A week has passed since I arrived in Chiangmai and started my internship at EarthRights International School. My experiences here have provided me a valuable opportunity to reflect on what I have learned in the Education program at Illinois Wesleyan University, especially lesson planning and teaching a group of students from diverse backgrounds and cultures.
Before coming to the school, I read Pedagogy Of The Oppressed by Paulo Piere as a part of my training. The book really emphasized that the relationship between teachers and students should be reciprocal. The teachers should not only teach but also learn from the students. Since each student is different, teachers have to learn about their individuality and cultural background to connect better with students. Furthermore, especially when students are people suffering from oppression, teachers should provide a chance for the students to think for themselves and find their authentic solution to the problem. Guidance from the teachers should only be in conversational form because the students are not blank slates. They come in with different experiences and different opinions. Teachers should not be “correcting” and “dictating” how students think and see the world. The values mentioned in Piere’s book governs how teaching and learning take place in EarthRights International School. At ERI School, the staff strives to achieve that balance between teaching and learning. Most of the staff are from the United States and speak fluent Thai, some learning from the students instead of formal learning. They know about the history of students’ countries and are aware of current issues that are threatening their countries, so they are able to take examples from several cultures and make the lesson more relevant to each student. Teachers of ERI value open dialogue with students. More than half of the lesson consists of discussion and activities that involve student contribution. Students freely express their situation at home, in their hometown, and how they feel about the issues threatening their livelihood. The teachers successfully create a safe space for all students to share and they also contribute to that conversation themselves. Also, since students come in with varying levels of English, instructions are given in English and also their native tongue. Students are given a journal to reflect on everyday learning experience and are occasionally asked to share their writing with the class. In addition, they are given a lot of personal attention by having interns and alumni with the students the majority of the time, having conversations with students in English and helping with their reading and writing. This method of student-focused teaching is not a new concept, however, in traditional classrooms, it is still a challenge for this method to be applied. The difference is that students here are adult learners, therefore their motivation to study is much different from that of young students. The students here are motivated to do their work because they understand the need for better communication with the international audience and they want better job’s prospect. However, younger students may not be able to find the motivation to study in the same sense of necessity. Being here and witnessing how the school operates have really inspired me to ponder upon how this format of schooling can be utilized in traditional classrooms and how I can motivate younger students to actively participate in their education.
This is the first time I am involved in adult education, therefore working with EarthRights has enabled me to explore this new and exciting topic. Initially, I thought that teaching adults would be far different from teaching children. However, the students here really showed me that despite their age, everyone likes to have fun while learning. The classes always start with a game to cheer up the atmosphere and have short breaks so that students can stay focused better. Furthermore, students do not have to take a lot of notes. Most of the time, they have a discussion in a circle or play out scenarios, rather than sitting at their desks silently doing their work. They draw, sing, make charts, do presentations, and work in groups. Also, the teacher is the mood-maker, who make jokes and be humorous when appropriate and lead the class to calm down (such as let the whole class mediate) for more serious and sensitive conversations. The most important thing is to make learning seems effortless so that the students are not discouraged from going to class and participating in activities during the lessons. This should also be true for teachers and schools working with a younger audience. The goal should be for students to find the class interesting and enjoyable. Instead, the traditional classrooms are too uptight and require students to be sitting in their seats for an extended period of time. This makes the learning process less natural and more forceful, which in turns kills creativity and motivation. The atmosphere and energy that the classes in ERI School have really prove that the traditional approach to education should change, and educators, like myself, must also advocate for better educational practices and better programs to engage students in their learning process.
Although it has only been a week since I have arrived in Chiangmai, this city has welcomed me with beautiful sunshine, delicious food, and invaluable lessons on how to organize, plan, and lead better classes, as well as inspire me to reconsider the traditional way of learning. I cannot wait to start a new week with the incredible students and learn more.