I Never Would Have Guessed

It’s been a minute since I talked about actually teaching. To bring you up to speed/remind you, a teacher at Sovann Komar went on maternity leave earlier than anticipated. I was given her English class to teach for three hours each afternoon. 18 boys. 5 girls. All 5-7 years old. Ironically this was also the class I had bonded with the least. I taught them the same amount of time that I taught the other classes.. something just didn’t click. I was pretty terrified to take them on full time.

I’ve now been teaching the cuties (or monsters, it all depends on the moment) for 5 weeks. I think. Really not sure about that. BUT, I can safely, confidently, 100% say that I love them. I absolutely love them. Shocked I’m typing it, but it’s the truth.

Starting out was pretty rough. I couldn’t really discipline or control them because the language barrier was too strong. On top of that if I WERE to get upset with them, I wouldn’t be able to tell them what they did wrong. That drives me nuts. I didn’t see a point in getting upset when nothing would change because I literally couldn’t explain what they needed to change. My teaching assistant is a wonderful woman who also doesn’t speak much English. Often times she takes care of the disciplining, but it’s somewhat unnerving not understanding what’s happening. Regardless, I had no idea how anything was going to work.

Step one was to learn names. Names might be my biggest issue here. I cannot pronounce anything correctly, and they all sound so similar to me. It was especially hard when I was going between so many classes, but once I had a constant group- I was determined. The first week I tried to understand what they were saying when I asked each child what their name was. They were either so quiet, said their surname as well, or just didn’t speak clearly enough for me to understand. The only way to learn how to say things here for me is to have them written in English. I had the principal come in and write all of the kids’ names on their activity books. I then took a picture of each child and wrote their name onto the picture. I’m actually really excited to have all of those pictures with me forever. Naturally they all did some ridiculous pose; it shows their personalities. I love it. And I know all of their names now. (It’s a much larger victory for me than I’m making it out to be.) Chill.

I quickly discovered sitting and listening wasn’t going to fly for the cuties/monsters. They’re young. They don’t want to stay in one spot, and I am actually very ok with that. I wouldn’t have liked that style of learning either. When they start to move around a lot or talk with each other I have them stand up and do some kind of dance. “Head, shoulders, knees and toes” is a good one, as is “The Hokey Pokey”.. I’ll have to video tape it. They’re so funny. I also taught them “Dah Jellyfish” which is a song from the summer camp I work at. Somehow they end up falling during every song. Every song. Whatever, it gets them more focused. Have I mentioned how hilarious they are..

I also play a lot of games. They get really determined to know things when winning (+ a high five) is on the line. I play a lot of racing games where they have to get to a certain flashcard first, or where they have to hop on one foot to a specific colored mat. Issues arise when I have played someone more than once. Everyone runs towards me and starts kid-yelling in Khmer. It’s precious.

Now that I’ve had them for a bit, I know how each of them works. I know who is way ahead and who won’t understand what. I like that. I never thought about how it would feel starting to individually understand students’ abilities but it makes me feel like we’re one big team. I’m constantly rooting for them, and there is a small connection in understanding how they operate. I’m acutely aware of what questions go to whom, and I try to help as much or as little as possible depending on the student.

We went swimming on Wednesday, and if I thought I had seen them excited before I was very wrong. They were CRAZY, even more so than usual. I tried to control them but honestly, I was laughing too hard- which just reinforced whatever ridiculous thing they were doing. I’m the worst. It was happiness in its purest form. There were two rectangular inflatable pools and some plastic balls and they could not have had more fun. It was really cool to watch- not only because they were having the best time in the world, but also because I had originally been so scared to take them on. The class I thought I liked the least is now MY class…. and I love each of those little goons. I never ever ever thought I would enjoy having this class like I do, and that in itself has been a pretty cool lesson.

Above all, this has made me crazy excited to get back to the U.S. and talk with kids in English again. I want to get to know my goons here so much more than I can because of the language at this point. I’m not going to take the ability to know a kid’s favorite color for granted ever again.
Great news though, I started taking Khmer lessons. So maybe, MAYBE…. I can start to learn more about them. And also communicate with my assistant. Ideal.

Everything is going swell, guys! Thanks for reading. The photos are hilaaaaarious, check ‘em out.

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