Here’s an old, unfinished post from teaching summer school in 2018 that I found saved in my drafts:
The school I teach at holds an English learning summer school where mostly government school students attend. I’m teaching Levels 1-6, which means the students are ages 5-14. The English abilities of the students is drastically worse than the students that attend my school during the school year. Having the opportunity to teach students who attend government school during the school year has really showed me the inadequacies of the government school quality.
To begin with, many of the younger students couldn’t even answer the question “What is your name?” which is definitely one of the first phrases taught to anyone learning a second language. In all classes, I find myself saying something in English and translating myself into Burmese because my Burmese is better than even some students from Level 6. Almost every activity that I do in class I need an assistant teacher to translate. Some of the students in my classes go to my school during the school year, and these students can converse and comprehend things pretty well in English, even in Level 1. I sometimes have these students translate for the class, as well.
However, the poor education quality at government schools isn’t just reflected in the students’ English abilities. I really notice it when I have the students do activities that require imagination, creativity, and reflection. For one assignment, I had students form groups and create a planet with aliens. The students had to come up with what they aliens looked like, what they liked to do, etc. I had teachers translate the assignment to the students to ensure that they understood the task. Some groups really struggled to think of this imaginary planet. They’d write that their aliens looked like people with black hair and black eyes just like themselves. Other groups would just copy what another group had written, so they couldn’t even create something on their own. I told them that there was no right or wrong answer and that the aliens could look like whatever you could possibly imagine, yet the students really struggled.
Because the English levels are not very high, I focus on a lot of speaking and pronunciation activities. Students struggle with pronouncing words that end in consonants because Burmese words don’t end with harsh consonants like in words like wind, wash, and watch. Students often pronounce win and wind the exact same. I find that being a native English speaker, I am best able to utilize my strengths in speaking to help the students. Especially because many Burmese English teachers struggle with pronunciation themselves, so the students emulate what the teachers say. Also, combining verbal skills with actions or pictures I’ve found to be helpful for the younger kids to remember words. Working on verbal skills with the older kids forces them to step outside of their routine written phrases that they can get away with in government schools.
I’ve also just had such strange interactions with some of the students. I’ve broken up two fights by literally having to strong hold a student to stop him from attacking another student. I was helping a student with a worksheet when they started to vomit all over themselves. One day, I was wearing a floor length dress and a student continued to try to lift up my dress to look underneath it, so I had to avoid the part of the room where he was seated. One student grabbed my boobs and proclaimed that I am fat.
These were some of the thoughts and experiences that I had teaching government school students. These experiences have continued to stick with me today, and have shaped some of my research questions in graduate school.