The long story about why I thought I was done with EARSL...
When my high school career ended, and college began, I thought the things I did would have to be closely related to the career I am interested in. I don't know if I ever mentioned it but I really want to become a doctor. I don't talk about it because wanting to be a doctor falls beautifully into the stereotypical south asian. I don't want people to think that because I want to be a doctor -- every other part of the stereotype also fits me. So I don't talk about it much. I usually dodge the question about what I want to do when I grow up.
I want to be a doctor in Sri Lanka. That is my goal. I would be really happy if that is the way my life leads me. I thought teaching/tutoring would not fit in that path. That said, I did not plan to teach this year.
Unfortunately, my grandmother passed away earlier this year. She was in a very critical condition for 3 years and she passed peacefully. During the funeral, I noticed a large sea of white uniforms coming through the gate. The entire school had come. The entire school came to the funeral. I was touched. Very very touched. I knew then that the connection I had with the school was stronger than I had imagined. I told myself that I had to teach no matter what.
It's just another day...........
Sixth and seventh graders
Eighth and ninth graders
Tenth and eleventh graders
The students who need a little extra from me
There are a few students who need a lot more than most other students. In third grade there is a possibly dyslexic student. I am no doctor but I find it fishy that he writes everything backwards. I wrote him “Bb” Which he wrote as a Bd (but more wonky than this typed version). He writes at a pace a tenth of other students and his writing is little more than illegible. I decided to give him handwritten alphabet practice worksheets. I basically take one of his pages and write
Aa Bb Cc Dd Ee
then I make him rewrite them for practice. He was still have trouble copying cold turkey so I added dotted line versions of the letters for practice too. He loved the dotted lines and requested more. It’s always weird to me when students here beg for work. If I say I am about to leave the classroom they will shout until I agree to give them one or two more vocabulary words. It’s a real trend here — they don’t like to do the work but they will still ask for it.
In the fourth grade classroom I also have a student with different needs. I don’t know what his story is but everyone just says “he is still learning letters”. By that they mean they are still learning Sinhalese letters so I wasn’t sure if he was ready for the English alphabet too. I decided to give him some letters to practice writing anyway.
Finally, I have another special child in the 6th and 7th grade class. She is in 6th grade and had a terrible time keeping up with the rest of the class. At first I thought she was punking me or just not paying attention. With time I realized she was paying attention but it just takes a while for her to register things. I usually have the English on the poster then I go through and translate them so students can write the translation down. Since she needs her own pace, I just put the translations on the posters as well so she can move without the rest of the class. I like it - I wanted to be able to move everyone at the same pace so I had some control over the class but this isn’t that large of a sacrifice and if it helps that girl it is fine with me.
Whew three days in a row is a bit much... I usually do two days a week because a) my lessons are made for two days b) students can handle two days better than three c) I get too tired to do more than two days.
I can honestly say today was not great. I think the 6th and 7th graders really drain me. They are insanely antsy and squirrely... by the middle of the lesson I had to sit down. That's a big deal. I never ever sit down I always stand and walk around and engage with the entire classroom. So just the fact that I sat down really tells me how tired I was.
Another day another set of classes! I went in to the third grade classroom and the teacher was no where to be seen. Not to sound like a broken record but lessons tend to go better for the young ones if the teacher is there. Still, it went pretty well. Once the teacher did come the students really calmed down. My biggest concern is how long the actual lesson took. I am just going to not get too weird about it and calm down and play everything by ear.
The dictation is good because it forces students to work on retention but boy does it take a good chunk of class time. I don't know how good I feel about sacrificing learning time (class time) for dictation tests. I guess it makes sense because it doesn't matter how much information you throw at students if they don't catch on and hold on to any of it.
Sixth and seventh graders
Oof. This class is tough. I literally sat down in this class. I never sit. I think I mentioned all this earlier but I must say it all applies to this class. This class just wears me out. I think one factor could be that there are too many students in the class. Some students truly have no interest in the class. The problem is that I have a hard time telling any student, no matter how unproductive, to not come. At the same time, maybe that is not such a bad thing as the opportunity to learn is then taken from everyone... so then no one learns. It's just that this class is supposed to be open to everyone and showing up in itself is an achievement. Let's just cross our fingers that next week will be better.
