Teaching English at the Health Center

20 06 2012

I have never been a fan of teaching English. Before coming to Cambodia, I had taught English abroad several times, and I had always dreaded it. Teaching English was the worst! Although I’ve always appreciated good grammar, explaining the difference between indefinite and definite articles was enough to drive me to tears. Now, however, I have an English class that I enjoy teaching, and I consider this quite the breakthrough.

In November of last year, my health center director asked me to start teaching the staff English. I reluctantly agreed, assuring myself that their interest would surely fizzle after a few weeks and I’d be off the hook. More than six months later though the class is still going strong. It goes to show that I still haven’t learned to predict what will be successful and what will flop here.

Our English classroom

Honestly, I think part of the reason I enjoy the class so much is because it helps ease the guilt I feel for not yet figuring out how to be effective in the health center setting. Although I have many other activities that I think are positive, working in the health center still feels like the least effective thing I do. But teaching the staff English is something I feel proud of, something that has made a difference. It’s not necessarily the kind of difference I was hoping to make, but it’s a start.

I also enjoy teaching  because it allows me to show the staff my real personality. Operating in a foreign language all day really limits the ways in which I can express myself. But teaching English lets the staff see a different, more outgoing side of me than what I’m often able to show them in Khmer. Between my improved Khmer and their improved English, we are able to communicate with one another much more easily and naturally.

Finally, I like the class because the students want to learn. They come voluntarily four times a week to study with me, and are always actively engaged in the process. Even though most of them are in their late 30s or 40s and will probably not benefit professionally from the basic English classes, they are still devoted to learning with me. The class has been a great way for us to get to know one another better and has been a great tool to learn more about the community. We have no textbook and learn using more fun teaching techniques than can be used in formal classrooms. It’s been a huge surprise to me that the English class is still flourishing, but it’s been a pleasant one since the class has turned into one of my favorite activities.





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