The head monk asks again what we can do to improve the quality of teaching in the village. I have to give it to him that he is determined and dogged with his agenda. Unfortunately, where there is no motivation, there is no chance of improvement.
Before I arrived in Myanmar, I will admit that I was a little green. I believed that as the teacher, I had the ability to inspire motivation from nothing. I often spoke to colleagues who were having difficulties with students who, for me, were model pupils. I naively assumed that this was always going to be true. Especially in a location where it was unusual to have a foreigner and people would be grateful to have a precious opportunity that few have access to. However, assuming that people will innately understand the value of such an opportunity was foolish of me, and expecting them to grab or want that opportunity was even more foolish of me. Just by being foreign, I cannot coax people into wanting to improve their English or their teaching skills.
However, I agreed to try running more teacher training sessions, as NEH and the head monk do share the same end goal of having more good teachers teaching the local students. I specified that I would only run the class as an informal drop-in because I didn’t want a repeat of cancelled classes, missed homework and general excuses.
I have come to realise that accountability is a really important factor in motivation. Some people do have inner motivation and are happy to set themselves goals and chase those down; most do not. The majority of students need a system of rules; rewards and punishments for working hard or not. Currently, these teacher trainees don’t lose or gain anything tangible. There needs to be a clear set of boundaries; if you don’t complete your homework you miss 2 classes. Something which is measurable and realistic plus is an actual punishment. In Greece, students would misbehave, I would send them to the head mistress of the school who would then threaten to call their parents and report their bad behavior. However, because the school was fee-paying, she never did ring the parents because she wanted the money more than she wanted the good behavior. No matter how much I sent the children to the headmistress, they know that was no real threat. She would shout, perhaps pick up the phone receiver, they would apologize and be sent back to class. This was not effective and they and I both knew it.
I agreed to have whichever teachers wanted to talk about training come by my house. This way they had to at least show the motivation to get to me. I thought that this would at least prove stage one. I found my list of 5 simple teaching reflection questions from when myself and the lead trainee were trying to arrange bi-weekly staff meetings which never bloomed to fruition thanks to that lack of motivation and external pressures.
Of course, all of this fretting is apt to resolve in very little actual use. When our trainee leaves, the reality is that whoever takes over his class will make as good a job as monkeys typing Shakespeare. Without our presence, whatever my views would be or have been are irrelevant and discounted as daily monotony grinds into the everyday lives of more of Myanmar’s youth.
NEH Director of Studies and Teacher Trainer
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