I am quite impressed by the Slovenian school system. Gimnazia Bezigrad seems to work like a well-oiled machine in which all parties cohabitate peacefully. The teachers are not jaded, the administrators are friendly and driven, and the students (largely) do their work in the classroom without asking whether it is a process or a product grade.
I have been told continually that Gimnazia Bezigrad is the “best school in Slovenia.” The presence of the national Slovenian school and the international IB school in one institution is out of the norm for Slovenian secondary schools; thus, setting GimB apart from the rest. Therefore, when I discuss the differences between the Slovenian school system and the American school system, it is with the understanding that my perspective is limited to a narrow scope of one special school within Slovenia.
Slovenian secondary students attend classes, read, study, write essays, and cultivate knowledge with one goal in mind: to pass the Matura exam in May of their fourth year. The Matura exam covers a variety of subjects and is the ulitimate assessment (incredibly high stakes) to determine a students’ mastery over the subjects they have studied. Several teachers have explained this testing phenomenon to me as synonymous with the American SATs. However, the SATs are optional, outside of school, and independent of a student’s diploma–the Matura is not of these things. The stakes are high and all around me right now are panicked fourth-years praying that they have studied hard enough. Even my first year students occassionally bring up their impending Matura examination that is ONLY three years away.
As I mentioned in a previous post, the students are tracked for classes based on their homeroom assignments, which they receive upon entry into the school in their first year. The students from each homeroom have the exact same schedule and list of courses for four years. I like that the students are able to have this support system of consistant peers, but I also have concerns that the students should not be forced to follow this track is their interests or abilities plateau and they wish to put their efforts elsewhere. I am genuinely curious to find out if this phenomenon is present in all Sovenian secondary schools or if this is one of those qualities that is special for Gimnazia Bezigrad.
There is an interesting culture to the student-teacher relationship that I have observed in this school. In several teachers’ classrooms, I have observed some ruthless (not mean, just brutally honest and direct) shaming. Students must come to the front of the classroom and apologize to the teacher at the beginning of the class when they failed to complete their assignment. The teacher will then chastize that student publically, send him or her back to their desk, and move on without another word on the subject. I like this sense of openness, but I wonder if there is a downside to forcing a student to be so public with their shortcomings. I have a suspicion that, yes, students are more motivated to complete their work, but if something comes up or they fail once or twice, this could damage their confidence.
Teachers also seem to call students out very publically and discuss their grades with them entirely without discression. For example: my mentor teacher chastized a student, Urban (who recently placed fourth in the Slovenian National English Language Competition–I did not even know that was a thing), for not doing his weekend reading assignment three weeks in a row. The class was generally silent and my mentor teacher said, “Urban, this is intolerable! Tell the class why you have stopped doing your assignments…” Then she looked at me and asked, “Shelby, please share with Urban how he would be handled in an American school.” I was incredibly uncomfortable and really had no idea how to handle the situation so I went the comedic route and said he would probably be sent to the dungeons. Luckily, they got that one because usually the jokes are over their heads
One of the most interesting and welcome differences is visible when I instruct a class of students to complete a task in class. Whether is is a warm-up question, a Facebook post from a character’s perspective, or a five-minute refection to share later, these students do it without complaint or hesitation. At first I was caught quite off guard. I didn’t understand why no one asked me how many points the assignment would count for or it is was a product or a process grade. I asked my mentor teacher about this and she responded with a bit of confusion herself. She explained to me that the students are not assigned grades daily, or even weekly. The students have essays and tests throughout their courses that are certainly graded, but the grade is really determined by the teacher at the end of the year based on how well the students not only did on these assignments, but on their observed behavior with work in class. Therefore, the students do not need to ask how much the specific assignment will impact their grade, because they understand that everything they do in the classroom and how much effort they put into the class will be reflected in their grade at the end.