Thursday, November 7, 2013

Carly and Steve Blog

Our month volunteering at The Spitler School started with much rain, so our first cycling journey there was a challenging one! We followed Nick through his "short cut" which would have been very efficient, were it not for the puddles and mud from the regular downpours. Despite dodging water, that first journey to school was memorable in a much more positive way because of the amount of children who shouted "Hello Nick!" as we cycled through the village. We could tell straight away that we were going to be volunteering in a school at the centre of a friendly community and might even get to know a few local faces.

The school itself took us both by surprise in a very pleasant way. For some reason we both anticipated a smaller, quieter place with less going on. By contrast, the lively buzz of The Spitler School was instantly noticeable; I later learned from Loll that Spitler has almost as many students on roll as my secondary school back in England! There were enthusiastic lessons going on with songs and smiles and we felt instantly welcomed by both teaching and non-teaching staff. We were lucky enough to be there during one of Danny and Pam Spitler's visits; an occasion in which the community spirit of the place was beautifully depicted through staff speeches and student dances, witnessed by the full range of people associated with the school. I was really interested in the presence of many parents at this gathering and their participation in a Q&A session with Danny Spitler and Sarin; seeing local parents so involved with and interested in the education of their children was a great testament to the difference the school makes to the families in this area.

We were soon making our own way to and from school, which luckily coincided with the weather drying up. We now only had to dodge pot-holes and other cyclists - which were usually the children attending The Spitler School, quickly cycling past us with their typical eagerness to get to lessons! Indeed, something which stood out every time we were at school is just how much the children enjoy the lessons. They play happily together in their break-times but as soon as the lesson bell chimes they cannot wait to get into the classroom - running towards their teachers with an enthusiasm I have rarely seen in English schools.We noticed this fervour for learning in our session of English language games and reading activities in the library with a [much larger than expected!] group of students. Steve tried his hand at teaching, surprising me with being brilliant and himself with really enjoying it! After that session many students recognised us on our journey into school, greeting us positively by shouting "hello teacher!" just as they do to frequent, long term volunteers such as Nick and Loll. By our second week at school the rain and puddles were no longer an issue and the heat was eased by water from the friendly stall at the school. An even better way of dealing with the heat was stopping for a deliciously sweet sugar cane drink to revive us on our way home, which we felt was thoroughly deserved at the end of the day!

We both busied ourselves with our separate voluntary work and found our hours at the school flying by! Steve had his eye on any electrical work and maintenance he could do from the start and was soon commenting on what was already in place with "well, it works...but..."! Once he received specific instructions from Sarin a trip to an electrical wholesaler in the centre of Siem Reap was in order; what a contrast from the usual tourist areas that was as we tried to get the tools and parts necessary for the best price possible, bargaining next to the local electricians! I thought I'd feel guilty having fun with company in the classroom whilst Steve did sweaty manual work, but he was rarely alone when rewiring fans and lights. Over our last couple of weeks at the school children crowded round him during their breaks, trying to hold wires or pass him tools as they said hello and asked him his name. I'm sure this all really helped Steve focus on the electrical work in hand!

Of course, this inquisitive friendliness was not just due to the novelty of an English guy up a ladder in and around their classrooms! I lost count of the amount of children who asked me - individually, as well as in a whole class chorus - my name, how I was and how old I was during their English lessons. My daily work with Sineth - a new and typically enthusiastic teacher - allowed me to be with the same classes each week and it was lovely getting to know the children and seeing the development of their English skills as we worked our way through sections of the valued 'Way Ahead' TEFL textbook. A typical lesson includes songs with lively actions and plenty of speaking and listening opportunities, so it far exceeded my expectations of textbook based work! Sineth started teaching longer English lessons at the same time as I started volunteering so together we worked on how to make the most of this extended opportunity for learning. These lessons were for 'off hours' students so technically optional, but each day between 30 and 45 students showed up for extra English! Sineth was out of his comfort zone with 90 minute lessons and I was out of my comfort zone with younger EAL students, but together we experimented with more developed tasks, increased writing time and activities that got the students working in pairs or in small groups. I showed Sineth some of the phonetic and visual strategies that I use with younger or less able students in England and encouraged Sineth to have a go at student-led activities and games.

The children loved questioning each other, playing guessing games with new English phrases and had a good go at working for longer periods without a teacher leading them - this was a time when I really saw how supportive they are of each other as peers regularly helped each other with words or phrases they were unsure of. Sineth began to really enjoy the longer lessons and we both noticed the excellent opportunity they provide for consolidating the learning of new English language.

I really hope to keep in touch with The Spitler School through this blog (and Facebook!) as just a month volunteering there has had quite an impact on both Steve and I. What a fantastic place of enthusiastic teachers, friendly families, dedicated volunteers and students who love to learn English!

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