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
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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