|06 June 2011||
TeachingABCs is definitely easy; every MOEI teacher has learnt it over a decade ago andcould speak English perfectly. The whole program is 9 weeks where you haveintensive practical training sessions of teaching for a week in Siem Reap,afterwards you are sent to schools either in Battambang or Siem Reap teachingfull-time for 8 weeks. But the duration is not why it isn’t easy.
Duringtraining week, we were braced for the danger of talking too much and giving outtoo many unnecessary directions when it can be easily expressed through bodylanguage. But training week could only take you that far with the game ideasand other information, as you would have to face this challenge alone. Likeeveryone else, I struggled the first couple days with scarce amount of materialprovided for me to know the English level of my students, and in addition was Inowhere mentally prepared for facing a bunch of strangers. Did they have higherexpectations for me as I am a ‘foreign teacher’? Quite frankly, what they wouldnever know was that I was just as lost as they were.
Aftera month of teaching, I finally understand what our coordinator, meant by ‘don’tthink, you’d know what to do.’ It took less time and worry to prepare myteaching material each day as time passed by, as it is that leap of faith thatwhile the students and Khmer teachers trust you to bring some useful skills,you have to take a chance on them at the same time to let them know you are nothere just to inject English words into their brains, but to prove that you arehere every step of the way to assist and to understand their difficulties inlearning. I realized throughout these weeks that it is essential for a sense ofmutual trust to exist while teaching a class, or else it will become such aharsh and awkward situation for both the teacher and students, which is notdifficult for anyone to see that there is no progress at all. For instance, asa teacher you would acknowledge that it can get tedious for the kids to drillon one letter or word for hours while understanding the fact that you cannot betoo ambitious and teach too many words at one time, so you bring some fun intolearning by inserting games that can enhance learning. Yet when it is neededfor them to spell and actually sit down to learn while it is natural forchildren to have short attention spans, especially when Cambodians seem to becarefree and can handle very little pressure as their lives are not busy and donot consist of much wants and thus they like to do one thing at a time, thus allyou need is to involve every individual and different interesting teachingmethods so to achieve the same outcome, and promise them that games and funcome afterwards! I believe that being a good teacher depends very much on theamount of compromising and understanding one is willing and comfortable togive.
It seemed that I got the hang of satisfying the needs of my students yet achievingmy goals for the day at the same time, my afternoon class turned out to be alittle more challenging. My class consisted of just fewer than 30 students, yetstarting from mid-June the class size expanded to over 50 students. Asexpected, it immediately became harder for me to control the class atmosphereand institute much class management because all of them are under 10 years oldand according to their Khmer teacher I could only teach at most two alphabets aday without teaching any words such as ‘A for apple’. I would be lying if Isaid I was not frustrated and angry at times as it seemed hopeless to keeptheir attention for more than ten minutes, and the classroom was so packed thatit was barely possible for me to play any games. Furthermore with the amount ofenergy these children have, it would be a bad idea to initiate any games tomake the situation even more likely to be irrepressible. Thankfully I thoughtof a plan that allowed a midpoint settling both the young students and myexpectations. I decided to make them all stand and using their entire body toact out that letter I teach that day, one way to allow them to release some oftheir energy, another way to enhance their memory towards that alphabet. Wheneverthe lesson ends, they all swarmed towards me with the widest grins as they areproud of themselves, and I am undoubtedly extremely proud of them as well for Icould truly feel that they are learning and achieving something during thosetwo hours every day.
Allmy co-ordinators promised and reinforced that all the hard work would be paidoff on the last day of teaching. ‘You come to the MOEI trip, really, for thelast day of program. You don’t have to believe me now, but you will understandat the end.’ Predictably, I never believed them. It came to the last dayeventually, I am very fond of my students, but to be honest I was ready to gohome. I felt like I need to move on from my life, it was time to say goodbye. Mymorning class are older kids so they were quite emotional, I cried along withthem because I did not realize I have made so much impact in their lives aftersuch a short time, but if this was all my co-ordinators mean by ‘The Last Day’,I guess I was not so surprised as this was exactly how I felt when I left alanguage camp in Germany a couple years back. Furthermore, my afternoon classwere too young to understand that ‘leaving’ means ‘never coming back’. It was moreof a happy tear as I turn to wave them goodbye when the day ended.
Itmight seem that I am completely heartless. But you know when I finally feel thepower of ‘The Last Day’? Now. Whenever I’m alone now, their faces sail throughmy mind. They did not want to let go of your hand, as if wanting to hold ontoyou as long as possible before you leave; their eyes were fixed on you, as if Iwould be out of sight as soon as they blink. I knew them for 8 weeks, but theyloved me like family. I realized I could not have moved on from The Last Day ifit were not for their never-failing smiles, they seem to tell me that ‘it isokay to leave, because you’re always with us in our hearts’. Whenever thingsget hard now, I close my eyes and see them, immediately feeling this warmth andstrength that I cannot possibly explain to you that brings me back on my feet. Teachingthem ABCs was all that I gave to them, but they provided me this unfailingoptimism and bliss that I will hold on for the rest of my life.