First things first. I don’t know if this is a recommendation, or a warning, but I’ve brought some Avon ‘skin so soft’ with me, as rumour has it that it is an incredibly effective insect repellent, even though it is not marketed as such. Well, if you can cope with the astringent feel of it burning your skin as you spray it on, I would say the rumours are true. More alarmingly though, when I found a little army of ants marching in and out of my ‘bin’ which is actually a plastic bag hung from the handle of a drawer in my kitchen, I took direct action. I gave a blast of spray around the handle and within seconds all ants in the vicinity have deserted their posts and ostensibly retreated. What is in this product that all living things cower away at the very sight of it? I have no idea, it must be pretty toxic. It over-rides the smell even of incense that permeates the corridors of the building where I am living, and believe me, that is saying something… You might think with that lovely sounding name, this would be an innocuous product. It is anything but. It feels like pure DEET on your skin, the reason your skin is oh so soft, is probably because it is melting, but the way I feel about mosquito bites, that is but a small price to pay in order to repel, repulse and remove them. Use at your own risk though, and maybe do a patch test first on your neighbour’s dog, just to be on the safe side. I don’t normally approve of animal testing, but there are limits to my risk-taking behaviours…
In other news, today was first day back teaching after the Christmas weekend. I don’t know why, maybe because I’ve been ill, but my confidence took a real knock. I wasn’t feeling all together inspired by the topic of fruit for my two groups and was feeling distinctly lacking in creative ideas. I tried to remind myself that at least I was feeling a bit better, not well enough to go to the gym, but no temperature any more, but I wasn’t in the mood for being consoled.
The one good idea I had, was to go to the Russian market and buy examples of all the unfamiliar fruits that I’m supposed to be talking about. I have no idea what most of them are, so it is hard to discuss their unique properties. I randomly pointed at strange-looking fruits and got weird amounts of them. My haul included mangosteen; rambutan; longans; mango (knew that one); pomegranates (knew them too); dragon fruit (white not red alas) and came to the grand total of $7. Seven dollars! That was way more than I expected, the stall holder explained this was largely on account of the pomegranate. I’d already forked out $2 last week for fruit and veg posters, so this TEFL malarkey is working out expensive in terms of teaching materials. Having said that, if I wasn’t so devoid of ideas I probably wouldn’t have needed the security blanket of all those props. Oh well, deed was done.
Nipped into the Russian market to have been sprouts, and egg breakfast. This didn’t entirely go according to plan as the regular woman was ill and her daughter was in charge. Despite pointing at the ‘usual’ picture, the dish came back piled with meat. My companion therefore ate two lots, and after some negotiation, we got another plate with no meat, but with the addition of tofu which was really good. It was more expensive on account of ordering wrongly, but still only $2 a plate. This is an example of how if you can communicate, it is possible to eat well and cheaply in Cambodia, but it does take some negotiation and trial and error. It is also stifling hot in the Russian Market, so not somewhere to linger. Some swedish travellers joined us, they arrived in Cambodia on Christmas Day and were happy to talk I had to go off and do my lesson planning/ procrastination/ fretting and so left them all to it.
By the time I’d had a nap and failed to access the internet I was feeling a bit devoid of inspiration so I wandered up to the school. There a long-term volunteer (6 years and still counting) was on hand. I explained my angst about my ability levels – it is ironically because it went really well last Friday that I feel considerable pressure to keep on doing high-energy stuff – and how I’m finding it more stressful than I anticipated. Lesson planning time is disproportionate. He really helped in a hilarious way. He said that may Khmer teachers can’t teach at all, and often don’t even show up. His take on it was that just by showing up and being able to speak English I’d be the best teacher they’d ever had! I found this genuinely funny and consoling. Yay, get me, I’m here! What more could they possibly want!
I gathered up all my fruit selection, which alas I forgot to photograph, and headed off to prep my room. Well, dear reader, I ended up with one of the most effective, and calm and relaxed sessions to date, which just goes to show… well something, I’m not sure what.
