's Romania, I was sometimes late for the following classes: crafts ("atelier"), constitution ("constitutie", basically Communist-style civics) and Preparation for the Defense of the Country ("Pregatire pentru apararea patriei"). I suppose that it was to some extent a form of primitive political defiance, characteristic of other students of an elite large city high school. The county board of education had tried to make our class learn Russian as a foreign language. However, due to the protests of the parents and the students and the intervention of a parent who was some kind of a small-time party secretary in a factory, we were taught English instead. Our class had greater disciplinary problems than the other classes in the same middle/high school, even though we were academically just as good. The disciplinary problems were both of the non-political type (sticking needles into other students' rear ends) and of the political one (refusing to sing the Communist anthem of the country). We put the garbage can on the door before the teacher who was teaching Constitution came in, and it fell on her head when she closed the door. As a result of our collective refusal to sing the Communist national anthem, the boys in the class who were guilty had to go and have their heads shaven by the barber. The girls were threatened with a lower grade for Conduct/Behavior, which did not materialize.
What I am saying is that for a number of years after protests involving school children and their parents, discipline in school suffers. Since I did not hear about the kinds of problems about which you are talking about
during the 1990's, I suppose that
the protests of early 2002 might have made pre-existing problems, partly based on cultural patterns, worse. One should note that in the interwar schools in Romanian Bessarabia, missing school and, of course, late arrival were common problems characteristic of most students. The law allowed and demanded that fines be imposed on the parents who did not send their children to school, but this rule was in most cases not enforced. In interwar Romanian Bukovina, attendance dropped in comparison with the Austrian period. The fines on the parents for children not coming to school were not as rigidly enforced as during the Habsburg period. So what I am saying is that many of your students know from their grandparents or great-grandparents that they had missed school quite a lot during the interwar period and nothing bad happened. Rigid enforcement of the attendance rules is seen by some, not necessarily consciously, as associated with the patterns of the Soviet period. What I am saying applies to the rural areas in most of Moldova, and in the pockets with the highest interwar illiteracy in present-day Romania (a village here, three villages there, etc.)
As for the tendency of the population of Moldova to be late, I could say without the fear of being wrong that it is not less common among the population of Greece. Moreover, unlike in Greece, it is not universal. The Citizenship and Service Education program for Moldova State University was managed from Rutgers. When administrators and professors from Moldova came to Rutgers, there were no such problems with lateness. Yet large chunks of time were placed "between events", in order to accomodate the prevailing cultural patterns. It was my idea, but, as the only person who had ever been in Moldova connected to the program, I was listened to. This practice worked for the folks from Moldova (and Poland), but not for those from Lebanon, who were late anyway.
Coming back to the detention issue, I would have to say that I went to detention only once in the United States, in ninth grade. The crowd in the detention room convinced me to avoid it in the future.
I would nevertheless advice against the use of detention for violence in the classroom. If you see student A hitting student B, perhaps student B stuck a needle in student A's rear end or otherwise provoked him. Don't expect that the two students will tell you about the cause and effect relationship or any story with needles. Moldovan students are less likely to be violent than American students.
As for role models, Moldovan young people do indeed need role models, but not all Americans can serve as role models. Romanian-Americans such as myself can, but I'd rather have Moldovan citizens do that. When I talked to Monica Florescu from the National Endowment for Democracy in May 2004, I presented Oleg Brega and "Hyde Park" as good role models. They soon got a small grant from the U.S. Embassy in Chisinau. Defiance has to be not only "channeled" so that it is not manifested through tardiness in school, but also fostered. Local James Dean types are good enough role models for Moldova for now. And, just like Georgia, Ukraine and Kygyzistan, Moldova does need a "colored revolution".

All the best,


At 2:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, Ionas, what you say makes sence, logically. However, I must say that you missed the point while visiting Moldova.

You all see lateness through your own (Western) value lense.

In fact, "being late" in Moldova is a very important element of protocol. Say, if you were invited to a house dinner at 7 PM, please show up 30 minutes late.
It is generally recognized (in Moldova) as an element of politesse.. You live the host another 30 minutes to finish the preparation for the dinner/party, this is how you allow the host to resolve all "the small problems" (like, being late for the bus, having to say more time in the line in the shop, etc). THIS IS GENERAL KNOWLEDGE IN MOLDOVA.

Ionas, ask Denise or Mr. Schaffer, your colleagues who had spent more time than you in Moldova to know that. I dont remember you coming to Moldova in any of the delegations....

THIS STUFF IS EVEN WRITTEN IN SEVERAL ETIQUETTE MANUALS FOR DIPLOMATS WHO COME TO MOLDOVA (I remember a GERMAN manual suggesting that it's MANDATORY to be 30 minutes late for dinners in Moldova). There's no ohter the impecably punctual German diplomat would understand this....

Well, what's true for parties/ dinner..

--- I think the real problem of being late in schools is because the children don't realize the importance of education.
In fact, they do realize the "value" of their education.
I don't mean the education is bad (though I am sure of its low quality). I mean it is not VALUABLE to them. Because they don't think they need anything beyond read&write.
So, the kid misses a class. SO WHAT!?!?!

All those kids know is: no matter how good is the school, the best way for them is to follow their fathers to Italy, Israel, Protugal, etc
---- The kid does not need a univesity degree to work on a construction site... So why bother excelling in school????

I studied in one of the top high schools in MOldova (Mircea Eliade in Chisinau), which gave me world-class secondary education).
WE KNEW WHY IT WAS IMPORTANT TO BE IN CLASS (because everybody realized education was his/her greatest asset).
I can barely remember teachers having to enforce attendace (once, the math teacher "detained" us after class. We had to pass a pop test for grade to make up for being late). It did not help. The insular absence cases she tried to fight against were still there, in the shade of a generally high attendance rate.

The only way to make your kids be on time is by making them REALIZE THE VALUE OF EDUCATION!
I guess, that is why you're there for, Mr. Peace Corp Man!


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