NEH has been in Myanmar now for 3 years. We have worked in Mandalay, Yangon and Rakhine. We have a lot of experience in things not working out as we had hoped, planned or foreseen.
We have been told that we must show patience; we cannot blithely force our western ways onto the culture that we do not understand and hope to cow them into submission. We have run courses with local teachers who were over-worked and under-paid. We have faced a general problem of repeatability and forward-planning.
Fundamentally, it seems there is a difference. We tend to judge value by the end product; how many students pass the exam; how many graduates get a job; how much profit did company X make for the last fiscal year? There is no real consideration of getting there; only the final achievement. This is in direct contrast to Myanmar where people try their best. As long as they are trying hard, the outcome seems negotiable. It is hard to bring these two philosophies together in a way which pleases everyone involved.
Our trainee wants a good future for the children in his region. He wants R.E.C. to be the pivotal focus point for a network of schools in local villages which provide education for the youngsters. He wants repeatable curricula for both English and Math across all of the grades which will start at R.E.C and be administered in the partner schools operating under it. The teachers will come to train at R.E.C before going home to their village where they will set up the curriculum under the guidance of the more experience staff with whom they were trained.
NEH is planning still; we are in a continual cycle of trial, feedback and error. We cannot become complacent because we still don’t have the working model of how our education system will merge with the local facilities. We began by giving out laptops, and now we are giving live feedback in an intensive one-on-one training program.
The trainee has a ten year desire for R.E.C. The problem, by all accounts, is that he has no 6 month, 1 year, or 5 year plan. He postulated the idea of doing internships in different parts of Myanmar to share the lesson planning and curriculum development that he has been exposed to through my living in the village. He pointed out that a typical internship is 3 months, but that he feels is too short, preferring instead to commit 5 months to any one place. This to me seemed a little, off. R.E.C. is by no means up and running in a sustainable way. We only have the one trainee currently at R.E.C. We need to find another. After a 4 hour discussion with the current trainee, he and I set forth a proposed timeline for things to happen. By May we need to have chosen a trainee who can take over from our current one and who can teach and plan in the active learning style. I still have hope for our second trainee, but he takes feedback rather personally and seems to somewhat have fallen off of the teaching radar. Not least because his English is very low.
We will have weekly meetings. These meetings will ask 5 questions of the teachers. The questions are as follows:
1. What topic(s) did you teach this week?
2. What one thing do you remember went well?
3. Who or What were you proud of this week?
4. What went badly; if you did the lesson again what would be different?
5. Tell us one time you felt: angry, disappointed and happy.
In April the teachers will be asked and expected to formulate coherent replies to the question of ‘why?’ for questions 2 and 5. By May, I want the teachers to be able to answer ‘why?’ for all of the questions. Minutes will be kept; at first by me and a teacher. After I leave, the minute keeping will be the sole responsibility of the teacher. There is no paper trail here of anything; the monk does not write down what he spends money on, nor where he receives money. The teachers do not keep plans. I saw the sorry attempt at planning that my trainee had done; it was a paltry two lines typed onto A4. There were a few words in bold. I suppose that makes it a good plan. I was horrified.
I am currently trying to ascertain exactly what it is that the local teacher wants to accomplish; he has big, wide ranging, broad spectrum goals of leading the village and the school and creating some better tomorrow. Better tomorrows do not come without difficult todays. I am constantly trying to gauge his English level for IELTS. This exam would open many doors for scholarships and learning opportunities to gain the necessary skills required to run the school. Some days I think he understands my questions, but it is hard to distinguish between those answers which are polite and skirting around the actual issue and those which misunderstand the question entirely. For now, we have decided on a working schedule of planning.
The trainee works best at night; in the day his mind and time are filled with requests from his mum and other villagers. Therefore, he will plan the next lesson in the night that he has taught the previous lesson. I will check over it the following day and he will make adjustments the night before we are due to teach it. I am leaving the village for a brief time soon and I have specified that all of the lessons for that week must be completed before I leave. The subject will be prepositions of time, movement and place. The context will be cane-ball as it is something my young teacher loves.
A huge frustration I have here is that this trainee, this live-wire who seems so different from the vast majority of teachers we have met in Myanmar, doesn’t like teaching. He keeps telling me so. He says that it is a necessity. It must be done in order to give the children a chance. He feels strongly about injustice and seems to want to prevent it. He likes football and cane-ball. He wistfully said that in the west, people are told to follow their dreams and passion. He seems to have missed the memo that most young boys do not become David Beckham or Cristiano Renaldo. Perhaps foolishly, I have chosen to ignore this red flag. It took me a while to become comfortable with teaching and I only really enjoyed it when I was able to plan consistently high-grade lessons in which I could see the progress that my students were making. I have seen that spark of excitement in this volunteer. When grade 8 were engaged and when they had the “S”, he was satisfied. I naively believe that spark is something I can foster into a great teacher.
There doesn’t seem to be as much eye for detail in my trainee as I have. He says that he can feel the overall situation and he can remember the movements of a player during a game of football, but he doesn’t remember what they wear or how they style themselves. I am trying to find out if this is simply a different way of noticing detail, or if it means that he does not have that same eye for minutiae that I have always been blessed with. Or cursed with, depending on your perspective. Self-perception is a curious thing. His feedback is detailed. It is not as critical as I would like, but it does pick up on many small events over the course of the lesson. He claims that there is a fundamental difference between the way in which we teach. Namely that I am happy, relaxed and active while he is tired, lethargic and wishing away the time. I don’t really see that if I’m honest. I know he’s tired of course; we are teaching in the heat of the midday sun. Only mad-dogs and Englishmen dare to venture out under such circumstances and I am subjecting students to lessons.
I must keep striving to achieve the balance between pushing him and allowing him to come to it on his own terms. Of course I worry that he tells me he doesn’t enjoy teaching, but I do not consider it an insurmountable problem in the scheme of things. We just need a plan and we will be able to sail into the future safe in the knowledge that one day this will be a thing of the past. Something that was overcome with difficulty, but overcome never-the-less. Of course, there will be a precise record kept in order to instruct any other teacher who feels this same sense of mounting despondence as they are facing with an unfamiliar system and students who have motivation levels which seem to diminish with each passing day, despite being non-existent to begin.
NEH Coordinator and Teacher Trainer
Growing as a Teacher
The Art of Feedback
A Balancing Act
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