Sunday, November 26, 2017

American Teachers In Burma: Peace Corps Volunteers

US Peace Corps Volunteers in Myanmar teach English at public middle and high schools in small cities and towns. They co-teach with Myanmar English teachers in the classroom and focus on the capacity building of the co-teacher in the areas of teaching methodologies, lesson planning, classroom management and assessment.

Volunteers also work with students in the classroom on their English language acquisition, particularly on speaking and listening skills. In addition, Volunteers may teach English at the community level and get involved in community activities. Miss Abbey Hester (above) is one of the Peace Corp volunteer teachers and she is teaching TEFL English at a High School in the town of Tha-nat-pin in Pegu Division.

The whole Peace Corps volunteer teachers thing started soon after US President Barack Obama’s visit to Burma in 2012. Right now more than 200 young Americans are in Burma teaching English at basic level to middle and high school students. Followings are the personal stories told by three American volunteer teachers now working in Burma, from US Peace Corps WWW site.

“What Can I Do?” By Colin Crossley

Daw Soe Soe Min and Daw Nwe Nwe Oo, two grade seven teachers assigned to be my co-teaching counterparts, ushered me up the stairs of our administration building and into the headmaster’s finely furnished private quarters. They motioned for me to take a seat at a long wooden table as they gathered several textbooks to use during our first cooperative lesson planning session together.

While I waited, I looked to the wall opposite me at cabinets filled with awards and, as if standing guard over them, a photograph for each of the previous 13 headmasters and headmistresses who presided over Basic Education High School Number 1. Having finished gathering the necessary materials for our session, my counterparts seated themselves next to me and waited to begin.

Myanmar recently became the 141st country to invite Peace Corps Volunteers to work and live in local communities. This particular iteration of the program involves cooperative work with teachers at select government schools in Yangon and its surrounding townships.

I, together with five other Volunteers, am among the first Americans to live and work at the grassroots level in Myanmar government schools. It is our job — and our privilege — to establish what we hope will be a successful Peace Corps program through a spirit of friendship and cooperation.

And yet, as I sat in the headmaster’s quarters looking at a wall of awards and the proud photographs hanging above them, I couldn’t help but feel humbled by such a privilege. I wondered how it was possible that I, a young professional abroad, could find a level of cooperation that would allow me to contribute to such a respected part of Myanmar society. Myanmar culture deeply values teachers as highly respected members of the community.

And so I decided that I would work within the confines of this system — that I would never try to change it but only try to share my ideas. I would honor the responsibility of being a teacher while learning the culture and language of Myanmar. I hoped (and have since been proven right) that if I took the first steps towards cooperation, my community would include me as their quirky foreign member.

Having the benefit of hindsight, I can’t say that there weren’t moments of frustration. My Burmese is novice low, at best, and I’m still worried that I’ll lose my longyi (traditional sarong) during a lesson. Still, I have never found a Myanmar person who didn’t at least appreciate my efforts and help me when I needed it.

I must have been silent for quite a while because Daw Nwe Nwe Oo had taken to clearing her throat rather loudly as she and Daw Soe Soe Min waited for me to speak. I allowed myself to shift my focus back to co-teaching and the more present task of creating a lesson for the following Tuesday. I tried to articulate my method, and began with something simple. What would become a fulfilling professional relationship began with a question: “What can I do?”

(Colin Robert Crossley is serving in a short-term English education assignment in Yangon Region as one of Peace Corps Myanmar’s first Volunteers. Prior to joining Peace Corps Myanmar, he successfully completed a two-year assignment in the education sector in Ethiopia.)

TEFL Volunteers’ Utopia By Joel Bosque

I’ve been serving as a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Volunteer in Myanmar since September 2016 and I’ve loved every second of it. The country is beautiful, the weather is nice, the food is tasty, and the people are exceptionally kind and welcoming.

Serving as a Volunteer is always a challenging experience regardless of your sector or host country- Myanmar is no exception to that. Learning a new language and integrating into a new community doesn’t happen overnight. However, in terms of host countries with flexible, organized school systems with hardworking and self-motivated students and teachers, Myanmar is hard to beat.

I came to Myanmar with an open mind and an ambitious set of goals. On October 24, 2016, I started my first class in Myanmar; I was extremely impressed. The class was large (50+) but obedient. The students were attentive, receptive, and eager to learn. My counterpart teachers were very helpful, observant, and prepared to practice new teaching methods.

It was because of the students’ optimism and eagerness to learn that I was able to accomplish so much. I will give two examples to support this claim.

