So, honestly, I’m feeling the pressure today. My head tells me that’s all completely normal, and to be expected, and a positive reflection on my ethical credentials in wanting to be the best teacher I can whilst in Cambodia. My heart is another matter. It’s pounding a bit, borderline arrhythmia I’d say, and I do feel a bit ‘rabbit in the headlights’. I shouldn’t because today was a good day, just very full on. This process of shift from where I am now to metamorphosing into a TEFL teacher seems impossible right now, but then again, so does actual metamorphosis, but that happens all the time. So it’ll be grand!
The building work has stopped, so that is grand. It is so much easier to concentrate when you are trying to mute the sound of masonry drill in the background. Got to CWF for 7.40, but not many other teachers in evidence. They’d gone for just in time arrival at 8.00, when we continued our Khmer lesson. It was an improvement on yesterday, but still hard. The group is not exactly compliant, and a lot of cross talk was unhelpful, I also thought it downright rude to be honest, very disrespectful to the guy who was doing his best. We covered ‘bargaining’ and ‘numbers’ sort of, but it went off at a few tangents due to some questions by dominant group members. It was a timely reminder of the need for a teacher to maintain control. I need to knuckle down and go through the Khmer notes I’ve made again, it all vanishes from my mind almost instantaneously. I am a bit worried that it’s a hang over from my head injury a couple of years back. I lost a significant amount of vocabulary then – hence why I started keeping blogs, to sort of rebuild those language pathways. However, I notice that I am significantly worse than my peers in these language sessions, I don’t seem to hear the words as they do, and they slip away like mercury through a fork. I’m slightly panicky about this, and don’t really want to broadcast it, ‘hi everyone, I have had a previous head injury and can’t take on any new information‘ may not instill confidence in me from either my peers or my students. However, I am consoling myself with the thought that maybe this will make me more sympathetic to learners who might similarly struggle to get vocabulary or whatever without significant slowing down and repetition on my part. We can enjoy this language learning adventure together!
Breakfast was again a glorious selection of fruits (dragon fruit, pineapple) and miscellaneous Khmer food, deep-fried rice ‘dumplings’ which sound horrible, but I’m particularly taken with, and other delights. Yum. I’ve not done any exercise for ages, so even though I’m not eating that much, I’m conscious I’ll put on weight again at this rate.
The next adventure of the morning was billed as a ‘surprise’! This turned out to be an immersion language lesson, with the director or education, delivering an introduction lesson in an unknown foreign language. He is an exceptionally gifted teacher. I am in awe of his skills. He used a high energy approach, lots of body language, use of large smiley face and sad face on the board to indicate yes and no, repetition, exaggerated gestures and comically camp demeanour (which I can’t work out is an act or an extension of his own personality). He had us hanging on his every word, but still managed to get through a lot. The lesson was a bit over an hour, but I found it exhausting. Again, I’m struggling to get the target language. It was a non writing session, we were not allowed to make notes, but I take information in best in written form, so it was hard. Even so his techniques were fantastic, I really feel I could learn a lot from him. On the one hand, I found it daunting, there is a sense of ‘I could never do that’ on the other hand it’s great, I want to be in an environment where I learn. I just want students to have a good experience with me and in my classes, and this education manager sets a high bar. The reality is, most of us wont get anywhere near that level of competence, but we can adopt some techniques. Also, I tell myself I survived Vietnam with none of this support, here there are ideas and resources in bucket loads, I just need to fathom how to navigate them and make the most of them
After a quick comfort break, we reconvened and then there was more input on the CWF curriculum, how the course works and so on. The target language we experienced earlier turned out to be Hungarian. We explored what techniques were used in the session, and then basically went on to look at various resources that we might employ. What expectations we should set and how (class rules); types of students; what to expect. Slightly mixed message, we were told lower classes are hardest because least language but also easiest and most fun because students are so enthusiastic. I was really hoping for advanced groups so I could indulge in discussion based activities. Here, even level zero students will have had up to 6 months language learning in a different environment, but it might not have been based on speech at all. Hmmm. I tried to be chilled about this. Que Sera Sera. We have been told ‘most experienced teachers’ will get these lower groups, because it is challenging. Please no!
We broke for lunch at the volunteers’ house again. It was really nice. The accommodation itself is too cramped and grim for my taste, but the food is fantastic. It’s a shame its in the opposite direction to where I live, so there is little incentive to go there for food. It’s just a drag, and the roads are too busy and the streets too intimidating to want to traverse any distance in the city. Whilst at lunch, I had a phone call from the education manager. I don’t know why me, and not others, but basically I’m to have two lower level classes, but had a choice over whether to take the early shift 6.30 a.m. to 9.00 a.m. or evening shift 5.00 -8.00 p.m. Hmm, well really I’d rather have the early shift so I have the whole day free, but I have my marathon training to think about. If I am ever to get out and run, it can only be the early part of the day, so, dear reader, I took the evening shift. I’m not sure if I’ll come to regret this, but I’ll still have weekends to get out of the city. If I do get into a routine of early morning run, then maybe breakfast and swim and lesson prep I could do this. I think if I’d given in to the temptation of the early sessions, that would be the kiss of death for my running, we shall see. I did feel a bit down though. I am going to have to be really patient, and really build my skills if I’m working with absolute beginners. I tell myself it will be good for my professional development, I might still get to do more discursive stuff with advanced groups in some other capacity, and aren’t I lucky that I can do my early morning runs once I have the confidence to do so! Also, logically, although I don’t feel very experienced at all in relation to TEFL, even 7 weeks in Vietnam, plus my prior teaching experience is significant given that some in the group have no experience in any similar capacity at all. It’ll be fine, it’ll be good for me, I can do this (probably) and anyway, I’ll give it my best shot, and I do mind about doing a good job and being encouraging to students so I will smile and give positive encouragement and be grateful that we have good support that I can tap into. The whole point of coming was to do stuff out of my comfort zone, and anyway, if my students start at a low level, it may turn out to be really rewarding to see them progress. I will have to take things slowly, and once I get into my stride, maybe it will actually mean less lesson planning, as activities are likely to take a while to get through. Time will tell!
