An English teacher’s day in Phnom Penh Cambodia.
My aunt and uncle have a rule about complaining: you only get one whinge per day.
So, if you stub your toe before you even get out of bed in the morning, you can have yourself a little cry, but that’s it. You’re done for the day. Even if you then leave your house, fall down the stairs, cross the street and get hit by a child riding a bicycle, miss the bus to work because you were too busy yelling at the child, get fired because you’ve been late too many times, drink heavily for the rest of the day and fall up the stairs going home, and stub your toe getting back into bed.
You have to pick just one.
My whinge today is teaching.
I know, I know, all teachers complain about teaching. The kids are brats, there are so many papers to grade, the administration is always all up in yo’ grill, blah blah blah. You know what I have to say to that? They speak English!
To make matters worse, it is a cultural habit here to always respond with a nod when asked a question. Do you know where this address is? Nods yes. Do you have change for a five? Nods yes. Can I steal your tuk tuk? Nods yes.
I never get a response with the I-don’t-understand expression when I ask them to point to mom in the picture. It’s just a nod—I hear the words coming out of your mouth—which makes me count to ten and do breathing exercises frequently so I don’t shake the children violently and cry myself to sleep at night.
Now you can add in the teacher complaints of dealing with crying six-year-olds, that one kid who won’t ever shut up, and their unbelievable ability to cheat on everything.
If it weren’t for my schedule, I think I’d lose my mind.
6:30 am: Wake up. Or at least move my body from the sleeping position to standing. Actually waking up happens around 8 am.
7:00 am: After yawning, showering, yawning, and getting dressed I make an egg sandwich and have a little rest. (Yes mom, I take my vitamin every day).
7:20 am: Go to the street where my moto driver is waving and saying good morning. He’s great. Every morning he takes me to Modern International School and every afternoon he takes me home. I pay him $8 a week. You can bet he’ll be getting a good Christmas present.
8:00 am: Finally awake in time for my first class. 24 kindergarteners. We’re studying from a book called Number Magic. They all already know how to count to 1,000 and magic is frowned upon here, so I’d say it’s an effective learning device.
9:00 am: Same grade, different class. Except I’m pretty sure every one of these kids could be diagnosed with ADHD. At no point is everyone sitting in a seat—they are like whack-a-mole, one sits down and another one gets up to wander—and by Thursday I lose my voice from telling them to sit down and do their work.
10:00 am: 31 preschoolers. One teacher’s assistant. And a kid who I can only politely describe as an ass hole. He’s smarter than the other kids and about four years older, so he flies through his work and begins his next task of terrorizing the teacher.
He started this new routine of putting on his backpack midway through class and pretending to leave, saying, “Bye Teachaa.” He throws me his shittiest smile and waltzes toward the door. The TA yells something in Khmer about breaking his knee caps and then he runs back to his desk to sulk.
11:00 am: Hop on the moto and close my eyes for the fifteen minute ride home. I close them partly because of exhaustion and partly because this is peak traffic time and I’d have an anxiety attack if I watched all of the accidents we narrowly avoided.
11:15 am – 5:00 pm is my saving grace period. I usually eat lunch, go for a run around the Royal Palace or do yoga at home, write a little, catch up on reading, eat dinner, and walk to ELT—the university where I teach night classes.
5:25 pm: I have my oldest class of 6B students, which is the equivalent to seniors in high school. I love teaching this class because they’re almost fluent and really funny.
This past Friday our topic was gossiping and rumors so we played telephone to show how rumors spread and change. It got them practicing listening and speaking, and they cracked up when the rumors I started were about someone in the class liking someone else.
6:30 pm: Last class of the night and it’s high school freshman. They think they’re all that and a bag of chips. But they’re smart. And they love pop culture, so I get to hear about how amazing Justin Bieber is every day. I’ll admit it, though, they’re pretty good kids.
7:30 pm: Walk home and make dinner.
8:30 pm: Do a little lesson planning for the next day.
9:30 pm: Check emails and Facebook
10:00 pm: Get ready for bed and read (I’m as nerdy as they come).
10:30 pm: Lights out.
Alright, so I guess this vent session made me realize how easy I have it. I only work five hours a day—that’s 25 hours a week for all you mathmagicians out there—and I still make enough to pay rent, save a little, eat well, have a couple adult beverages with friends, and get a weekly $4 pedicure/massage.
As we say here daily, “Only in Cambodia.”
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