a blog about the cultural experiences my husband and I have because of our work abroad...what's delightful and beautiful about different countries and cultures...what we have learned from living and working in countries other than our home country...and how those experiences have changed us

Friday, September 16, 2011

teaching preschool in Cambodia

It has been one month since I accepted a teaching position to teach preschoolers at American Pacific School. It's been a tremendously busy month for me, leaving no time for blogging, though there was plenty to blog about! Finally I have a few minutes to write a post about my newest adventure within our adventure. :)

About four weeks ago, Stephen happened to go to a church service where he met a man from the UK who told Stephen he was the principal of a school here in Phnom Penh. He also told Stephen that he had a position open for a part-time preschool teacher. That afternoon Stephen told me about the service including that he'd met this principal and that there was a preschool opening. At the beginning of August we had only been here a little over a month. As I've mentioned in previous posts, I really did not want to commit to a huge project early on. But this position was something just too interesting for me to ignore. In the last year I've had a particular interest in early childhood education, preschool age. And part-time was what I wanted. I knew that with my having lupus, part-time was more than enough for me to commit to. And the name of the school had the words "American Pacific". How strange is that?! I'm an American from the Pacific Northwest. Still it took me a week to make the decision to talk to the principal about the job. I decided against it several times but then always felt compelled to reconsider. It felt like I was pulled toward this job.

School had already started when I agreed to take the part-time preschool job. My students were without a regular teacher for a week and a half. But now that I've been working with them every day for a month, I wonder if it seems to them as if I've always been their teacher.

Wow, has it ever been a jam packed month for me. I've been putting in the hours of a full-time job even though I see the kids for only 3 hours. Though there are way more materials and supplies at this school than there were in South Africa, I'm still creating a ton of curriculum. There are even some teacher/office supply stores here where I've found labels, pastels, markers, and large sheets of drawing paper. I have 21 students and my room is kind of small for that many, but we are managing. It's definitely better than 60 kids to a class with no space other than for all the individual desks. Plus I have two Khmer (Cambodian) teaching assistants. Which really is brilliant! When I taught in the public schools in the states I didn't even have one assistant. My teaching assistants help with management. They have decent English proficiency so they can help explain directions in Khmer to the students. Plus they make copies and help me prepare materials for activities.

Though the last month has really been a stretching experience for me, and at times I thought maybe it had really been too much too soon, I love preschool children! These little babies are adorable and fascinating.  This developmental stage is really really fun to work with. That's not to say there aren't challenges. Like how many of them are not potty-trained. The other day one of my youngest boys came over to me so I could help him with the clasp on his uniform so he could go to the "toilet". But just as I helped him out of his shorts, he started peeing right there. We all just watched as the little puddle developed on the ground. What could we do? We happened to be outside playing just before going home so at least it was outside instead of in the classroom on the carpet or on the tile so we are all sliding in it. (Both have happened with other children.) Such is the life in the world of preschool.

There's a lot of joy in these little ones. They absolutely love to sing songs and do motions along with the songs. We do "Head, shoulders, knees and toes", "I'm a little teapot", "Five little monkeys jumping on the bed", "If you're happy and you know it". I incorporate English directions like "stand up please" and "sit down please" between each song. So when they sit down some of the little boys hug themselves and twist back and forth saying, "sapbye, sapbye". In Khmer that means "happy, happy". :)

They also are super observant and copy the things I do and say. I say "good" a lot! And when I'm really pleased with something I say it three times in a row. Now my little boys give me thumbs up and say "good good good"! It makes me and the assistants laugh, so of course they want to keep making us laugh.

I think one of the most surprising things about this job is that I am teaching an entire class full of children whose first language is not English. And I would say we are doing quite well. That's fascinating to me. I think it's an advantage for me that I'm teaching children who are at the critical oral language acquisition and mastery developmental stage. In fact it almost seems as if the younger ones are able to copy my pronunciation better than the older ones.

So preschool has basically been my life since I took the job. But Stephen and I are still taking our Khmer language lessons. We aren't very good students yet though because we never have any time to study between lessons. Even so, we are learning. It's pretty cool to learn another language, though it's definitely taxing. And once we have some basic proficiency it will definitely help us do our work better.

Stephen is doing well in his job. His busy writing grants, meeting with partners, mentoring staff, and developing health projects. He really enjoys the work and living in Cambodia. He has traveled to other provinces for an overnight trip and he will do more of that within country and maybe to neighboring countries as well in the near future. When his travel falls on holidays, I'll go with him but mostly he will travel alone or with staff.

So that's the latest from Safari Cambodia. :)

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