Monday, 11 April 2016

First day of school in Phobjika, Bhutan

Whenever I go to a new country and learn a new language, I feel like a child. People are so patient, and not condescending at all, but it feels like they are the adults teaching me and I am a little kid. That feeling is intensified here in Bhutan because I needed help getting dressed this morning and, several times during the day, teachers would adjust my shirt and jacket.

I took half a Diamox with breakfast and it improved my outlook on life immeasurably. Karma drove us up to the school and we met with the principal and we talked about what we would be doing.

Mondays start with a whole school assembly, where we were introduced, then Karma took us up to the teachers' room. They made two desks available for us and the IT teacher was just fixing the school's wifi. Their receiver had been struck by lightning and someone had come up to fix it over the weekend. The school has wifi. Teachers are not supposed to use wifi on their phones during the school day, but they are allowed to use their laptops.

We watched the principal teach 6B (12yo) in the morning. He was really good, did all the 'elicit prior knowledge', 'connect what they are learning to what they know', and he taught with gusto.

I was pretty fired up after that and came up with a number of ideas about what and how to teach.

The male teachers sit around the enclosed fire in the teachers' room, I think the female teachers mostly hang out down stairs in the stationary storeroom. We sat up stairs too and made polite conversation. One of the teachers sitting opposite me had his feet up on the guard around the fire, which meant I had full view of his pinstripe yellow boxers.

The school has become a 'central' school, which means it is fully funded by the government. All stationary supplies and books are paid for, and the students' uniforms and shoes and books are paid for and every student gets lunch for free and, based on today, it is hot and delicious. (Incidentally, none of the food has been particularly hot since that first day). If they are eligible to attend the boarding house (which has to do with a combination of age (they have to be at least 9 or 10) and how far away they live. The school has around 500 students from age 6-16 and 100 or so boy boarders and 150 or so girl boarders.

In the afternoon I went to see 'Life Skills' taught to 4B. Their level of English was much lower than 6B, so I rapidly revised my ideas about what and how to teach. I am also super impressed about the amount of improvement between the two years. The teachers here are doing amazing work. They are worried about the level of technology they have, but I think they should also really value the fact that they are teaching really well. From what I have observed so far, they are all excellent teachers doing all the things good teachers are supposed to do (supporting their students' learning, giving them solutions for what to do when they are having problems, building good relationships with the students, doing pre-reading activities)

After school there was a meeting with the English teachers to assign classes to my travelling companion and I. They gave us one class from each 'section' from level 2 to level 9, which comes to 8 classes each over the week, plus we will take some substitute classes, plus after school everyday for 30 minutes. Which is a lot less than I was expecting, but I'm worried how to make this a worthwhile experience for the students and teachers here.

I got a local sim for my phone, but we are so far out of the way up here, that the reception is very poor. I am trying to look at fb, but the blue bar is going only halfway across, no matter how hard I stare at it.


Birgit said...

And so it begins :-)
Hopefully as you spend more time with your classes, you will have less time around the travelling companion.
How big are the classes? I assume they are co-ed or are there separate classes for boys and girls?
Have you been given some sort of curriculum or is it really all up to you?

Ceels said...

The smallest class I've seen so far was 4th grade English with 25 students and the largest I've seen was 9th grade Physics with 34 students. There are 3 classes at year 9 level, so there must be quite a few students at that level.

The classes are all co ed and most are taught in English, the standard increases dramatically through the years so I think the teachers here are doing an amazing job. I think the problems are similar to those that face Australian teachers, not enough time, not enough teachers, having to teach outside your subject area to make up a shortfall, a lot of content to get through, a lot of interruptions through the school year that make it hard to get through the content, how to help the struggling kids, how to challenge the kids who are finding it easy. But they have further challenges of remoteness and resources and teaching in two languages.

I'm thinking a lot about what I can offer that they don't already know. They've got all the obvious skills and techniques a teacher needs to have, so I'm wondering if ideas for different activities to add to what they already have would be a good idea. Lots of thinking to do.

I can either run my own curriculum for the students or work in with what they already have. I'm thinking of using the materials they already have and trying to bring new ideas is the most useful thing to do because it means the students won't get behind and it fits in with what they already know.

Birgit said...

That sounds like an interesting challenge Ceels. I recall being very impressed with PEEL (Program to Enhance Effective Learning) when I was still teaching. I'm sure you'll be a great inspiration to your students and fellow teachers.
Malcolm is keen to hear about you playing the ukulele for your students.