Learning to teach, teaching to learn

It’s now our third day in McLeod Ganj and I’m starting to get my bearings – my senses are gradually feeling less overwhelmed, I’m getting used to the traffic patterns, and I can find my way to my placement from the guest house. That said, I still feel very disoriented in a number of ways, especially in my placement.

My placement is at Tibet World. Going into it, it was a little unclear what my role would be – some office work, some marketing and social media, some teaching. As such, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but Yeshi ( the director of Tibet World) told me on the first half day that I would be spending my days tutoring, doing office work, social media, and teacher support in conversation classes. However, what I experienced on my first full day was quite different!

The morning started off uneventfully – I was inputting all the volunteer information from the past year into a spreadsheet. It wasn’t particularly interesting, but I knew that it was a necessary job and that by doing it I was freeing up time for the paid staff to do other work. We’ve talked a lot about being useful rather than being a burden while in our placements, and its something that’s really important to me, so I was feeling pretty good about it.

After an hour or so of that, Yeshi came to tell me that there was no teacher for the beginner English class and that Becky and I would have to teach it. I was expecting to do one-one-one tutoring, so I was totally unprepared! We split the class into sections to make it more manageable, and because there were not enough rooms, I held my lesson in the waiting room of the building. In my section were 3 women and 6 monks. Yeshi told us to review what the teacher had taught last class, but when I asked the students what they had learned, they didn’t know enough English to understand what I was asking. Eventually they handed me a worksheet that they had done, which was on present tense. We worked through it together, but it wasn’t a very relevant worksheet and was quite confusing for them – I found myself trying to explain the word “chicken coop” for a large portion of the lesson, rather than focussing on the more important and applicable words. Because we were working in the waiting room, the Tibetan receptionist kept coming over to help translate. I felt guilty keeping him from his work, but I appreciated it so much. However, it was a stark contrast to earlier, when I had felt useful – while teaching, I felt like I was a burden. This is a very uncomfortable reality for me.

The fact is that I am not trained as a teacher, and teaching a language is a whole different ball game to speaking it. I was apprehensive of this aspect of my placement. However, they needed a teacher and the fact that I am a native English speaker means that I am seen as someone who can fill that need. I was talking this dilemma over with some of the others who are teaching, and it was brought up that while we are not English teachers, we still have knowledge to bring to the table, especially in regards to vocab and pronunciation. In light of that, I want to adjust my approach for the future.

Despite the issues, I’m feeling positive. The advanced conversation class later that day went much better (even though the teacher wasn’t available to teach that one either). This morning, Veila (our program coodinator) gave out some valuable advice and resources, as she had taught English for several years. As I continue learning and adjusting, I’m excited to see how the rest of our time here plays out.

– Claire

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