March 19, 2010

Living the dream, soul-searching and other cliches

For now, I'm living the dream. At least that's what I told students this morning when we were taking turns asking “If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?” I explained that I am already in Cambodia—my answer to that question. Riding to school in the afternoon on a rickety Chinese bike, I feel like I'm in a movie. The dusty sunset against Phnom Penh's hustle and bustle seems too foreign to be part of my daily routine. Every day I have the same surreal feeling. Am I really here?

At the moment, sitting on the balcony, Khmer karaoke music swirling around, the week has caught up to me. It has been tough on my inner teacher. My Advanced Discussion hasn't gone like I envisioned and my night classes are difficult to manage. Slumped in the tuk tuk this morning, I felt defeated; like I was the worst teacher ever. A few unsuccessful lessons in a row can do that. Blank stares and chirping crickets are not encouraging.

After some intense soul-searching at the gym and several long talks with old friends and my volunteer colleagues, I've diagnosed some of the issues ailing my classes. First, I need to have a clear idea of what I want from students—otherwise, if I don't know, how the heck will they know what I want? I need to plan thoroughly and model the exercises. Second, I need to be an assertive teacher. But most importantly, I need to teach what I know! My two mottoes at the Writing Center were keep it short and simple, and write what you know. I've been doing neither of those here. I am a writer-- I need to use that to my advantage in the classroom. In the morning, I did a current events activity in which students read and listened to a Jena-fied version of a newspaper article about vocational training for inmates. A big success. In another class, I had students imagine their dream jobs and write a paragraph. They enjoyed the activity, it kept my classroom orderly, and many of them volunteered to read and discuss about their jobs afterward (a true miracle).

Contrary to my initial plan of catering to students, I am going to take advantage of my specific skills and education. More writing for me and the students, and definitely more discussion about current events. I miss you, CNN.

As I live the dream, I get to impose some of that of my students--how convenient!