For those who don’t know how I feel about public speaking, picture yourself opening your front door and seeing a grizzly bear fresh from hibernation just chilling on your front porch. That’s the feeling I get when I’m summoned to speak in front of people. And for some reason, my amygdala just naturally put teaching and public speaking in the same fearful category. So, now let your imagination turn that grizzly bear into thirty little Cambodian cubs seated energetically in front of you. Will they bite? Perhaps. But no! They do the exact opposite. In fact, they sparkle! They are attentive, eager, amused and thrilled to have you there and listen to everything you might have to say, regardless of the language barrier, which is HUGE, by the way. And of course, being the extrovert gemini I am, I feed off this energy, which leaves me bouncing around the room in charade like fashion.
After day #1, I thought I might have a few students that were further beyond the rest. Turns out, the student I thought to be the most experienced in English, Chant La, who saved me in lesson #1, is just really quick at figuring out how to say what I want to hear. She listens well, repeats well and remembers. But in the end, if a student doesn’t understand, those other elements don’t quite matter. It certainly is a good starting point. So, even though week one flew by with flying colors (quite literally, as I taught them all the colors of the rainbow and beyond), it became quite clear that these kids really don’t know any English and I have to start from scratch. Now, that is a lot of pressure.
Another interesting element in my classroom is their full time teacher, Asak—a beautiful, sweet and well educated Cambodian that teaches them every subject but English six days a week. She has been helping me translate a lot of my instruction (as best she can), but I haven’t decided if this is a good or bad thing. For now, I like it because I think I would have trouble moving the lesson along without a little help. But for the future, the kids might use that translation as a crutch. Time will tell. I think Asak (who only knows a tiny bit of English), likes the English lessons as well.
Luckily, I have found a great resource online, ESLKidsStuff.com, which provides some incredibly simple, but effective lesson plans as well as class materials like flashcards, homework, downloadable songs, etc. Of course, no lesson plan could ever be set in ink, but it offers me a really good starting point. For instance, these students barely have access to basic clothes so doing an activity that requires anything with scissors, glue, tape and beyond is simply out of the question. Turns out, there is a lot you can pull of with chalk, markers, a simple ball and a jump rope.
They also really enjoyed when I brought my entire wardrobe to class (including a pair of men's underwear I stole from the hostel's lost and found) to go over clothing vocabulary.
Next week, we’ll get a bit more grammatical. Until then, see ya later! Oh yeah, and chime in with comments if you have ANY advice.