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9 Jun 2011

Working hard - finally!

It's an extremely hot Thursday lunch time and Sam is making the most of our long break by reading in the hammock. I, however, want to blog about the amazing week I have had at work. In the beginning, things at work were very slow and I found it quite hard especially as I missed teaching so much. I still do miss it but now I get to visit schools and think about ideas for lessons which I am loving. I came back from my 2 months of sick leave a bit worried that my office may have forgotten about me but it seems that the opposite has happened. I was welcomed back excitedly and suddenly given a counter-part to work with from the primary office at the POE (Provincial Office of Education). It appears VSO had had an Employers workshop while I was in Bangkok and my partner organiation now have a much better idea of how to work with a volunteer. I also realised that all those months that I spent doing what I felt was 'nothing' was actually a really important time in terms of relationship building and learning about education in Cambodia. I now know a lot of people in the education world of Kratie town from attending numerous workshops and ceremonies.

A combination of having a counter-part and speaking more Kmai has meant that great things are now happening for me. On Tuesday morning, me, Chhay (my assistant) and Soknan (my counter-part) woke up early to leave Kratie at 6am for an observation of Kmai Literacy in grade 1 in one of my target schools just over an hour away in Chhlong district.

The raising of the flag ceremony that every school does every day. It is the first time I have seen it.

We arrived on time and observed the lesson then had rice and pork together for breakfast as we discussed the lesson. This was incredibly useful for me as I learnt loads about ways to give feedback in Cambodia. I wanted to have a one-one with the teacher but apparently this is not the way it is done here. In Cambodia, feedback is given with the teacher, the school director and anyone else who wants to take part. At first this made me feel uncomfortable for the teacher but he seemed perfectly happy sitting next to the school director who took notes on my feedback.

Here we all are: Soknan is sitting opposite me, the teacher has already left but was sitting next to her, the other lady is the deputy director and opposite her is a man from admin.

Me and Soknan had discussed the lesson and had decided what feedback we wanted to give together. She is really open to learning some new ideas for grade 1 and liked my suggestions of games and activities for pairs and groups and always adds her opinion and ideas to my suggestions. In the second school, Soknan gave the feedback to the teacher after we observed the Maths lessons. We had a lot of the same ideas about things and I supported the ideas with examples of how it could be done differently (for example, instead of slamming a stick down on the table, could the teacher trying clapping a rhythm to get the children's attention!? Soknan agreed this would be much better).

A Literacy lesson

The next day we were all up early again to catch the boat to the island for another grade 1 observation. After giving the feedback to the teacher, we had a meeting with the school director about supporting the school with books for the library as this year we have some additional funding for small projects. Suddenly, the primary advisor from the DOE (District Office of Education) arrived and took part in the meeting too. He had some really interesting ideas and lots of experience about the other school in the Kratie city district. He has also decided he wants to attend the next two observations we have in 2 weeks time at the 2 other target schools. I am feelng so happy and excited that we can all work together and that hopefully this will be sustainable after I leave. I was feeling a bit worried as building the capacity of the teachers is good but if no one else continues that work then eventually it will fizzle out. This way the POE and DOE are involved together.

An example of a library in the school opposite my office.

As my Kmai is now good enough to have conversations (and teach the teachers in my office English) it feels like I'm having a massive breakthrough in relationships at work. I can now have long chats with people and even though I don't understand everything, I can manage to maintain them for much longer than before. It means that I don't need to wait for Chhay to be at the office to get work done. This morning, I discussed the differences between pre-school in Cambodia and in England and went to the market with Soknan to buy resources for activities at the schools. She then took me round the practice school attached to the Teacher Training College as it is a 'model school' to look at how they make their displays there.

Ideas for displays

After drinking a sugar cane juice drink together we went back to the office and made a 'good sitting' poster to support the teacher who normally uses a stick. We hope the pictures of good listening, good sitting etc and lots of praise will help the children behave without the threat of a stick. I found the pictures, backed them onto the poster and now Soknan will write the words in Kmai to go with it.

Soknan showed me resources she has made for grade 1 when she worked at the Teacher Training College which are being used in the practice school

I feel like I'm just about bursting with all the possibilties this brings and am so happy to be busy and working well with other people. The next few months will be busy as there are a lot of workshops and activities planned from the funding and I'm also going to be visiting my schools as often as possible. I'm teaching English twice a week which has also made a difference to my relationships and I wish I'd done it sooner although my Kmai may not have been good enough before. I've also just started teaching English in an orphanage with one of the new Japanese volunteers. All of that and my course is going to keep me super busy which is great - finally!

Grade 1 at the model school

One of my target schools

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