20 September, 2010

I don’t like…

How to describe the feeling today...

I teach English once a day. This class is not mandatory for the children; I would rather a class of 5 who want to be there than a class of 20 who don’t care. Over the weeks, the class has dwindled down…the newness of “Melinda” is over. I guess they have figured out that they don’t need to come to a specified class to see me be silly or to hear my accent as I try to pronounce their names or other Khmer words which I totally screw up.

 The class regulars are boys; four teenagers, a three year old, a five year old and a six year old. I continue to have this love/hate relationship with teaching. I dread it all day and usually wait until someone finds me and asks “Melinda Anglais today?” Cambodia was a French colony so they still use the French form on English; Anglais (on-glay). I usually sigh and say “Yes Anglais today”.

The crazy thing is that the class is not difficult to prepare for; nor do I. The kids understand spoken English very well. They older ones speak it pretty good. They have never really learned how to read and write it though. After a couple of days of blank stares, I realized they had no idea what I was writing on the white board. They had no idea how to even sound out words- even as simple as CAT or BAT. When I tried to sound it out for them “buh” “buh” while pointing to the “B” they yelled out BALL, BROOM, BROWN. A BUH bit BUH bewildered, I pointed to the “T” and said “tuh” “tuh” and again responses TABLE, TOY, TREE were shouted out!

A total revamping on my teaching idea took place.

I went back to my experience teaching in Belize with a kindergartner. A=ah, B=buh, C=kuh, etc. I had the boys repeat each sound after me. It was quiet hilarious to me and I soon realized it was to them as well! That day we just went over and over the sounds and then I had them tell me a word that starts with each letter. Last week we worked slowly on the basics of beginning reading “The fat cat sat on a rat.” “The fat rat ate a cat.” Throwing in having the ‘fat rat’ sit on one of them; with my artistic version of that vision scribbled on the board!

Today: It’s a Monday and super hot – lack of motivation is rampant. I was happy since my normal ‘hesitation’ of class was there. Then I heard Tuon at my window “Melinda Class today?”. Tuon (too-un)…Tuon is asking for class…Tuon??

Tuon’s story is like most here…he is HIV negative but his mother died of the disease after they both came to Wat Opot. By the time they arrived, Tuon (a small 10 yr. old) had been taking care of her and trying to keep her alive. Typical to AIDS patients (not just here but the world over) the family disowned them. Tuon continued to care for his mother at Wat Opot although they had a very difficult relationship. Tuon was born with one bad eye; so only had sight in his left eye. The mother riddled with guilt at the fact that she has brought a ‘damaged’ child into the world and would soon die leaving him alone; caused her to yell and scream at him and he returned this attitude to her. She was in constant pain and he would massage her to relieve the pain; which at first is even more painful, but in the end helps ease her suffering. Finally the day came and she passed on and Tuon became parent-less.

That was 6 years ago. Tuon has since been given a fake eye, to fit in. He has a big heart, but with such a tumultuous background, one wonders what his future holds. He’s not the best at school and would rather not go, so when he wanted to join English class a week ago, I thought, yeah sure he does. He came for 3 days in a row and I started to change my attitude towards his desire for English education. He has to work harder as he can’t see well. I rolled the white board up to the front of the tables (desks) so he could see better. He tries hard and is advancing nicely. He lacks confidence, but is sticking it out right along with the 6 yr. old next to him.

When it ended up only Tuon and I in the classroom on this lazy Monday, I was thrilled. We worked on putting together sentences and spelling out the simple words. He impressed me with his ability to sound the words out only after a short while. We laughed and had fun with it. While he was writing a sentence with his head a couple of inches from his paper so he could see what he is doing; I was overcome with emotion.

What an amazing experience I am having in my life. Such joy to come from one young man struggling to learn. I know my ‘poor me, I have to teach English’ attitude will still be there tomorrow; but maybe, just maybe it will start to fade in time.

The school house at Wat Opot.


Lucy said...

You're a great teacher, Mindy. Inspiring a child (or anyone) to "want" to learn is more important than what you actually teach them.

Melinda said...

Thank you Lucy for your support and words of wisdom! xoxo

Deannahoxie said...

I am so proud to call you my cousin! You are an inspiration! I love the schoolhouse!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Melinda said...

Thank you Deanna! The school house was painted by some of the older students! I'll have to post some closeups, it's amazing!