Teaching Lesson #1


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Asia » Cambodia » South » Phnom Penh
March 23rd 2010
Published: March 23rd 2010
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I was very freaked out about teaching my first lesson (justifiably so as you will see). I was so freaked out that I was paralyzed. I was so paralyzed that I didn't create a lesson plan. I came into class this afternoon wailing to Leah that I was so lost and confused--and do you know what she said? She said it was normal. She said it was good, even, because I am well aware of what my weaknesses are and what problems might arise.

We've only taken two weeks of courses. That's not a lot to prepare a totally awkward newbie like me. They were intensive courses, and took up most of my waking hours--nine of them at least, and more if you count the homework and preparation. Our subject material covered everything I could have ever possibly wanted to know, but nothing, not even standing in front of your peers and pretending to teach them, can prepare you for actual teaching.

I have the habit of pretending my problems don't exist until they reach some sort of crisis stage at which point my thoughts scatter like cockroaches, and I run around in circles unable to move. Predictably, that's pretty much the way I approached teaching this evening.

How did it go? That's what you want to know.

I came in at the appointed hour and stood in front of the class, which consists of 5-10 year old orphans and neighborhood kids. Some know English better than others, and some are virtual babies who don't speak much English at all. I don't know which are which.

I also don't know names, personalities, scholastic background, or a whole host of other information that would facilitate my ability to teach. In the end, I wound up doing animals and colors. I wasn't allowed doing Q and A one-to-one, because some don't have that level of competency. I ran out of stuff to do halfway through the lesson. The Khmer teacher wouldn't let me dismiss them. The kids couldn't understand instructions, so I couldn't organize a game. There wasn't a lot the kids COULD, in fact, do, except recite colors and animals, and they can spell words on the board by rote. Gosh can these kids spell. You get a six a year old who can spell "national flag".

So I spent the last half of the lesson asking them to spell words on the dry-erase board. It was excruciating. Humiliating. Demoralizing. FAIL.

Worse, I have to teach alongside one of my classmates. I teach the younger kids for an hour, and then he teaches the older kids for an hour. Good, right? Almost. Except my partner can be rather controlling. After I complimented his teaching ability after class, he proceeded to tell me how to run mine. "You need to bring in different foods and teach them the words." "You want to divide the class in half and let the intermediates teach beginners." "You can only teach them very basic words. Don't worry about pronouns or verbs. They only need nouns."

I said, "Why are you telling me how to run my class?" which is the most you will ever see me stand up for myself. I might suck at this, but dammit, I want to think of my own lessons for the kids!

Now. I have two more weeks of this teaching business. I don't know what happens after that. I could go on to China and Jining and spend a year or a few months there (time which I will never get back), or I could stay in Cambodia. This involves a large consular headache and me wasting the $329 visa I bought to enter the Middle Kingdom. Ahh, I don't know what to do, but they want a decision by tomorrow. What would you do?

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23rd March 2010

Go to China
Leeza, Cambodia is interesting, but China is essential. Don't let $329 define your future. Since you are a person who has had international experience, you will be a better fit for China. They will value your perspective, it might be a slow process, but it will happen. The Chinese admire the American ability for being intellectually nimble and not being tied to systematic thinking. Go there, and just be yourself. The best part about you that I have observed is your curiousity and interest in the future. It may be why you get frustrated with those around you at times, but in China you have the power to make change at the most personal level. I can see it now, "OK, kids, the first word we learn today is, sustainability".
23rd March 2010

Go for it
You know, I think you should give yourself some credit for what you're having the opportunity to do in Cambodia and do bear in mind that the kids are probably gaining a lot more from your lessons than you're giving yourself credit for. Although qualified, I'm a volunteer teacher here in the UK and am gaining experience so that I can do just what you're doing right now and I take my hat off to you for having the courage to step out and do this. I would go to China seeing as you have already sorted out your visa; if you don't go, you may regret it in later years and anyway, just think of all those amazing travel stories you'll have to tell upon your return
25th March 2010

Damn the torpedoes!
Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead! Jinig! You're so close to an experience most will never have, and if it was easy, anybody could do it. You're not an idiot, you've learned Arabic. You may not be a born teacher, but you can learn how to be a better one than you are now, which is all anyone can expect.

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