With the first group a couple arrived early and we ended up having a ‘proper’ conversation. I was asking them all what they were studying and when they would finish. As more students arrived, I had them all trotting out ‘I am studying (nursing/ pharmacy whatever) and will finish in (month and year).’ The younger one who is still at school was able to say fluently ‘When I finish school in 2018 I hope to go to university to study architecture’ (which is particularly impressive if you’d heard his first rendition of that subject of study) and the older member of the group said ‘I graduated from xx university in accountancy and now I am working at…’ It may not sound much, but the point is that these exchanges are real and meaningful. They are talking in an interesting and engaged way about their own lives, and it is way more inspiring (for me as much as for them) than learning about fruit – though that has a place too.
Buying and bringing in the fruit was a stroke of genius. The physicality really helped, we spent a lot of time just naming them all, them telling me which ones they liked best, which were their favourites. It was all very simple, but surprisingly challenging. Guava is particularly hard for Khmer students to pronounce as is ‘pomegranate’ and ‘oranges’. They didn’t know the vocabulary, and I was surprised, astonished even, at how focused they were on it. I used the technique of getting them to identify their favourite fruits to pile them each up with the ones they liked using little cut out paper cartoon of other fruits I didn’t have to boost the numbers. At first they were really chuffed with their acquisitions, but then I moved on to a ‘I went to market and I bought…‘ and they had to list everything they had. We did this once round, and then they had to add on everything everyone else had bought as well. They got really into it. One played a trick on me by saying just ‘I bought lots of fruit‘ but that was fine, as he was using language effectively. The next time round he added on loads of extra fruits he’d gleaned from the wall poster that I’d been referring to from time to time but not comprehensively covered. I was so impressed. There was a lot of laughter, but a lot of concentration too. I think they found it genuinely relevant, and they were intrigued by what I could and could not recognise. They all love their durian, which is a mystery to me. It is a vile smelling fruit. At first they all said they liked apples best, but I think that was because that is the limit of their vocabulary, it will be interesting to see what happens tomorrow.
As ever, the second group was a lot livelier, they were delighted by the fruit, one offering to buy it all off me with his fake $100 note. They on being given the fruit, immediately appropriated it, squirreling it away, which was fine but somewhat premature, still, I don’t want that fruit all rotting in my flat, and they were so keen to have it, it really helped motivate them. I gave the single pomegranate to the student who was able to say the word really fast and really correctly five times, which she did. Amazing!
I’d brought along a computer generated word search fruit finding activity as a filler At the end of each session I gave them 5 minutes to find as many words as they could, and again $100 to the winner. In the first group one found 11 (more than I had) and in the second the winner found just four. I don’t know if that is actually a difference in ability, I myself don’t see patterns in word searches so find them incredibly frustrating.
At the very end, one student wanted me to recap all the vocab, and then as I said I’d like them to try to remember the vocab for tomorrow, some took photos on their mobile phones. One of these photos of the poster ended up in the Facebook groups as the students posted it themselves. I am so delighted by this. I want the facebook groups to be their shared resource. Only a couple of students have posted so far, but it’s a start.
So I was really very happy with how it went today. There was no frenetic activity, but calm concentration albeit still a lot of laughter. I do love these students, they are so engaged and enthusiastic. I myself would have been bored to tears by such endless repetition, but with the addition of real fruit into the mix they appeared quite contented. One student even posted on the Facebook group ‘Today we study about fruits, it so useful for us for every day life….thank teacher today I know a lots of new fruits👏‘ Check out the use of those fruit related (I think) and applauding emoticons and marvel at my TEFL prowess. Thank goodness the teaching bar is set so low. Long may it continue to be so.
Oh, and my new students didn’t show, though one did send an excuse slip.
Here is my fruit poster by the way. There is a veg one too, but I haven’t got on to using that yet.
So just got to think how to build on this tomorrow. I’m thinking get them to describe fruits more (we did a bit of oval/ round) and then do some hot seating, where one student is on chair with back to board, I write the fruit up, and the other students have to describe the fruit until the student is able to guess it. Pictionary too I guess, and maybe pelmanism. Hmm, oh well, tomorrow is another day. I’m happy with today, relieved too, I needed a win, and a win I got. Yay!