Well that was unexpectedly entertaining… I met my lovely new students for the first time… some of them anyway, attendance wasn’t the best ever!
It rained today, quite a lot, so some extra stresses were factored in to my first day teaching. Specifically, I had kept back some smarter trousers to wear, but they were completely mud-splattered by the time I got to school, and I was looking pretty dishevelled from the rain and sweaty from clutching my backpack containing my laptop close to my chest for the whole power march down. I just never look presentable, however hard I try.
So I gathered about 4.00 p.m. in the teachers’ room. It was quite comical, because a lot of us were there, hanging about wanting to get under way whilst simultaneously being consumed by apprehension. It was quite funny seeing the dramatic makeovers of some in the group, who had donned more formal attire than we are used to seeing them in. I though at least two of the men had had their hair cut, but no, they’d just shaved. Well, that is a hair cut of sorts is it not? An easy enough mistake to make surely! We sat about blinking at each other in silence. I suggested an impromptu round of ‘wink murder’ but to my astonishment no-one knew how to play! Another time…
I couldn’t get into my classroom before 5.00 as it was in use. I have two consecutive 90 minute sessions. The first was supposed to have 7 students, and the second 11. In the event, only four came to the first and six to the second. I don’t know if rain is a contributory factor there. I do know that I didn’t think it could be any harder to negotiate the streets of Phnom Penh than it already was. It seems I was wrong. The rain comes and pot holes fill with water, streets turns to torrents and drivers hurl up spray (and worse) as they splatter by in all directions. You can’t blame anyone for not wanting to head out in that!
At 5.00 I headed into my classroom. The first couple of students arrived and I gave an exaggerated welcome. I did a lot of expansive ‘welcome’ gestures and smiling hellos. A lot of gesturing to the empty seats and tapping my watch in a ‘where are the rest’ sort of way, and finally did a pantomime of late arrivals having to knock on the door, and then we would all should ‘welcome’ and ‘come in’ and we practised that a few times before I myself went in and commenced the class. It was daunting, but not as daunting as I expected. The worst thing that happened was when I ventured out in the corridor at about 5.10 to look for any lost souls. I went through a pantomime of is this you with my register to every student I met. Then realised I was asking a CWF staff member if he was my student, I was mortified. It was OK. I think he realised I was just panicked, but I felt so rude!
The students were immediately curious about me. One, the youngest at 15 has the strongest language or at least the most confidence about using it. I began by doing a ‘hello, I’m Lucy, what’s your name, nice to meet you‘ sort of routine with each student in turn, lots of elaborate hand-shaking which they found very funny. After that I didn’t really have to do anything as my youngest student started asking me questions. ‘Where are you from?’ Can you guess? They thought Australia, Canada, America then finally Europe. I hesitated, do I really need to get into a Brexit discussion on Day 1? No I don’t. ‘Yes‘ I said. ‘Where in Europe?’ ‘England!’ They were triumphant. I then asked each of them in turn where they were from, and feigned mock surprise that by co-incidence they were all from Cambodia! I went on to get them to show me exactly where on a map of Cambodia, I had a map of the UK so I could show them Sheffield.
We went on in this vein until I had about half a dozen facts about me. My name, age, marital status, where I am from, hobbies – the second group were more curious about my occupation. It was good fun. They guessed my age as from 28 – 45, my hobbies were thought to be ‘taking a nap’ and ‘reading a book’ so my physique isn’t reflecting my marathon running goals! The first group was completely horrified that I was not married ‘why not?‘ That’s kind of hard. I turned it over to them ‘are you married?’ none of them were, all of them were single. Hah, that’s OK then.
At the end, I had a picture of me, with facts, and they had the same information about themselves. I got one of them to take a photo of me with my picture to model what we would do next, and then I got them to write down their own facts on a piece of paper and take it in turns to put this on the white board and present it to the group. I hoped it would help me with learning their names but it was also fun, and they did all speak English and present well. We had lots of enthusiastic applause after each person spoke.
The two groups were a bit different from one another, but all participated well. It was fun, and effective, and gave me confidence that we will be able to communicate, albeit I was probably a bit over reliant on those with the strongest language skills in each group taking the lead. They were all up for the interactivity though. I was able to stand back and let it take its course on the whole. So this is to be my classroom for the next 10 weeks. It has no natural light and is on the squashed in size, but my groups aren’t that big. Plus it does have air conditioning for which I’m very thankful.
So after that activity, which took up a good hour, but felt productive. I got out my laptop and presented a slide show of various things about me, me running, me with friends various, me riding a horse, climbing over a style (vocab of riding a horse/bicycle and vocab of to climb over). That was OK. More bizarre was that I’d put in a photo of me working at the Alpaca farm back in the day, and also my favourite animal, which is of course, warthogs. This means that their vocabulary now includes ‘alpaca’ and ‘warthog’ which will be fantastically useful to them in their professional futures I’m sure. Photos of Sheffield went down well, but trying to get them to understand I live on my own was completely mystifying to them. Oh well. There’s time.
More problematic were pictures I included of time working at a wildlife rehabilitation centre in Zimbabwe, AFrica. I included the pictures because I suppose I thought they would be sufficiently unusual to generate interest, which they were. The problem is, that I couldn’t communicate that they were in captivity due to injury and/or necessity, and that I don’t actually approve of keeping wild animals in such conditions and interacting with them so much otherwise. I failed completely to make this point. Students were guess I was at a zoo in England amongst other things. Aargh. A good lesson for me though, as to how an image can give utterly the wrong message. It doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things I suppose, but given how animals are seemingly regarded here, I’d like to offer an alternative viewpoint if I can. Another learning opportunity for me I suppose.
They liked the snow pictures a lot!
Amazingly, I finished both classes bang on the dot I was supposed to. I was really pleased and heartened by how it went. I am however at a loss as to what I do next. I did precisely zero of what was on my lesson plan, so on the one hand it is good to know I could wing it, but it makes it all a bit too open-ended for comfort. Brief embrace with a fellow teacher coming out of his adjacent classroom. All of seem to have done fine to very well. No tears or disasters, some mistakes and miscomprehension, but we all did good! I found a little slip in my pigeon-hole explaining one students absence. These sheets are hilarious. There are boxes to tick for common excuses. One of them is ‘attending a wedding’ which was what my absent student was requesting an excuse for. Such absences can go on for days!
All done, the caretaker in CWF was looking to lock up. I walked home with my two volunteer buddies who live in the same apartment. That was good, it made me feel safer in a group. Home by 8.30, slightly hyped. It is too late to eat for me, but before 5.00 is too soon. Today I had breakfast after the gym and then a late lunch around 2.00, that was OK but I don’t know if that’s a long-term healthy eating option. Time will tell.
So that was that, day one teaching done and dusted. Just the little matter of doing it all again tomorrow, and the next day and the day after that for the next 10 weeks. How it will unravel I do not know, but it was a good enough starter for ten!