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Amy Meadows

At Kampong Cham our main focus is on education, where we provide children from diverse backgrounds with English classes to help open up their future prospects and break the cycle of poverty. English is the world’s top spoken second language, making it have a global reach and significant importance – which is exactly why we work in English! Our goal is for the students we work with to be able to successfully converse in English, which will enable them to have a wider choice of study and career opportunities. With the GVI Cambodia hub, all of our volunteers get the chance to have a hands on and direct impact on progressing our students’ English ability – no words can describe the sense of satisfaction and achievement this gives. This amazing experience is rounded off by the influence our students and the process of teaching has on an individual – you’re not the only one with something to teach…

We receive participants from a wide variety of backgrounds, but the one thing the majority of them have in common is ‘first-class apprehension’.  Understandably, most people aren’t lovers of public speaking and then this is enhanced with the unknown element of teaching, potentially for the first time but definitely an introduction to unfamiliar students. I remember my first teaching experience, before being TEFL certified where I walked into the classroom (supposedly as an assistant), to be greeted by the teacher expecting me to take over despite being unaware of what they were even learning… Safe to say I froze up and declined the offer! Here however, everyone receives basic TEFL training to ensure they’re equipped for our classroom environment, however nothing can fully put it into context until you enter the class – and often this is the only one that hasn’t been observed in advance. Seeing the nerviness in volunteers is actually a great thing and very reassuring, it shows that they care and understand that teaching isn’t a straightforward or easy job to take on. But the best thing about these nerves, is being able to watch them dissipate as our volunteers ease into their first lesson at the pagoda, where our monk students’ infectious cheeky energy and welcoming nature makes them feel at home. The sense of elation after this first interaction is rewarding for everyone involved and helps teach our teachers to overcome their fears and be brave.

Clearly the classroom is a two-way learning experience and bravery isn’t the only thing you can gain from a teaching experience. Any lesson or class can be unexpectedly difficult and trying at times, especially when working with children from unstable backgrounds who aren’t necessarily use to a school structure. Despite planning for every lesson, you can never predict how it will work out. This often requires quick thinking in the moment – whether you’ve wrongly assumed your students have grasped a concept, they’re not in the mood to learn or they’ve breezed through your activities; you have to adapt to whatever they present you with. This helps develop your patience and flexibility, which are essential in the classroom and great life skills to be able to utilise. Initially, volunteers can get flustered or frustrated by the unpredictable nature of the role they’ve taken on (which is why we’re always there for support), but gradually you see something click, where they can rectify the problem on the spot and adapt to their students’ needs. Most recently, this happened to me in our Cheung Kok class where I wrongfully assumed the girls knew adjectives – my warmer demonstrated this was not the case. On the spot I dropped everything I had planned and went back to basics, great timing when new volunteers were observing the class! Nothing like an audience to get you to think on your feet… You’ve just got to trust yourself and your abilities – and everything will be fine!

As a naturally impatient person this has been the biggest challenge for me, in my background of education. I’ve always been someone that wants things to be done immediately or just to not have to wait around, but children don’t allow room for this personality trait! Whether it’s bad behaviour or they’re struggling to understand new grammar or vocabulary, you’ve got to wait and can’t rush these things. Being patient can help you reap the best rewards of the job! Waiting things out can mean; you see a disruptive student grow into a cooperative one, a chaotic class relaxes into a well thought-out activity, students have their light bulb moment of understanding and it simply enables you to truly see and experience their general language development. Learning patience enables you to encounter the joys and incredible satisfaction of teaching, as well as acting as reminder of the impact we’re making and why we’re here in Cambodia.

All of these things combined really help to push you creatively, even if it’s something that doesn’t come to you naturally. With volunteers, we see their boost in confidence resulting in them braving new ideas and activities in the classroom, as they begin to trust their instincts. As a teacher, you never know when inspiration will strike and as you become increasingly adaptable, you might even come up with an activity in the moment! Often, spontaneous activities can work out the best as students tend to pick up on your excitement surrounding this fresh idea. However, it doesn’t work this way for everyone as creativity is a process and can take time – putting your patience into practice!! Creating your own resources and activities can take time and a lot of thought when you’re trying to get it just right for the classroom. The best thing about the process is it makes you care about it even more, and so your passion and enthusiasm becomes infectious making the class more enjoyable for everyone involved. Of course we want our children to learn and having fun whilst doing so is massively important, which means our volunteers also need to enjoy what they’re doing – how can we expect our students to enjoy something that we don’t!? Personally, the best lessons I’ve been involved with are the ones where I’m excited about the topic or activity myself – not only does this create a great atmosphere it nurtures more efficient and effective learning from our students.

As previously mentioned, our main focus in here in Kampong Cham is to empower through education, but this isn’t where our passion and drive ends. The classroom is a part of our direct impact, whereas the growth of our volunteers, although initially direct, has the potential to develop into a wider reaching indirect impact. Participants growing through their hands on teaching experience can take their life in a different direction, where they continue to work towards good causes and utilise the skills they gained from our program in their careers. Teaching is a two-way process, everyone has something to learn and gain in the classroom, even the teacher, as no matter the ability students always have something to give. Take the chance to teach yourself brave, teach yourself adaptability, teach yourself creative, teach yourself patience and teach yourself growth.

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