I felt quietly confident I could teach…Children, In Melbourne, & with the internet, interactive whiteboards, air conditioning and projectors…

This guest post is by Lindsay Holt and shares insights into teaching in Laos.  Lindsay is a recently graduated Primary Teacher with a Bachelor in Arts majoring in Sociology and Anthropology. She is fascinated with the constructed space of the classroom and the context surrounding it, wherever it may be. Lindsay is currently exploring the linear space between graduating and post-grad studies by teaching in Luang Prabang, Laos. You can follow Lindsay on Twitter @Lindsay_D_H

Luang Prabang, Laos (L.Holt, 2013)
Luang Prabang, Laos (L.Holt, 2013)

Reflections on exploring the space of teaching

Having recently completed a university year learning how to teach at La Trobe University in conjunction with the Charles La Trobe College Graduate Program at Olympic Village I felt quietly confident I could teach. Children. In Melbourne. Who have access to the internet, interactive whiteboards, air conditioning and projectors.

To mark the finale of ‘the five year plan’ (become a teacher) I wanted to celebrate by going on an adventure, dusting off the passport and embracing the unfamiliar; teaching english in a foreign country. I find myself now in the beautiful city of Luang Prabang with two classes. The first class I teach is with another Australian to Level 2 Lao adult students (we teach together in the morning and the same lesson but separately in the evening), and the second class I team teach is with a German to Lao Novices ages 11-18.

Novice classroom (L.Holt, 2013)
Novice classroom (L.Holt, 2013)

After a crash course in how to teach english to Lao students, we were thrown in the deep end, five hours teaching plus planning per day- felt just like placement just without the behaviour issues, and without the resources. This is what I imagine ‘old school’ teaching was really like, students in rows at desks, drilling words, copying from the board and the teacher doing most of the talking. It’s a stark contrast to the classrooms of Melbourne. I have really had to approach this with an open mind. I am not here to change the system but to experience a totally foreign one and hopefully help some students engage with the subject.

My first unsupervised lesson (ever) was teaching ‘idioms’ to wide eyed, very confused adults. I have learnt that ‘kick the bucket’ is much more complicated to articulate than I thought and that ‘What’s up?’ does not translate from NYC to LPB. It was fun and we all had a good laugh, but it was definitely a challenge.

LPB Interactive Whiteboard (L.Holt, 2013)
LPB Interactive Whiteboard (L.Holt, 2013)

Teaching Novice Monks has been a truly fascinating experience. As a female teacher there are many rules by which both they and I must follow as part of their Buddhist training. This includes not touching, directly passing, pointing, standing over or generally being too close to any of the Novices. A hard task in any room let alone a room half the size of an average Melbourne classroom, one whiteboard, two teachers, 24 Novices and one dog having a nap. They are incredibly motivated though. Becoming a Novice is still considered a rite of passage for many young Buddhists. It is also a great way for the young men (many still boys) to access formal education, particularly those from rural areas where it can take hours to walk to the nearest school.

Novice classroom + dog (L.Holt, 2013)
Novice classroom + dog (L.Holt, 2013)

I arrived into the class just in time for ‘classroom commands’- a favorite of mine as it meant I could introduce the students to “Novice Says”. This allows the braver students to take control of the directions, and gets everyone up and actively engaged.

For more reflections stay turned for my next post about education development in Laos, grassroots to BINGOs.

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