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A brief insight into volunteering as an English teacher

English is my mother tongue… there I was, thinking it can’t be that difficult to teach English to willing, cheerful Cambodian children. After all they’ve cycled or walked many miles just to be here.

So why was I so petrified on my first day??? Perhaps the look of expectation from 35 pairs of gorgeous brown eyes and the equally nervous smiles from their faces weighed heavy. But we soon established that their existing handful of English words were far better than my few Khmer phrases and I had them giggling as I tried to pronounce each of their names. The ice was well and truly broken and we never looked back.

I had the pleasure of teaching at three SCC schools; Sway Dong Kum; Krorsang Rolerng and Khnar. There were many wonderful days which always began with a 40 minute cycle through stunning countryside. During my time in Siem Reap I got to see the this change from lush fertile fields to a dusty brown landscape as the seasons moved on. There were always plenty of hellos along the way, on some days this might be over 50 times and on occassion I wasnt even sure where the little “hello” came from up, possibly up a tree or in a water channel!

In school

In the first few weeks I think I spent more time preparing lessons than I did in the classroom. But as time went by everything got easier and I could plan a lesson in 10 minutes. Props like maps, menus, brochures and magazines proved invaluable to make lessons interesting and interactive. And of course the internet is a wonderful thing.

One of my most memorable lessons was the day we learnt about body parts and finished with different types of hair. Now you need to consider that all Cambodian girls have beautiful long straight black hair and all the boys have short black hair and everyone has dark brown eyes. A bit limiting when ├┐ou want to test listening comprehension by saying stand up “if you have blue eyes” … doesn’t work! So with the aid of some great magazine pages I slowly revealed pictures of Gwyneth Paltrow with long blonde hair and other models with short red hair etc. The children thought these were amazing, but the greatest reaction occurred when I put up a page of a model with completely curly hair. I swear some of them had never seen anything like it and were thoroughly amused.

Every single week was so rewarding as I gradually got to widen the knowledge of these keen and eager students. Saying goodbye was always going to be difficult but we made up for that by devoting the last few lessons to playing games. In fact the last “lesson” at each of my 5 classes was a game of Snakes and Ladders. In one case I drew the board out on the floor of the classroom; it took me over an hour but the results were well worth it. Dividied into teams the children first had to get a question correct before they were allowed to throw the giant dice (a discarded and transformed motorbike helmet box). Of course we also practised counting and the words “‘up”and “down”. I have never heard so much noise from 35 children when a team landed on a snake……….possibly one of the funniest times in the classroom.

It is difficult to be brief about such an amazing and enormous experience – every day taught me new things and every smile felt like I’d won the lottery. I look back now and can’t believe how scared I was but it was the best fear I have ever faced and I would highly recommend it.

Posted in Diary.

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