Wednesday, November 3, 2010

First Week of School

So after a month of training, a week of observation and then another two weeks of holiday, this week I began teaching at Shree Udaya Kharka School.

How did it go? Well, to start out with, this week was atypical because two of my three counterpart teachers were gone for the week. So I taught class 5, 7, 8, and 9 alone. I also taught impromptu 'guest lectures' to class 10 because the students requested it of me - when a teacher is absent at this school the students end up just sitting in that class alone for the whole period. Apparently I was more entertaining than staring at a blank whiteboard, so that's encouraging.

It is much, much easier to teach alone than it is to teach as a team. When I am alone in a class I can come up with my own lesson plan and follow it through - sometimes I can even speak in Nepali if its needed. But with another teacher I have to negotiate what my responsibilities are beforehand. And this can range from sitting in the back of the class and helping the teacher pronounce words to teaching lessons. Many teachers do not prepare lesson plans because they are teaching directly from the government textbook. But this more difficult work of negotiating with the teachers in the classroom is more important; I am here to be an English language resource.

The classes are usually about 40 students. For the first day in classes 7, 8, and 9 I had each student fill out a flashcard with their name, their village, and the languages they speak. This allowed me to start learning names and lead into a short lesson on adjectives but it also gave me some useful information about the students.

About 50% of the students wrote that they speak Tamang, 10% speak Newari, and a few speak other local languages. Most say that they speak Hindi and about a third say that they speak English. Most wrote two languages, either "Nepali and English" or "Nepali and Tamang" (if they wrote down a local language, they were generally less likely to also write down English). Some wrote three, four, or five languages. One student claimed to speak six: Nepali, English, Hindi, Newari, Tamang, and Pahari. So there should be a lot of interesting challenges.

In Nepal students show a lot of respect to teachers and stand up in front of the class whenever they are called on, so they tend to be very shy when they do answer. They are generally not used to volunteering unless they are the top students in the class, and generally two or three students seem to be way ahead of everyone else. It is often very difficult to choose a random student and coax them into any sort of response. When you intentionally speak only English and they do not understand immediately, other students will yell out Nepali translations. There is no culture of raising your hand to volunteer an answer, and so I played a game with a few classes where they all had to raise their hand if they lived in a certain village or spoke a certain language or had been to a certain destination, to get people used to the idea. The stand-up sit-down move-around games were the most successful, but they are really only appropriate for the younger classes. 

The teachers have been very welcoming. We have an opportunity to talk during the tiffin break. Tiffin corresponds to lunchtime but consists of a smaller snack, the two main meals of the day being eaten at around 9:00 AM and then again in the evening (which is very difficult to get used to because I am never hungry in the mornings). During tiffin, I often go out with the teachers to a local tea shop and eat spiced potatoes and beaten rice and drink tea. Every day I am planning on learning a new sentence in either Tamang or Newari. I've already been taught the lyrics to the Nepali national anthem, a popular folk song, and a popular Nepali rap song entitled Timro Babu (Your Daddy).

So the week was a qualified success. There were quite a few frustrations and more than a couple awkward pauses in front of a silent classroom. We'll see how it goes when my two other counterpart teachers return.

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