My experience teaching English
The english program is one of the most unique programs that MaD has to offer. The experience is different for every person who comes to volunteer depending on their age, their background and what what community kids decide to show up for class. A new teacher can put their own creative spin on the class and guide the kids into different learning pools depending on their passions and the reactions of the students to different teaching styles and materials. So as I said, everyones experience is going to be different. My teaching has been full of trail and error and trying to use my creativity to keep the class interesting and fun for the kids who attend.
I had a nice introduction into the english class. When I arrived in Cambodia from the United States, another volunteer was here doing the afternoon english class that I knew that I would be taking over. It was nice to sit in for the first couple of classes and just observe. I took mental notes on what I liked and what I thought that I would do differently. After a couple of days we were teaching the class together, one of us taking the lead, and the other checking on how the kids were doing to make sure they weren’t lost. We started on the basics with the kids who were there. At that point we had five kids coming daily. They all seemed to have the basic understanding of the alphabet and what sounds each of the letters made, so we started in on the basics of every day conversation.
“Hello, My name is….” “How are you?” “I’m fine thank you.” The children who came to the class were all eager to learn so they all caught on pretty quickly. Before the week was through, I was taking the lead. We had the kids staging slightly more complex conversations with each other. “Where are you from? I am from Cambodia. How old are you? I am twelve years old” and so on. I found that repetition was essential and that I had to take things very slowly. Just because one student got it didn’t mean that all the others did. I wouldn’t move on from one subject until I thought that all of the kids had a proper understanding.
After John (the other volunteer) left, I was comfortable in front of the kids. We went into flash cards that had been donated by a previous volunteer. We had done basic conversational skills, so I decided to move on to basic vocabulary. We went over these flash cards for two weeks and I thought that everything was going well. This was when I experienced my hitch in teaching. What I hadn’t realized was that most the girls were depending on one older girl who knew all the answers. She would sit in between her friends and whisper them the answers. This became very evident when I wrote up a test and separated them all from each other. The girls were totally lost when they were alone. I could see them all looking over at the older girl in hopes for a sign on an answer. My first test to say the least was a disaster. I collected them and couldn’t believe how much they were depending on each other. This was when I found that I needed to start doing things differently. I needed the class to be more interactive so they would have to get up and speak for themselves. I couldn’t let them sit and listen to what I was saying, I needed to get them saying it for themselves with out the help of a whispering classmate. I decided to split the older girl up from the others and move her up closer to me so I could monitor her. It took a long time before they stopped looking over at her when I asked them a question. It also took a lot to get the older girl from yelling out all answers. None of the kids seemed to understand the concept of raising your hand. I would tell them to raise their hands and they would but that didn’t stop them from yelling at the same time.
For the next week I decided to go back over the flash cards again and checked that they could all name them before I moved onto another subject. I decided that it would be good to go over clothing and colors. I had a lot of fun with this subject, we played games with who was wearing what and the kids all responded very well to the classes. We spent a week and a half on the subject before I administered another test. All of the children did excellently. It was such a good feeling to have the kids do really well then get excited about it afterwards. At the end of the class they all wanted to take their tests home to show their parents.
Currently we are working on the human body. It’s a fun subject because I can incorporate activities and games like, Head Shoulders Knees and Toes and the Hokey-Pokey. We’ll work on this for the next week or so or until they show good knowledge of the material.
The biggest problems that I have had apart from kids telling each other the answers has been new kids showing up randomly. When a new student comes into the group you have to start back a ground zero for a little bit. You have to stop and find what level that they are at with their English skills. Do they know the ABC’s, and what have they already learned. The hardest part is trying to integrate them in with the rest of the class who has been studying one thing for a week or so and all of a sudden you have a new kid who needs to start back at the beginning. It can be very frustrating for the students who have been coming every day. I found that one of the best ways to bring that child into the group is to have the kids who are always there help out the knew student. This gives the new child a chance to catch up and gives the longer term students a chance to return to what we have previously learned and review. It also makes it so the older kids aren’t sitting there doing nothing while I’m reviewing with the new student. It keeps everyone involved and the class moving.
Coming from the U.S. I also experienced silly little problems of trying to remain with the standard of what has been taught to the children before I arrived. Most of the teachers who come are from Europe or Australia, therefore there are U’s in words that I’m not used to adding, color vs. colour and Zed instead of Zee. I’ve gotten the occasional weird look when I have pronounced a word differently then others have in the past. It felt awkward at first but I found after a while I could just make it into a joke about it and go on.
The wonderful thing about the children who are coming into the class is most of them are coming by their own choice. They are there because they want to learn and therefore you have a classroom of eager willing students who want to try to retain as much as they can. You don’t have to force them to learn, because they want to. This makes the teaching more fluid when you don’t have the misbehaved kids who wants to leave. Every person is going to find a good way to teach that works for them. I found that my personal balance is a mixture of interactive games, repetition, and trying to keep the classroom a fun and safe place so the kids will want to return the six days of the week that the class is supplied. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time teaching with MaD and am excited for the prospects of the on coming year.
Emily Meader – Orphan Care and Teaching vMaD Volunteer – United States