November 28, 2012

August 29, 2012

little nuns

Over the river and out through the suburbs of Yangon. I was taken out to a large monastery that housed over 150 young nuns. The temple system has been a traditional center of education system and I was invited to make a visit and see.

I imagined being taken on a tour or asking questions to the head nun, but by the time some 70 little nuns in pink robes and quietly assembled and a mat had been placed in the front, I figured I'd better do something.

There's no need to explain sign language like give reasons why we're practicing English with our hands. They naturally took to it and covered the alphabet, numbers and a whole mixed bag of words. Maybe they already knew everything because they sat attentively like, "what's next?". It still amazes me how much people can absorb when they see it, even once. I taught letters one time and many caught the difference between "S" and "A" even though it's just a thumb position and despite the fact that they're sitting eight rows back in a crowd of 70. 

Obviously, they're ready to learn but we still have to figure out how to make it happen. Some teachers come as volunteers, but otherwise the temple depends on alms and donations to pay the teachers. They don't have computers. Otherwise, I'd just give them everything I have.

August 22, 2012

Spring in Myanmar

It's been raining solid for the last 7 days, but it's spring in Myanmar. There are newspapers selling on the street, NGOs popping up and people are talking. Most keep their skepticism, but I am flabbergasted to hear news of what could not be imagined a few years back.

Education is big. Operating a private school is legal now. Ethnic minority languages are permitted, universities are opening again and the internet is picking up speed.

I get the sense that people have been waiting. They seem poised and ready to move. I'm told the Shan have already finished their own language version of the state curriculum. That was fast!

August 9, 2012

Proving to be the teacher

It will be hard to evaluate the results. When do we know if a teacher can implement what they've been taught? We've made clear guidelines and established concrete methods, but the essence of the lesson has been truly implemented when we see children learn.

That again is a slippery indicator, but one thing I look for is if the teacher appears to care. It's in the body language and I've seen good indications with this group. When it comes to writing, the children get down to business, usually right on the floor and the trainees are right there with them, sometimes taking their hands and guiding them through the letters. Having the children write is usually the time teachers go and take their break, but here I see an invested interest, curiosity and compassion. It looks good.

July 30, 2012

Being a teacher trainer, I feel it's important to take the back seat at the right time though people are probably aware that I still have my foot hovering over the brake and have the steering wheel within reach. I hope this doesn't mean that I'm an irritating backseat driver. What I'm hoping it means is that I can effectively pass on know-how to the next tier.

Actually, I depend on that next tier. I can mumble through something and he can articulate it clearly in his own words. I can map out a plan and he can put it into action. Sometimes I make notes for a debriefing and he can execute it to near perfection.

Maybe the best model is simply handing over the car keys, not as if I'd ever owned something from the beginning. My only advantage is that I think I see a road that can get us to where we want to go. I'll help map it out, point out the dangers and help with maneuvering skills, but at the end of the day, I don't think I should be driving.

July 26, 2012

Interviewing for the best

When given the task of training trainers to train teachers, my first reaction was to ask, "Where can you find some superstars?" Now I understand what an understar is. We have to look for what wants to shine, not what can already confidently outshine anyone else.

Almost everyone on the new team of trainers have had no experience teaching. Half have not gone beyond high school and almost everyone feels like they've been cheated out of a good education. They struggle very hard with the most basic of learning skills, but they have enough will to persist and I believe they'll get it.

What this means is they will be able to empathize with the majority of students who are struggling. They'll be better teachers because they'll remember what those first steps felt like. Those who have always been at the top of the class, on the other hand, too often dismiss students as ignorant, rural or unable to learn. It's not the students who are giving up, but the teachers. We don't need that.

July 4, 2012

deaf friends

Whenever I see people moving their hands while they're talking, I stop to check if they're deaf. Many times, they're just being expressive. I'm looking for deaf friends and the chance to learn more. Up until now, I've just been a scavenger of signs to use for English programs. It's hard to find people.

The other day, I learned that a cafe had hired a deaf woman so I introduced myself and after work she took me to meet her friends. Everyone of course knows each other, including networks of deaf people in Vientiane though the whole population in Laos is still tiny compared to other countries. 

In Luang Prabang, there doesn't seem to be a place to gather regularly, but we visited one of her friends in her little shack and had a jolly time. If we had been using our voices, we would have been screaming with laughter and shouting over each other. With signing, there's a lot of waving and slapping to get attention. It was a lot of fun.

Walking through the small neighborhood, I could hear people gossiping out loud. "The freak'n foreigner's deaf!" When you move into silent mode, it's kind of hard to step back into the speaking world so I just let them think what they wanted to think.