LISTEN TO THE TEACHER!
This statement from our South African pre-school teacher Susan touches me when I hear it. At the same time it makes me curious. What is it like to work as a teacher on our campus? What are the Challenges? What are the differences to other schools? I therefore agree with our headmistress, Barbara Beaufait, to ask some of the teachers about these and other points in short interviews.
Amy is the first teacher I interview that day in the brand-new Suite Bungalows at the Farmhouse Resort. Amy is a sensitive teacher from the Philippines who teaches our 6th grade. She fights back tears as she recounts the stories she regularly hears from the children. It breaks her heart when she has to experience the torment the children live in. She speaks of barbaric family relationships, but immediately apologizes for the choice of words. She reports on slums and the fact that the children there are not safe and are being abused.
I heard something similar from Susan. I follow up and get an example. Amy recounts a time when she asked a child if they would hear from their parents that they loved them. The child could only have smiled in embarrassment. Others became clearer: they openly admit to the teacher that family care and love does not exist.
Shocking. But just to be clear, neither Amy or Susan blame the parents. They simply describe the reality of their everyday lives.
I am grateful for these insights. Because anyone who, like me, only sees the children frolicking across the schoolyard from a distance when visiting the Smiling Gecko Campus will definitely not get the right picture. Speaking of campus: I ask Amy for her opinion on how far the campus with its various training centers will help the children to choose their own career one day. It helps a lot, Amy thinks. She says children who are new to us all want to work in the factory – just like members of their families do. They may consider to be farmers and maybe even hairdressers. Because these are the jobs they know from their incredibly restricted environment. Amy sees it as her job to broaden the children’s horizons. Opening up a world for them, inspiring them. And that seems to work! Suddenly the same children want to be nurses or police officers, for example. And why aren’t children in Cambodia allowed to dream of becoming a singer or a professional soccer player? The dreams are there. I heard it myself when I was talking to some 6th grade boys and girls. Which, by the way, is easy to do in English. I also spoke to Amy about this and at the same time confronted her with the accusation that there were repeated comments from Europe that our school was too expensive.
Her opinion on this: «The challenge is that we don’t invest in a business where you can see the result quickly, but in our children. This will need time. But we are already in the 6th grade and in a few years we will know: our school is not too expensive. Because we’ve invested in an education that turns totally underprivileged children into great adults with the best career prospects.” For Amy, this also includes the bilingual approach of Khmer and English, without which our children would not have the same good chance of a successful future. She is convinced that globalization does not stop at Cambodia. English is the prerequisite for equal opportunities. And for her, the lesson is not about memorizing any vocabulary or just learning the grammar, but about using the language. The children should understand the language, not just speak it.
A strong statement from a really impressive personality. But let’s move on to the next teacher. So to Eric, our librarian from the USA. I experience him as a calm fellow who walks across the campus with alert eyes and has an impressive relationship with the children. Unlike most other teachers, Eric only sees each class once a week. When they come to his library for their lessons. Like almost all international teachers, Eric has worked in other schools and in developing countries. He was already a teacher in Phnom Penh and on the Marshall Islands, a small state in the South Pacific that is only a few places ahead of Cambodia in the HDI (Human Development Index).
When I asked why he accepted the job with us, he reports that he had the opportunity to set up a small library as a librarian. He speaks of the fascination of being able to bring our children closer to the English language and literature in general. At the same time, his eyes light up. I ask Eric what challenges he sees in dealing with our children. To which he replies:
He adds that fortunately, or perhaps because of this, the children have an insatiable hunger for knowledge. They want to learn, and he is happy to see how they develop. They are filled with enthusiasm for everything to do with school.
I ask Eric if and how our children differ from the children at his previous schools. He thinks they’re a lot more respectful of their teachers. There would also be no lack of discipline which exists elsewhere. And once again he emphasizes how incredibly ambitious and motivated the campus kids are.
Next, I speak to Susan from South Africa, whom I quoted earlier. As a pre-school teacher, she is very supportive of our approach to getting the very youngest ones used to the English language. The achievements would be obvious. Children who come to us at the age of three absorb the language. It’s incredible to see how quickly they understand and speak it.
When I asked how our teaching differed from that at her last school in Phnom Penh, she mentioned that we focus on the playful imparting of knowledge. A good idea, Susan thinks. Because the little ones would only be “children” for a very short time. And we should spend this time together with them to let them experience their childhood consciously.
When I ask her about the family backgrounds of our children, she becomes thoughtful. She thinks for a moment and then recounts the following experience: «On a Friday afternoon I asked the children what they were going to do at the weekend. Some replied that they would go to the nearest village to do some shopping. Others wanted to help the mothers cook or look after the cows. But one boy also said that he had to go to the rice field to work there at the weekend. I didn’t expect that, after all we’re talking about children up to the age of four. That’s why I asked my parents at the next opportunity. They explained to me: Yes, the boy would work every weekend. That was very emotional for me.”
Finally, I ask Susan what she would wish for her children if a good fairy granted her one wish. She thinks about it for a moment and then says with a smile that it would definitely be a playground for the younger children. The children had asked her about it several times. They also drew many pictures of playgrounds and showed her.
It is nice to see that the wishes of the children in Cambodia are not too different from those of the children in the industrialized countries. But it is also sad because we know how much more difficult it is to fulfill these wishes.