Four of us went in search of coffee before heading back to CWF for more ‘games’ and ‘icebreaker’ introductions. I started to feel somewhat overwhelmed. Everything we looked at was aimed at higher level students, and I’m struggling to imagine how or what I’ll do if I really am to have the bottom groups. I spoke to one of the other volunteers who has a whole year’s experience behind her. I suspect we will both be in the same boat. Happily, she is also the slow runner, and even more happily, she is up for sharing planning to begin with. That helps. She seems nice, competent and easy-going, I can imagine working with her. Also, we havent actually seen the course books yet. It was said that ‘lazy teachers could just follow those – but none of us want to be lazy teachers!’ Well, I don’t want to be a lazy teacher, but I do want to know I have a back up plan! Perhaps that will be it.
Today seemed long, left school around 5.30 and back to my apartment via a brief stop off to accompany another independently living volunteer who wanted to buy a plastic chair and table. She is really nest-building in her very nice apartment the other side of the Russian Market, and may well stay on in Cambodia. She actually brough 45kg with her from Australia! Including a kettle, iron, bedding I think, extraordinary! I thought I’d over-packed. By the way, I think I may get away without closed toe sandals! The Khmer staff say just ‘not flip flops’ so that’s good. Whilst it makes me wish I hadn’t brought pesky shoes with me, I’d rather bring them and not need them than have to have my poor little feet sweating away in them. Mind you, the teaching rooms at CWF are air-conditioned, so not too bad.
I felt a bit lost and low back in the apartment, there is so much to process. I think I’ll feel better once I’ve met the students probably. It’s also that rollercoaster of the unknown, because at one point in the day I was all fired up and couldn’t wait to get stuck in, and then it all disappeared again in a little puff of knocked self-confidence. Comparing myself to someone with so much experience is objectively stupid, but subjectively inevitable. Besides, I know how frustrating it is trying to communicate with people for whom English is a second language. On the other hand, here my focus is on teaching English, not trying to instruct someone who can’t speak English on e.g. CV construction, so the goal is different, and potentially more achievable. I loved the students in Vietnam, and it was massively rewarding when shy students spoke, however much they stumbled doing so.
So, priorities for the next couple of days. Join gym, review materials, be kind to myself about having the odd wobble, and just get out and explore. I’m really struggling with orientation and navigation of Phnom Penh, but I think if I head out on foot maybe on Monday, which is a free day, and just get a tuk tuk back if stuck, the city will start to make sense to me. We have also been given a term timetable. There is a break in the middle of a full nine days. I need to plan something to do then. Maybe find a nicer bit of coast. There is no particular break for Christmas, although Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, which is handy.
Tomorrow I think we will finally get confirmation of our levels and classes and see module guides. Plus we have a river trip in the evening. I still haven’t got a sense of the riverfront area yet, and I am hoping that will be nice and give me an idea of a less daunting part of the city to navigate. The fellow volunteers all seem really nice, a diverse bunch. I have not identified a kindred spirit, but I do think a lot of us our sharing similar concerns, and I do feel all of us want to do a good job. I hope we do, the students deserve no less. We have a three day trip to the CRDP in Kratie, that should be a good chance to get to know one another. Also, one of the long standing volunteers has created a website with lots of resources which is fab, AND you know what, we are volunteers at the end of the day, so hey ho. PLUS, lucky us, a long-standing volunteer at CWF has created some online resources we can use ‘Beginner ESL teaching‘ a UDEMY course (nope, not heard of them before either) we have a free voucher as the course has only just gone live. I’ve just looked at a couple of the introductory talks and I’m really impressed, it’s all very positive, encouraging and aimed at new TEFL teachers. Acknowledges ‘imposter syndrome’ – feeling a fraud, but reassures it’ll be find, with preparation, a positive attitude and a basic tool kit. He sounds so self-assured and competent delivering this course, but admits to terror day one in front of a class, so it’s all normal, we all go through this, just hoping I’m a caterpillar that does make it through metamorphosis into a butterfly, not one that gets eaten before it has a chance to fly.
Also, under reasons to be cheerful, I’ve worked out how to get hot water from the shower. Cold water is fine mostly, but the option of warm water is a good one, there is something comforting about a warm shower if you’re feeling poorly I feel.