October 17, 2008

10/17/08 Teaching English

Well, I just finished my sixth week of teaching, so I guess it's a good time to let ya' all know how it's going. First let me say I think teaching is the hardest thing I've every done, but I think I like it. [smile]

Maybe a little background is needed. Lama Zopa Rinpoche brought the FPMT to Mongolia at the request of several of his Mongolian students to help "re-light the lamp" of Mongolian Buddhist culture which was almost completely destroyed by the Communist regime (1921-1990: 67 years), and to provide assistance for the poor and under-privileged.

As part of it's social outreach, FPMT Mongolia started an English language program in 2002. The classes do not directly involve Buddhist teachings and are open to Mongolians of any age, social status and profession. In Mongolia with its rapidly growing economy and international relations, the knowledge of English is essential. Without English it can often be difficult to find a good job. On the other hand, unemployment and extremely low salaries prevent most people from affording costly language courses.

Here's a little write-up I found:
"Beginner Level students consist primarily of the pupils from the lower-economic strata to the unemployed. In many instances, basic English ability can mean the difference between a job and unemployment, between cleaning toilets or a simple clerk position."

"Pre-Intermediate students consist primarily of secondary and high school pupils and a few adults. Many public schools do not have the money to support good English language program despite the Mongolian Government declaring English as the official second language. Private schools do however have good ESL programs, and this leaves the average Mongolian family struggling to keep up with the educational demands that their children will encounter entering into higher learning institutions and later, the work force. Therefore, the educational and financial gap between the rich and the poor is almost guaranteed by the inequity in educational standards. This is the old but typical scenario for developing nations..."

Unemployment is about 30% here. And in too many cases, one individual supports not only their family, but an extended family as well. So, speaking even a little bit of English well can lead to a much needed economic boost for the whole family.

At Shendrup Ling (FPMT Buddhist Meditation Center) I teach about 90 students. I have two groups of Pre-Intermediate students, one group of Intermediate 1st semester students, and two groups of Intermediate 2nd semester students. Each group meets for 90 minutes twice a week.

And now, I also teach two days a week at Dolma Ling, our community center in one of the poor ger districts in the Eastern part of the city. I teach three groups of children, two classes about 8-9 years-old and one class of 11-12 year-olds. I also teach English twice a week to most of the staff and a few of the Buddhist nuns from the Dolma Ling Nunnery. Needless to say, I'm pretty busy.

My younger kids working on their penmanship


Teaching the staff at Dolma Ling


My older kids hamming it up for the camera

My students at Shendrup Ling are a very diverse group of individuals. My youngest is about 8 (he comes with his mother) to a few my age (but I would ask specifically). [laugh] I have primary and secondary students, quite a few university students, professionals and working moms, plus a few doctors. Curiously, my female students outnumber their male counterparts almost 5 to 1.

Since it was started, the English program has followed a set curriculum of lesson plans. As with previous teachers, I have added my own 'flavor' to the current lesson plans and will some day pass those on to the next teacher. I spend most of my day researching for new ideas or methods and editing the lesson plans for that day. Surprising how much work goes into planning for three hours worth of class. With the children at Dolma Ling, since they already are taking a little bit of English at their schools, at first I'll just be helping supplement their current schoolwork.

Right off the bat, I'll admit I am no English scholar. Far from it. And I'll also admit that there are some finer points of grammar that are extremely difficult for me to understand, let alone teach. But I've had a good foundation built through my ESL Certification course. Plus, with access to the internet, I can call upon thousands of ESL teachers to help me understand and thus teach to my students. Some classes go great, but others not so great. Many times, I can't even figure out why they miss the mark. Nothing really to do but get some rest, wake-up in the morning and try again.

But I love being busy. And I love how teaching lets me be creative. The Mongolians are so nice and appreciative. Some struggle so hard with their English, but they keep coming back day after day. I think I am very lucky to be in a program where the students are there because they want to be, not because it's required.

What really helps though is the great support I get from all the staff here. I would be lost without Tsetsgee, my fellow English teacher (she teaches the Beginners and also some Pre-Intermediate students), who also happens to be my Mongolian language teacher (bless her with patience!). And her husband is one of my English students at Dolma Ling where he works. I really feel I'm part of a family here.

My cousin Cynthia said in a recent email "I had wondered how long after your arrival you would find some major project to take on to make things better." I hate to admit, but she's right, I do have a lot of good ideas, with more coming to me everyday. And once I have a bit of time, I'll get to those too. [smile]