Finally, a blog about teaching…
To sum it up in a word: challenging.
The first week there were a few hairy moments (getting bitten, being hit in the face) when I thought we should hop on the first plane home.
Then a child does something wonderful, like singing the song we just taught, and suddenly I realised that some of them were actually listening and learning and enjoying the lessons!
We teach grades 1 , 2 and 5 (with a couple of 9 and 10 classes) at Welhengoda. At Mihirpenna we teach grade 1 to grade 5. Being a teacher here is a lot like acting on stage or being a clown, you have to be the biggest most interesting thing in the room or they lose interest. With older students not having the same language is not too much of a barrier as they speak reasonable English. With younger students the language barrier is a big problem. Since you do not speak their language 5 and 6 year olds tend to take it has license to run around crazy.
The second time I took a Grade one class the teacher left the room, the kids promptly went berserk, throwing themselves across desks and being completely uncooperative. We desperately tried to discipline them but they refused to listen to anything we said. So I ran out to get the teacher. She came back, grabbed the boys who were misbehaving and twisted their ears round. We were shocked and had been given our first taste of how Sinhala teachers managed to control unruly children. 10 minutes later a Korean film crew came into the class and started filming us reading where's spot? They were doing an educational video about schools all around the world for Korean children- so in the depths of Korea we may have our 5 minutes of fame!
The next day, more teachers were off, I spent most of one class with one boy trying to persuade him to put his razor blade away (a lot of them use razor blades to sharpen their pencils). In vain I tried to communicate that, no it was not a good idea to attempt to shred the table, his school work and then put it is his mouth for safekeeping.
Luckily the next class were much more sensible and simply ran out of the room when we walked in. We attempted to split the class into girls and boys to teach them separately, the boys used this as an excellent opportunity to run between the classrooms and the playground and simply not go to class at all.
One grade 2 class which are angels when their Sinhala teacher is present started fighting as soon as she left. Two boys seemed to have an ongoing war between each other and I am still unsure whether the strangling was play fighting or not. In the same class I sat down next to one of the girls and she promptly biffed me in the face.
Sometimes it is nice to take a break from teaching the younger classes and so Alan has given us an older class to teach each day. In our attempt to introduce girl's sports to the school, we took the girls outside, it was a success, apart from one girl bursting into tears and refusing to play as she was angry with me
That particular lesson culminated with the boys of the class, chucking a land rover tyre at my legs, I managed to stay upright and did the absolutely mature thing by picking it up and confiscating it by lugging it out of the classroom in a huff.
One of the reasons we still enjoy teaching is that 90% of the children have endless enthusiasm and love our lessons. It's so lovely to walk into the classes as the children normally leap up and shout good morning , some drag us into the classroom with excited looks on their faces, others come up and sing to us the songs we have taught. We can often be seen leaving Mihiripenna with 5 children on each arm all yammering away in Sinhala and occasional words of English in an attempt to impress us.
Although I have become slightly reluctant to hold hands after I was walking along with one girl and she smiled adoringly up at me, and then bit my hand.
Our favourite school is Mihiripenna which is a much smaller than Welhengoda. The headmaster positively welcomed us into his office, he seemed a lovely man who was anxious to make us at home in the school. As he was talking to us in walked a teacher with a child. The child was standing with an insolent look on its face, the teacher was angry. The headmaster then gave the child a long and angry talking too, the child did not say anything but started to cry gently. The headmaster worked himself up into a fury; he produced a wooden stick from the top of his cupboard. Erin and I were unsure what to do, sitting there frozen by lack of understanding and a mixture of shame and embarrassment; wishing there was something we could do. The headmaster advanced towards the boy barking in Sinhala, when he still received no response, he whipped him across the stomach until the boy mumbled an apology. The boy was left sitting in a chair in the corner; in his pride trying to pretend he was not crying. Erin and I were sitting stunned. The headmaster seeing the look of shock, explained that he only used corporal punishment as a last resort. He pointed at the boy exclaiming that he is a very naughty boy, his parents had both deserted him as a child and the school needed to teach him discipline. I wanted to reach over and break the headmaster's stick in half.
All the clubs have been banned, our newly hatched badminton and Frisbee, the boy's cricket and rugby, the art club (can't say I was too upset about that!). At first we thought it was a personal vendetta against us by the headmaster but it turns out we have been forbidden as we are not on the government pay roll. This is because of a rape which occurred after school somewhere in Sri Lanka, the British equivalent would be if all after school clubs were cancelled in Edinburgh, because someone had been raped after school in York. But we're hoping to start them up again soon, and I really want to start a choir with one of the boys, so if anyone musical has tips and suggestions please email!
Isurani and Kalpa
They are two girls who we have been giving English tuition too and who have become firm friends. Because clubs are banned we went to Kalpa's house to have our English tuition on Tuesday, and we met again on Friday for a general chat! We laughed played card games, they taught us some Sinhala and we taught them charades!
Last Tuesday we were exploring the local area and we met Kalpa who invited us around to her aunt's house, where she was going to wash. We arrived and after saying how much we enjoyed well washes, were issued with sheets and towels and had an incredibly refreshing wash. They then showed us the different fruit and vegetables around the garden that they use for everything, from food, to cleaning nails and teeth!
World Children's day and World teacher's day
Two Fridays ago was World Children's day, the children came in their best dresses and skirts and we were treated to a 2 and a half hour performance from various grades, dancing in traditional dress, singing etc. Afterwards the children dragged us out onto the playing field where we taught them duck duck goose and played for hours.
Then last Thursday, we arrived in school to find it was World teacher's day, which is the day students worship and thank their teachers . We were treated to a lovely meal, then taken downstairs to watch another 2 and half hour performance by the children. Erin fell asleep during the performance which caused great hilarity to the other teachers! (although to be fair to her I'm pretty sure all the dances were the same as children's day).
Afterwards we were forced onto the stage with the rest of the teachers to sing a Sinhala song, not knowing the words but pushed to the front of the group we tried not to giggle as two grade 1's had an intense fight with their bunches of flowers, while their friend steadily ate the beadle leaf he was supposed to give his teacher. Afterwards we were given flowers, plaques and beadle leaves by the children which was lovely!
During the week we went to a big girls party-which is when a girl has her first period- she is not allowed out of the house for a month, and then all her family and friends come to celebrate and have a HUGE party! It was enjoyable although slightly awkward experience.
We also went to the lovely teacher Lakshmee's birthday party, which was in her cabbana on rumasala hill. She taught us how to make Crocis, which is basically deep fried pancake mix. The proper Sri Lankan way, outside on brick over a fire made from coconut leaves- it was delicious!
Last weekend we spent the weekend in Unawatuna and Galle, visiting Galle fort, meeting new people and preparing lessons for last week. This weekend we went to Mihirissa, an amazing town an hour bus journey away. We arrived and were wondering around looking for accommodation when a tuk tuk driver offered to let us sleep in the tree house he had built in his garden. We thought it was a brilliant idea, sleeping in a mango tree house, the steps were treacherous, but the inside was nice.
We spent a lovely afternoon chilling in Mirrissa, then in the evening stayed up til- phew at least 9:30! That night the neighbourhood dogs had a vicious and sustained fight on the road outside. Later it started raining, the rain pouring in through the homemade roof, so that everything got very wet. The weekend culminated the next morning when sitting having breakfast I got pooed on by a bird.
Today is Poya day, full moon, which has religious significance to Buddhist and means a holiday for everyone! We are going to learn how to make polsambol with kalpa and isurani and then they are taking us to the temple.
Hopefully talk to you soon,
Lots of love,