Once a month (okay, it’s been twice in two months), I’ve been going with some Khmer friends to teach English in two villages in rural Cambodia. My friends visit most Saturdays in the month, providing various programmes from youth fellowship evenings to hygiene information for young girls. They often teach English themselves but they asked me to go along to provide some supplementary teaching as an actual qualified teacher and fluent English speaker.
The settings in the various villages are interesting to say the least. First, we are not actually in a classroom. The first ‘classroom’ is the area underneath the typical stilted house you find in the countryside here. There is very little headroom as you can see by the picture below. There are rows of desks crammed together, where the children gather to learn. The second site is outside a larger, more modern house, which is far more roomy, but there are no desks.
So there are some obvious challenges:
- It’s really hot. I sweat to a disgusting extent (as well as learning which shirts are breathable and which are not);
- Banging my head/ cobwebs in my hair;
- Slipping in the muddy patch just by the whiteboard;
- Lack of time (20 to 45 minutes);
- Pressure to finish the class (the first class usually has more time than the second, so often I end up only teaching half the stuff I do in the first village for the second village);
- Lack of frequency (once a month);
- Lack of resources (when you google how to teach with a lack of resources, there is still an assumption that there are exercise books and desks);
- Lack of preparation time;
- Large classes (27-50 small people crammed into that space);
- A range of abilities and ages (probably 4-18 year olds, although I think the youngest ones are just there to be babysat);
- Over dependence on Khmer translation (the lack of time means that I haven’t built certain routines and taught teaching commands, also I need to plan and communicate better what I want translated and what I don’t).
So, it has got me asking a few questions:
- Is there any point? I can teach very little, I can’t really follow it up and are they actually benefiting from me being there? Are they just listening to the Khmer?
- What should I teach? How do I create fun, meaningful lessons with so few resources and in such strange conditions?
- How do I do it in the best way possible?
First, I set out to create a mobile classroom kit.
Now, none of this is particularly revolutionary. I’m no pedagogical hero. But this what my classroom-in-a-bag consists of:
- plastic display sleeves- these are great. My lessons basically consist of me showing vocabulary cue cards and saying it or getting them to do something with it. Paper and card would be too flimsy (have I mentioned, I don’t have a classroom), so slipping the sheets in these really helps. If you just have white paper inside, it makes a great whiteboard. I still write some of the key ideas down, because the words can get rubbed of easily.
- paddle whiteboards– I’m not sure if they are worth the expense (they aren’t particularly costly, mind). If you just wanted to buy the plastic sleeves and slip paper inside that would probably do. However, they add an element of whimsy that the students seem to appreciate. Furthermore, they are just slightly more robust. The sets I bought came with a pen and a rubber lid, which makes things helpful too.
- soft balls– they are good for call and response games or things in a sequence, like numbers, the alphabet, days of the week, etc.
- Kroma/scarves– these are useful as blindfolds or for other games. I haven’t used it yet, and probably won’t in the first setting, but in the second setting I probably will sometime.
- plastic fruit and flash cards– only buy them if you are actually teaching that topic (or colours, or likes or dislikes, etc). I feel a bit ridiculous being a 30 year old man with toy fruit and vegetables in my house. I intentionally keep them very much with the rest of the supplies, so that it somehow validates the purchase choice.
Of course, my little mobile teaching kit is a work in progress. But I have been amazed at what is able to be accomplished and how much time I am able to take up (because that is the aim, isn’t it), with so few resources. I will write another post where I delve a little further into what I actually do with these resources, what I’ve been teaching, what benefits I have seen from me coming and what I would like to improve in how I do things.
Also, if you have any great ideas or tools or tips, let me know. I’m desperate.