Eighth and ninth and tenth and eleventh graders?
Okay so eighth and ninth graders were joined by the next class too. I have no idea why but hey I mean they showed up (100% improvement form yesterday). I placed them in an adjacent classroom with those three girls who were also doing worksheets (for those who are not caught up -- I have three girls who already know my lessons so I got them worksheets instead). It was a challenge trying to teach a class and going over to check answers on the other side. It went okay but whenever I would leave the 8th and 9th graders, all chaos would break loose. One trip to the other classroom gave an eighth grader ample time to rip the pages out of another student's book. I hope the older students do decide to come on time because it would help keep the other class on track. Overall, the eleventh grade students really appreciated the worksheets -- they asked for the book which I happily gave. The ninth graders thought their sheets, which were meant for their grade, to be too hard. The tenth graders found the O/L worksheets too hard so I gave them the ninth grade sheets and they also found it too hard. I guess a challenge is never a bad thing but I am considering looking at some eighth or seventh grade worksheets for next week.
The title is accurate.
Eighth and ninth graders
The 8th and 9th grade class went really well. The lesson was the same as that of the last class but the understanding and overall retention of vocabulary learned throughout the lesson was definitely improved. We played a version of the game Around the World. Two students would stand and I would tell them a vocabulary word in SInhales and the first one to translate it correctly into English wins. The victor stands while the loser sits and different challenger gets up. We had a two time champion, she has come to classes for about two years now so she had an easier time with the lesson. She was defeated in the third round by (wait for it) J. For anyone who has been reading J is one of my worst best students. He has come to classes from the beginning but he hardly learns anything - he stays for nearly all the classes and just hangs around. Out of no where when the reigning champ was about to win a third time J beat her. I swear I am not making this up it was such a fun twist.
Lesson: Talking about people
Tenth and eleventh graders
The O/L English class just didnt happen. THe students needed to study for their school exams that were starting tomorrow. I understand that — these classes are not a priority for them its just some simple fun.
It’s Samalya and it’s 9:30 am. I should be teaching fourth grade but there was a miscommunication as they are having Sinhala right now. I’m sitting in and am currently occupying a chair meant for a fourth grader (it is not comfy). I’m just writing a quick update because I have some major time to kill until I get the class. Just a fun update. Will give an official overview of today tonight. :)
Bye for now!
Update: Okay I was going to stop writing but the teacher started making all the students sing one by one and the little boys have such adorable singing voices. They are all so cute! Okay I’m done.
New update: some bug keeps biting me. Identity is TBD.
The first day of teaching happened. Wow - I am so tired the best adjective I wrote is "happened". I am almost too tired to write this but I know if I don’t, I’ll just regret it later. I showered a bit ago but I am already covered in a fine layer of sweat so might as well sit and bear through a little more.
The principal’s office is just a large room where he and the head teachers sit. It’s an amazing people watching spot. Today was an extra interesting day as I saw many parents coming in to see the principal (many = like five but hey it’s more than the usual). Apparently, that day the principal had summoned all the parents of the students who had been skipping school. These kids happened to (apparently) be mostly tenth graders and mostly boys. The principal was explaining to these parents why their students could not advance to the next grade. I later heard via some teacher gossip that these students would not come to school for months and just show up out of the blue. With all this going on the principal said a quick hello to me before I went on my way to start teaching.
The third graders were sweet as per usual. This was my first time teaching this batch of kids so it was a process to figure out which kids are the “loud ones” and which ones need a little more time and encouragement. We all bonded pretty fast and the lesson went smoothly (Animals and Colours — as is from the 2017 report). If anything, it was a tad slow. We were not getting through the list as fast as we usually do but that’s okay — it might just be the first day drag.
