It currently takes us half an hour to trudge through the mud to the monastery. The monsoon season has turned the dusty road into a mud-bath fit only for pigs and those who want to observe a lesson for which even the teacher doesn’t arrive.
The first 20 minutes are OK. Passable. The children sit in calm silence as they work their way through several exercises from the prescribed government textbook. The teacher does not look up at her students once. I feel that the teacher is bored and neglectful. However, it is better than her previous class which I observed where she sat cross-legged at the front, stick in one hand, textbook in the other. Today’s class only involves one display of corporal punishment; a tap on the forehead with a pen when a female student fails to write the correct answer. After 20 minutes, the mood shifts. The children lose their concentration and become fidgety. They flail their limbs and one runs out of the classroom in hot pursuit of a stray dog it fancies as a playmate. Van and I talk to the teacher after class. Through a mix of embarrassment and low-level English, she seemed sullen and un-cooperative to our gentle feedback.
The following morning, we got what we had travelled 4 hours upriver for: a lesson taught by our trainee. His topic was comparative adjectives which we had covered a little earlier in the year. I was curious to see how much the students had retained from 4 months prior in addition to their hiatus of 2 months.
The scaffolding was generally well thought through and executed. The children were engaged throughout the 2-hour class, with very few slight drops in concentration from only a couple of the 27 strong student body. In one activity, they faced one another in two lines. Having employed this technique in the first ever class I taught them, the difference is staggering. All the students are now calm, quiet and still. They are focused on the instructions and anticipating what will come next.
We have a couple of new intake students after the summer break. These students are more fidgety than our regulars; they have not yet been trained. This is an interesting question; if our classes are so engaging, why do students need to be trained to cope? After years of rigorous, traditional teaching in the typical lecture style students often can’t yet handle the freedom which comes with active learning. They are still young at 13 years old and have a surplus of energy. They don’t yet know the boundaries of such a class set up and so when the teacher allows downtime, they grab it with both hands as though they may never again get this same opportunity.
After class, our trainee comes over and points out all of the failings and areas on which to improve. I like this critical approach to teaching; to become stale and uninterested in what you could change or improve is to give up on the education of the next generation. Compared with the other teacher's class, our trainee's is far more engaged and gave both Van and I hope that our methods are working.
NEH Director of Studies and Teacher Trainer
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