At ERS, I am the second youngest (after my fellow intern here), but also a “teacher” to the students. Therefore, they came up with this nickname for me. Every time I arrive at the school, I hear not my name being called, but “younger teacher”. It made me feel loved as a younger sister to all of the students, but also respected for my work here as an ESL supporter. Although it can seem funny to other cultures, Asian cultures have high respect for teachers, therefore, despite my young age, the students are still very polite and attentive to my sharings and opinions. Having received so much love and learned so much from the students, I could not imagine my daily life without them, that soon I will not be attending classes with them, eating with them, going out every weekend with them, and organizing English classes for them. Although the interns have one more week left at the school, all students are going on a field trip to Myanmar to learn about a development project’s impact on communities for a week. This makes it impossible for me to spend time with the students before I leave for home. With my heavy heart, I think back to all our memories together, as well as what I have learned through the course of 6 weeks in EarthRights School.
Having the opportunity to sit inside the classroom and record lesson plans, I learned so much from the teachers as well as the students of ERS. The way information is delivered in ERS is unique and student-centered, unlike in most of the traditional classroom that I have been a part of. The teachers design various activities for students to participate during class time, and students are expected to come up with questions or comments after every class. Truly, I have always automatically put down reflection or recap session for every lesson plan. This method is great because it prompts the students to form authentic opinions and to frequently voice those ideas. As lawyers, NGO workers, and community leaders, these skills are imperative for their lines of work and professional development. Furthermore, initially, some students had difficulties overcoming the habits of staying passive and quiet in class. This was evident because, during group presentations, a minority of students would always be the representative of the groups while others stayed on the sideline. However, after 6 weeks, I can clearly see the changes in the students. Most of them are now used to activities such as sharing experiences and feelings in a closed circle, therefore are much more likely to share. Some students have really opened up to the class and become a lot livelier and more articulate compared to when I first met them. Apart from the training that students received from ERS teachers, students are able to improve so much thanks to the warm and welcoming learning community that the school has successfully fostered. Even though students were from various walks of life, the school tries to provide equal opportunity for all students, such as giving students computer lessons on how to effectively use the Internet for research and how to protect their identities online for people who are not familiar with using computers. Also, the school has spare laptops for students to use if they do not have one. In addition, everyone shares a living space together and quickly develops friendships. On top of that, they have only one option, English, to communicate with their new friends. Interestingly, some researchers suggest that there is less emotional resonance when using a foreign language, therefore, students felt more comfortable sharing their private emotions and opinions using English rather than their native tongue (Reference), which relates to the positive change in the students. All these factors contribute to the success of ERS, producing such outstanding students, as well as activists and leaders.
Although my goal for the future is not to become a teacher, working with ERS allowed me to discover my strengths and weaknesses as an ESL teacher and an educator, as well as develop valuable teaching strategies. Before I started organizing English classes, I had little experience in teaching adult learners and teaching ESL. Maybe I taught my mother a few English words in the past, but that could not possibly fill in the huge gap of expertise. However, I was still up for the challenge. For the first time, I had an opportunity to design my lesson plans and led my class. I was so excited and ready to experiment with new teaching methods. While planning my first lesson, I was ambitious and put down a lot of activities for the students without realizing that I needed to take into account the different level of English and learning speed of each student. What’s more, my nervousness made me speak at lightning speed, so it was hard for the students to follow at times. However, I keep all the feedbacks from students in mind to refine my lesson plans for next classes. One strategy I found really helpful was to employ group work in the classes. Students were put into pairs, small groups, or big groups, depending on the activity, to maximize their learning capacities and create a positive learning environment. Since I have strong interpersonal skills, it helped that I know the students well on a personal level, and I could match not only their level of English but also their personality traits so that the students could learn from each other. Also, the students’ native languages were utilized to help them understand abstract concepts. In other words, it was hard for students who knew less vocabulary to understand difficult, abstract concepts, even if the explanation in English was simplified. Therefore, with the help of a partner, students would not need to clutch to a dictionary and could orient their attention more towards what they understood. On the other hand, giving students individual attention is also necessary to motivate students to participate. In addition to group work, there should be parts in which students are thinking independently, at least before coming back as a group. This is important in terms of developing autonomous learner. Therefore, in order to achieve a balance in the lesson plans, I included activities that required individual work, such as writing down ideas before sharing aloud with the group, or games that required students to participate as an individual while belonging to a team. This prevents students from relying on only one person in their teams. Some other strategies I have discovered through the help of my supervisors and have successfully implemented are using multimedia in the classroom, acknowledging and fostering different types of learners in the classroom, and focusing on making meaningful conversations instead of accuracy. What I have learned through preparing lesson plans and performing the role of an ESL teacher is that the teacher has to be flexible. They need to adapt to different needs of the students and incorporate different methods to create a fun, captivating, and meaningful lesson that is worth students’ attention. Even though I have a tact for teaching, I still find myself struggling to bring life into the classroom and truly help the students reach their full potential. It will always be a challenge, but I love everything about it.
Referring back to the title of today’s blog, I wish to explain the question “where are you going?” This question is frequently asked by students who see me leaving my usual spot in the school. However, to me, it holds a special meaning. To me, the question begs for my future plans and where I am headed in terms of career. It is obvious that I am pursuing an occupation in education, but I am also interested in psychology and the human mind. I am trying to make ends meet by looking for a crossover in these two fields. This internship is a decisive experience for me because of the confirmation that I find happiness and fulfillment in working with students. Also, it opens up a new opportunity to work with adult learners. It is still too soon to answer the question “where are you going?”, but thanks to this internship, I am one step closer to the answer.