Before Christmas, in Sitwee, I had met a man who works for Relief International.
He had great plans for teaching a host of useful things to the volunteer teachers at R.E.C. and was interested in NEH’s plans for our English curriculum. He initially planned to journey to R.E.C each weekend to run a short course focused on such things as advocacy, critical thinking, self-study and career building. However, as so often happens, life gets in the way of the best laid plans and the proposed schedule reduced to 1 time per month.
The man had visited once in January to introduce himself and meet the students. He had not taught at this time, but just given a brief presentation or outline of the plan for the coming nine months. I was not present at this presentation, instead relying on feedback from our two teacher trainees.
Upon our arrival at the village, we were told by the head monk that the Relief International man, who we had dubbed as ‘the weekend man’ for ease and convenience seeing as he had proposed visiting each weekend, was coming to visit Van and I. The thought behind this was that he would show me some powerpoint presentations and I would chose the ones which I deemed most suitable for the students to learn from and engage with. On the one hand it is a little strange for me to do this as the man has no direct affiliation with NEH. However, looking at it from a different perspective; it is nice that my opinion is trusted and it sets the standard that NEH has full creative control of the curriculum including the outside portions. With this in mind I thought carefully about the level of the students. Something which was quite curious to me was the proposed level of the presentations he wanted to do. He had already met this group of students yet he was showing me graduate level presentations and expecting that they would be useful to the young teachers. The group of recruits have never been exposed to a teaching style which is not traditionally Myanmar, and as such are not able to draw upon a reserve of knowledge to apply to new topics. I advised that there were three Powerpoints which I felt were suitable. It was decided that he would return the next weekend to teach a 6-hour short course on critical thinking skills.
A week passed and the weekend man returned to the village. He taught a 3 hour stint, only giving a 5 minute break in the whole 180 minutes. This is detrimental to student’s concentration as the maximum concentration period is only 20 minutes. In a typical lesson, activities should be planned for this 20 minute window and then a new item should be introduced to keep student’s minds fresh and ensure that they have renewed vigor for the topic. He had the proposed schedule on the board which is a nice way for students to follow the lesson and does save them from boredom as they are able to see how far through the schedule they are and see what there is left to do. There were three stories that were written in Arakanese for the students to read. Apparently there was information missing from each of the three stories which the students had to recall and fill in. I am not certain if this counts as critical thinking or simple information recall. I suspect the latter if I’m being completely honest with the situation.
The next morning lessons started bright and early at 10 am. Our trainee teacher who had been indisposed the previous day, leaving Van and I to observe and report back alone, bounced off to watch the teaching style of the weekend man and take notes. We were fairly sure that the weekend man himself would not want feedback on his teaching. As I have mentioned, I feel that watching others teach is crucial to contemplating your own teaching methodology as it is very difficult to see things objectively while teaching your own class as there is so much else to think about; especially for an inexperienced teacher.
Van and I arrived a little later after having given our trainee time to draw his own conclusions and watch unhindered by his mentors presence. His feedback and observations were very accurate; he was looking for the right things and was starting to be able to judge why something worked well or was a failure. When he observed me teach, his observations tend to be limited to a report of what I have actually done over the course of instruction, without the next stage of analyzing why it might or might not work within the classroom context. I am unclear whether this reluctance is due to inexperience or simply that he doesn’t wish to insult me as his teacher. I am hoping it is the former because I have no desire to stand on ceremony and have him assure me that everything I do is wonderful just because I am the teacher.
After the class we met with out teacher trainee to discuss the observations that each of us had made over the course of the three-hour lesson. We had each watched different parts and soon pieced together a run-through of everything that had happened over the lesson. We concluded that the scheduling on the board is a positive note; in fact the board was pretty well organized throughout. However, there needs to be more break times built in. One positive point was that the previous day the students had done presentations with no preparation time. However, the second day the groups of 4 were given large flip chart paper upon which to note their thoughts. This lead to better presentations which were more well-thought through.
NEH Coordinator and Teacher Trainer
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