This was planned during our August Rakhine visit. It took a while to get up and running unfortunately. Small things such as the national election just got in the way of running the course! I started to teach on the second weekend of October.
Classes will run each weekend of October and the final class is on November 7th, one day before the fabled democratic elections. It is a highly exciting time to be in Myanmar, and I must confess I am not as put out about the logistics of the course as perhaps I should be, on account of the numerous posters and flags that can be seen all over Yangon. Loads of taxis proudly display the red and yellow flag of the NLD party, made world famous by leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
I am teaching at a beautiful and calm Arakanese monastery in Insein, to the north of Yangon. Once again I rely on the local buses to get me to and from the monastery. Just like on my first day at Thanlyin, I was met by one of my new students, in fact, the young man who took the final day photos for me in Thanlyin. We took the 124 bus to the monastery. I was told that I could take this bus, the 188 or the 48. This 48 is different from my previous route to the Shwe Baho hospital. It is a much bigger bus, and takes a very different route. There is no chance of me getting confused and accidentally catching the other 48! Fortunately, the weather has taken a dramatic turn for the better as we move from monsoon season into winter. I don’t really know how the months from November to April can be described as winter though. It has averaged 33 degrees centigrade over the past ten days which really is very unlike any previous winter I have ever experienced.
The room that we have class in is in a newly built hall. It keeps fairly cool and has a lot of windows that can be opened up to let a cross breeze through. The floor is made of a cool red marble material and there are four big pillars. It’s a curious thing in Myanmar that most people keep the plastic wrapping on new electrical or expensive items, and the windows are no exception with their sticky logo plastic surrounding the frame.
The monastery grounds are very calm and peaceful with a number of chickens, rabbits and three geese having the run of the place. It is surprisingly quiet considering the volume of traffic on the road outside. There are often young monks trimming the grass alongside the pathway and I have witnesses several clean up missions in the various ponds on the grounds. There is a large trough filled with water with various bars of soap which is used to wash before lunch at 12 on both Saturdays and Sundays.
I seem to have a slightly variable number of students on the course; owning to other commitments such as final year university exams, taken on the 26th October. My core group consists of two teachers from REC which is a monastic school in a remote village in northern Rakhine state, bordering with Bangladesh. There are a further three students from Yangon Institute of Education, which awards four year degrees in education. It seems to take a rigorous, if somewhat stale approach to methodology.
My students are well aware of the terms associated with language teaching, and know the difference between acquisition and learning, and that listening is the first passive skill in acquisition, with writing being both the last and an active, productive skill. However, they still seem taken by the idea that children should learn with fun and adults just need rigorous, methodical instruction because they have extrinsic motivation for learning. My suggestion that adults learn better when the lessons are fun was met with some astounded faces before one student slowly and quietly voiced the opinion of the masses that they disagreed with my unwittingly polemic stance.
The course is all in English, and I am glad that my students have the linguistic ability to undertake teacher training as I planned it. As teaching is a very practical endeavor, my students have been ‘being the teacher’ from the first weekend. This can be very daunting for students, especially those who don’t have much experience. The atmosphere is very encouraging and everyone claps at the end of an enthusiastic or dramatic ‘teacher.’ It is important to me to have my students practice in this way, because it is the only time that I truly get to assess whether what they have discussed translates into something they can and will use in the classroom. Also, despite the initial nervousness, it is useful for students to have this practice time before they have real students and it is easy and rewarding to see the evolution from first day nerves to confidence as they apply what we discuss in class.
In stark contrast to my Thanlyin group, I only have one female student this time! This lends itself to frank discussions about the nature of minorities in a classroom and how to treat them with regards to grouping and partner work. It is important not to allow minorities to feel disenfranchised and splitting them for group work will often have the undesirable effect of making them the outsider in any group, especially if the minority student(s) are of a lower level than the majority. My Rakhine students are very sensitive to the feelings of outsiders, as there is contention over the government school curriculum which focuses solely on the largest ethic group in Myanmar, the Bamars while excluding history from the other ethnicities, including Rakhine.
NEH Coordinator and Teacher Trainer
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