Lessons from Students [Part 1]
Staff English- Teacher Sopha
I teach 4 hours of English to two Khmer colleagues a week. No matter what lesson plan I make, Teacher Sopha ends up dictating what we learn. Countable and uncountable nouns? How about irregular plural nouns instead. This week, his interjections were welcome when instead of an hour of grammar; we discussed an hour of world history.
It all started with “what does ‘ie’ mean?” “It means id est, which ‘that is’ in Latin.” (Thanks Google). That brought us to Sanskrit, what is the oldest language in the world? What/who is Latin America? Why are the US, Canada, Mexico, China, and Russia such big countries? Why is English a worldwide language? How did the US become a hegemony after WWII, how other nations gain control of others, weapons, environment, and to Cambodia’s own internal strife.
In April, we are going on a class trip to Mondol-Kiri. All I ever hear about this province is that there are jungles, animals, and jungle people. Sopha informed me that there are big conflicts between the Khmer government and the people of Mondol-Kiri because so many Khmer people like to visit the “monkey people” and that those who live in MK don’t want to be seen like that. They want to be modern. This is causing a lot of tension and also contributing to a loss of traditional culture and dialect. It was a great lesson, not only because I was able to skip grammar, but also because we both learned something.
Intermediate English- Chamreoun
I teach 4 hours of English a week to Chamreoun. She’s 15-16ish, and she’s a quintessential teenager. She worries about pimples, hair, make up, loves to talk about boys, her body. She’s moody, funny, and always up for gossip. My first hour with her was about the conditional tense- will and would. What would you do if you won the lotto? First we calculated $5,000,000 into riel (20,000,000,000 riel). Then we played accounting- $3,000,000 to her family, $20,000 to travel the world, $50,000 to start her own hotel, $20,000 to start her own restaurant, $30,000 to various NGO’s, $1,000 to clothes… she was having so much fun doling out her money. When she finished she still had $837,500 left over, she just say there with a big smile, truly excited about all her left over fake money.
The second hour it was clear “reviewing” was going to take the backseat. She started telling me about boys who have broken hearts, who she loves, the other students and who they are dating, who is rich, who lives at an NGO. I wanted to be part of the gossip, so I told her I had this friend from who that I love, but I don’t think loves me. I asked her, what should do I do? “Oh, well you should tell him you know a girl who loves him, and then say you can’t tell him who, and he’ll really want to know, and you can finally tell him on his birthday. But you should hurry or he might meet another girl before you come home.” I enjoyed this lesson, because that is the advice I would have given if I were in middle school.
Grade Seven- Sari
I teach 4 hours a week of English to 9 girls in grade seven. They call themselves “S-9” because all nine of them have names that start with the letter S. Class is always a riot. The sillier the better.
Sari is consistently first or second best in the class. She sits in the back row, absorbs 96% of what I say, and I can often look to her to explain something to the rest of the class. She’s responsible, bright, and respectful. She’s the girl who teaches her sister karate at 5am every morning, has a sister who works at karaoke, and had a mom with a drinking problem.
Two weeks ago, Sari’s mom passed away. Sari was at school the next day. Visibly in her own world when left alone, she kept a brave face and was still smiling and laughing. Though she fell asleep with her head in my lap when we watched a movie, I was struck by what show she was putting on for the whole school.
I made her a bracelet because I didn’t know what else to do- my attempt at saying something turned into a hand squeeze where she couldn’t meet eye contact. Four days later, I sat next to her at soccer practice. She was silent and finally turned to me and said, “what would you do? If you were me. Would you live with your sister or your aunt?”
The predicament is that the school wants her to live with her aunt and uncle, but Sari wants to live with her older and younger sister. Her older sister works at karaoke (not good) and works at night. I told Sari, the easy choice would be to live with her aunt, and the hard choice would be her sister. When Sari started to defend her position, I continued, “But, sisters are sisters, and that’s your family. I think you have made your decision and no one can change it for you. You’re a very smart girl, you’ll make the right choice.”