Bootcamp Blog 6 – John Mills

Posted by on Feb 7, 2013 in English Boot Camp 2013 | 0 comments

Last week’s lessons I think went very well.  A challenge in some ways as about 80% of the Cambodian Teachers have returned for a second year meaning a lot of new material was required however the other 20% could have really used some of last years work to bring them up to speed. There are also a high percentage of the new teachers whose English is so basic they are struggling to understand the lessons. Herein lies the overall problem and the reason we are here in the first place.  These teachers are standing in front of their classes teaching their pupils a language they cannot speak even to a basic level.  The same errors in pronunciation and grammar and being passed from teacher to pupil, year after year, generation of new teachers to generation of new pupils. The standard state text books are 15 years old and riddled with errors.  Correcting errors that are effectively state approved is no easy task. So we are facing a situation where English is being taught by teachers many of whom have never heard English spoken.

We are now in to the second week of the English Bootcamp. We had the weekend off which was needed to refresh our batteries as teaching is tiring enough anywhere but factor in 30 degree plus heat and it starts to take its toll. The weekend wasn’t all play though.  A good few hours were spent revising lesson plans as we now find our week shortened by a state funeral on Friday so the whole country will be in shut down. No idea yet how this will affect our travel back to the U.K. next weekend but for the moment there are more immediate issues to address. Losing a day’s teaching means losing lessons but which ones?  Can we fit in more of the intended lessons or will we have to drop some completely. How can we re-structure so the Cambodian Teachers still get the most out of the shortened week?  By Sunday  we’re fully re-organised.

Today is Monday and having breakfasted with the sun rising over the Mekon I set off on the cycle to the school with the days lessons running through my head and my eyeballs swivelling 360 degrees to stay aware of the traffic that criss-crosses, zig-zags and any number of other hyphenated adjectives probably best left to the imagination. The rules of the road here are simple because there aren’t any, other than a vague pecking order based on vehicle size and expense.  Foreigners are fractionally safer as damaging them inconveniences the local tourist trade. Removing their ability to pay hotel bills and suchlike with a mild case of death is even less popular but of course it relies on someone spotting you’re a foreigner before impact. In England a high visibility jacket would be de rigueur on a bike. Here,  wearing bright yellow pyjamas and Angy Bird slippers would be an almost chameleon like camouflage.

Today Ella and I have decided to run through homophones and common errors.  The intended messages we impart are understood to varying levels due to the mixed ability of the classes. This is a slight departure from our usual Teaching Techniques remit but we feel after the first week it will be a useful class for the teachers and it also ties in nicely with the subjects being covered in today’s Joliphonics classes.  As we run through the day we receive at various points a mixture of smiles, blank stares,  laughter,  correct answers, completely random answers,  a barrage of questions and an almost constant low hum of Cambodian whispering as the more advanced teachers try to give hints to the lesser able ones.  One thing I’m finding hard not to smile at is the random calling out of either ‘Shake Shake’ or ‘Chelsea’. Throwbacks from an earlier lesson, these are sometime dropped in to conversation or just appear anonymously from the depths of the class in a puzzling but very endearing way, usually followed by either stifled giggles or repetition by the whole class. Cambodian teachers here are not used to humour or any departure from learning by disciplined rote in their classes and it sometimes feels they are trying humour out for the first time like a child testing the limit to find out what’s acceptable.  We on the other hand try to encourage personality, humour, surprise and innovation as teaching aids in our classes. As the saying goes  ‘if you’re not having fun, you ain’t got a show’.  How many people reading this still recite the alphabet with the tune we learnt as children running through our heads? In Cambodia there isn’t a tune. Not yet anyway. I like to feel we are changing that teacher by teacher.

We end the day as always with one on one conversation sessions. As much as I enjoy the classes this is my favourite time of the day. As well as giving the chance for personal interaction and tuition it also throws up a fascinating insight in to the Cambodian psyche and way of life. I could easily write an entire chapter or two on this, there’s possibly a whole book in there somewhere however I have imposed on your time long enough and the hour is late.  The sooner to bed the sooner to rise and having typed this up I can’t wait for tomorrow.








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