Example #1: After a few days of teaching, I assigned students an English name, and then for homework, asked them to create a nametag to place on their desk. The very next day, all 420 students had a uniquely decorated nametag on their desk.

Example #2: My second example has been the highlight of my service so far. After a few weeks of teaching, I began to identify the students who were way above the curve. I then began to offer a prep course for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), which most universities use to determine English proficiency for non-native speakers.  I explained that the material would be challenging and encouraged all interested students to attend, while hand-selecting a few myself. The very next day I had about 20 students in class. They not only showed up, but also insisted we meet every day instead of twice a week. It was because of them that we were able to complete the World Map Project at our school.

Working with counterparts is a crucial part of any Peace Corps service. My counterparts worked with me day in and day out, but also supported me every step of the way. I will give another two examples to support this claim.

Example #1: I was thinking about hosting a township-wide spelling bee. I didn’t know if it was feasible at first, so I ran it by my counterparts. They knew the overall concept of a spelling bee, but didn’t know how it worked out logistically. Nevertheless, they immediately requested approval from the Department of Education and sat down with me to discuss the plan for implementation. We ended up hosting five schools with total of 200 participants.

Example #2: A lot of students were asking that I teach physical education. They wanted to develop their football, badminton, and jump-rope skills. My schedule was pretty full, but I decided to talk it over with my counterparts, regardless. They knew that I enjoyed teaching sports and athletics, so although we had recently finalized my schedule, they talked it over and worked out a new schedule that devoted time to physical education class.

These are just a few simple examples of my experiences as a TEFL volunteer in Myanmar. I honestly believe that if you carefully consider what you want to achieve with your host country partners, create a plan, create goals, and get permission, that you’ll be fully supported by staff/students and encouraged every step of the way.

So if you are considering the Peace Corps, apply to Peace Corps Myanmar. You won’t regret it. I know I don’t.

(Joel Bosque served in a short-term English education assignment in Yangon Region as one of Peace Corps Myanmar’s first Volunteers. Prior to joining Peace Corps Myanmar, he successfully completed a two-year assignment in the education sector in Mongolia.)

Strength-based-approach By Rachel Johnson

Peace Corps adheres to a strength-based approach, meaning that recognizing one’s (and one’s partners’) idiosyncratic abilities and how to share them is an integral component of pre-service training (PST).

The first full group of trainees in Myanmar will work in the education sector. We are learning how to develop a support network among experienced teachers, utilize our technical abilities, and acquire strategies to overcome challenges we might face in the classroom. This time is also meant to contemplate more abstract concepts. For Myanmar Group Two (MM2), we are visualizing how we will fulfill our role as education Volunteers.

On a sizzling summer afternoon at our training site, Hay Marn, the Peace Corps Myanmar Programming and Training Specialist, entered a classroom of fifteen trainees. She prompted a discussion with the question, “What qualities did your favorite teachers have in school?”

She split us into groups and gave us a few minutes to brainstorm. As we shared our ideas, Hay Marn mapped out our discussion of ideological islands on to a sea of poster paper: “passionate, humorous, and knowledgeable” were all mentioned next to more complex expressions of what it means to be a teacher.

Trainees especially remembered teachers who were able to challenge them with new ways of thinking, who were interested in their personal lives, and who always seemed to be learning alongside their students.

Hay Marn is responsible for instructing us trainees about the specific skills that will be necessary for teaching in a Myanmar classroom. However, in this activity she also constructed a framework within which trainees were given the opportunity to reflect on what type of Volunteers we will be.

Together, Hay Marn’s session and the Peace Corps’ strength-based philosophy are my biggest sources of inspiration for shaping the approach of a productive Volunteer in Myanmar.

In a perfect world, I would sail along on an idyllic sea made up of all the qualities listed by MM2 that day--whether inside or outside the classroom. However, it is unrealistic to believe a single person could embody all the traits a group holds in its collective psyche. Instead, it demonstrates that the role of the Volunteer follows an ebb and flow of perpetual adjustment, i.e.: constantly reassessing the needs of one’s community and acting accordingly.

During PST, I have realized that the challenge of being a Peace Corps Volunteer will be striving not to try and attain perfection during service. Rather, it will require a Volunteer’s flexibility alongside a steadfast commitment to recognizing and building on the strengths of the Volunteer’s school and community. I can’t wait to get started!

(Rachel Johnson is originally from Kentucky and just completed ten weeks of pre-service training in Myanmar. She is amongst the first group of Volunteers who will serve for two years in an English education assignment in public middle and high schools. Rachel earned her B.A. in English from Transylvania University. Prior to joining Peace Corps, She worked in child development programs and various volunteer organizations in Kentucky.)