Students in Myanmar are not typically taught how to self-study. The concept is as foreign to them as the idea that school is a fun place. School is a duty which the government have enforced on students while equipping teachers with the means to ensure upstanding behaviour through any means necessary. We have mentioned about the assemblies with the canes, the teachers with the canes and the children who are caned before. This is a regular part of Myanmar school life, although I wish it weren’t.
Van and I sat aghast in the back of the classroom as students looked at one another, spoke at one another and read from each other’s scripts. Van took photographs of this as evidence. Evidence of what exactly I wasn’t certain because it seemed as though everyone in the entire class was plagiarising and cheating.
Singular or plural I hear you ask. Why isn’t it mouses you may say. At 10 pm the electric has gone out and ten minutes after we descend into a natural moonlit darkness there is a squeak followed by the patter of small claws as two mice run angrily across the supporting rafter of the house. It is as if to say “we’re here! notice us!” Well, the little so and sos have certainly achieved that aim as they run past me at 4 am, barely a foot from my bed!
As I am exposed to a greater variety of workplaces, some of which are not from the charity sector, the majority of people seem to lack intrinsic motivation. There seems to be a general feeling that work is to be endured not enjoyed.
A fundamental pervasive concern of teachers is am I getting through to these students? Depending on the type of students you teach, the more delayed the gratification can be. To the point where I must reassure myself that gratification will happen in another 10 years’ time. I have worked with students who reject or are rejected from mainstream school and are often, although not always, from disadvantaged backgrounds. The most tangible compliment I received was “You ain’t actually a bad teacher Miss.” This can be hard on the psyche.
In order to achieve a goal, you must believe that the time and effort input is worth the outcome. From our experience in Myanmar, ambition is generally not valued as it threatens the social bond and group dynamic.
Our trainee has expressly been told by parents to beat knowledge into students and monks have told me that without a cane, our ideas are unlikely to work. Of course, our ideas are unusual enough with a cane, but without one; well, forget it! On this subject, I have an irreversibly bias viewpoint. I am fully aware that my bias colours my ability to empathise and to walk in their shoes. There is never a situation where I feel beating is appropriate; at school or at home. I have walked in shoes wet with sores and blood before, I don’t wish to cover another mile.
From the front row, we cheered on our main teacher trainee and his teammates. It was the quarterfinals and they were up against a team from another village.
The job of teaching as we understand it is different from many jobs that people hold in Myanmar. Jobs in villages are physically draining; before a housewife cooks for her family she must generally trek into the forest, saw down the required wood and lug it back all while avoiding standing on a poisonous viper or twisting an ankle in a crevice. Then there is the setting of the fire, the tending of the fire and the pots to be washed at the river before the oils and MSG seasons the pan.
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