We had a crazy time in this class. The teacher left :P (I teach third and fourth graders during school hours - which works well because the English teacher is MIA these two weeks - for the sole reason being that I cannot handle them on my own). The lack of a teacher kind of tips the success of a class. We managed but it was louder than what I was used to. No big deal — it was actually kind of a win because I think I have matured enough to at least handle the students. It used to be that I could NOT control them but the fact that I managed is progress. The lesson was the same as the third graders but we got much father than they did.
Sixth and Seventh graders
This was by far the most disappointing class. The behaviors was just so insane - they could not stop talking. Talking is a generic word - what I really mean is verbal sounds that fall into categories ranging from teasing to screaming. We only made it through the vocabulary of the lesson (Activities) by which point I thought continuing the class was just a waste of time for the students and a an abuse to my thought which had been screaming. I was so bummed that I had to stop 15-20 minutes early - It’s just that I actually feel really guilty. I want to provide them with every opportunity I can for learning but if they don’t want it there is only so much I can do to thrust it at them.
Eighth and Ninth graders
This went MUCH better. We got through the entire lesson (Activities) and it all went relatively well. The disturbances were minor and I actually got some new faces in the classroom that I never had before so that was really fun!
The most notable thing I want to talk about is actually a little problem I have. I teach 6-9/10th graders the same lessons for three years now. I have had three lovely and intelligent girls that have attended my classes for all three of those years. At this point they know the lessons very well. That said, the classes are really of no use to them but I still want to provide them with a chance to make use of my presence.
For now I am doing #1 because it’s really not a big deal to print out a few papers from three people. Most of the other students are well within the area in which my lessons are helpful and of appropriate difficulty. We can explore the other options later...
Tenth and eleventh grade
Quite a number of tenth graders came and they told me they were having trouble making time for my class and studying for their final exams. I told them not to come — I love what I do but I know where I stand as a priority. I would rather them do well on critical exams rather than having fun English lessons. Today was just a day for me to figure out how many students would come so I could figure out how many O/L English papers to buy (This is the class I teach O/L English to btw). I am guessing about 6 max students will come tomorrow - the eleventh graders are coming for sure because this class is very relevant to them.
The book I used:
One year in the Sri Lankan atmosphere is basically enough time for any item to become unusable. That said, each time I come to Sri Lanka I have to restock everything. If I want to bake I have to repurchase everything from vanilla to flour. If I want to run a teaching program I have repurchase everything from pens to paper. SO My bookstore bill came out to a pretty 2,100 rupees. What did I buy?
Next, we discovered a new favorite tea shop. Dickwella is swarming with shops tailored to tourists so it’s always nice to go somewhere that feels more like pre-tourism infestation era. The best part was the airflow (there were a bunch of fans and the door was basically a wall open to the street so the wind came in too). An odd attraction elsewhere but an understandable one in the humid Sri Lankan weather. So my father and I went home armed with tea buns and gnanakatha (Sri Lanka’s gingerbread man — look up gnanakatha malli).
That’s all for now... teaching updates yet to come.
I was unable to give a confident answer to the question in the title for quite a ways into this summer. Between the influenza outbreak in the Southern Province, my family’s obligations to Colombo, and my general fatigue I was not even sure if I would teach this summer. Regardless of all that, I am excited to announce that I will start teaching tomorrow (actually, I am sorting out logistics tomorrow but I should be starting the day after).
I attended the annual Buddhist parade the school takes part in and it was quite fun! The parade has become especially special to me since I started teaching. I feel more integrated into the community and I always get a slew of hellos and waves from my students. I took tons of video -- so look forward to an edited concoction that will come out soon.
I couldn’t imagine not teaching. The main reason being that the students expect me to come and I don’t want to let them down. I usually teach only a few days a week because, well, I just can’t handle more than that. It is extremely tiring to attempt to wrangle the attention of these students. However, due to time constraints I will be teaching four days a week for two weeks. Lucky for me, I did a pretty good job of documenting last year in my EARSL Report 2017 so I will be using those lessons again this year.
More details to come after I visit the school tomorrow!
Hi! I'm Samalya. When I'm not running about cramming for school I sit on my laptop and (attempt to) make a curriculum to improve spoken English in rural Sri Lanka!