Retrained: Revisiting Pre-Service Training

As I mentioned before, I’d been invited to the current Pre-Service Training (PST) to teach a couple classes in government schools for the new group, N/196, to observe. But observe what? The new group has lots of energy and interest in their jobs.

This could go without saying, but some groups are more casual about work. Yes, we’re volunteers for Nepal. Yes, we’re here to make a difference. Yes, I’m often more interested in taking the tea than talking pedagogy. Perhaps that’s because I don’t know that much about pedagogy.

The fact is I’m no longer certified as a teacher in the United States. Though the US government says I’m no longer qualified to teach in a US classroom, I’ve come here with the Peace Corps to train teachers.

I know that I do have a lot to offer the teachers here, but the strange dichotomy of my situation has not gone unnoticed.

Anyhow, I’d come full circle from my training. There I was, a year in-country later, helping to facilitate the N/196 PST. I felt unready to be guiding the new folks in any way, let alone into professional roles as PCVs in Nepal, but I had learned a thing or two.

Most about Nepali tea.

Back in June 2002, I went to Nepalgunj to conduct some teacher trainings. I felt intimidated being an authority amongst people who had been teaching a lot longer than me. Again, I was uneasy about teaching for people with education degrees and EFL/ESL certification.

But what did I learn from those trainings in Nepalgunj? Just look like you know what you’re doing and people will believe.

Patricia, a N/191 RPCV, was the in-charge person who’d asked me to come to PST. She asked me to prepare a lesson plan from the 4th grade curriculum to teach in two different schools to two different 4th grade classes. Details on the schools were unavailable. She was asking me to walk in and teach cold. I said yes.

Mahatma Buddha, the primary school

The first school I was to teach at was a secondary school called Mahatma Buddha, aka the Enlightened Buddha. Patricia came by the hotel the night before my first day of teaching. She bought me a beer and said, You may have to teach outdoors to 70 students. Cheers.

The school situation was going to be iffy, which relaxed me since I would have much lower expectations of what I could accomplish within the constraints.

The next day we arrived at Mahatma Buddha just before my class. As we came into the school grounds kids stopped playing and began to form a crowd. There were eight of us: Patricia, six PCTs, and I.

We were a sight to behold. I remember how overwhelmed I was when this happened the first time I visited a school in Nepal. While the PCTs slowed to a halt, stunned by the crowd surging around us, I pushing through like Indiana Jones with a machete.

I began talking to the teacher before we went to her class. I told her that I was happy and thankful to teach her 4th grade class for my friends and tried to confirm that I would be teaching as I saw her taking her stick for whacking kids. She seemed aware, but nervous. Too nervous.

Soon the bell rang and we were off to class. I sighed in relief as we walked towards a classroom. No outdoor teaching today.

After the PCTs and Patricia settled in the back of the classroom, the teacher said a few threatening words to the students. The students straightened up and sat quietly. I hung a poster on the board and asked the kids to take out their books.

They began rummaging through their bags and I started to sense that something wasn’t right, though I couldn’t put my finger on it. Everyone was digging deep in their backpacks, slow to find their books.

I wandered back to the front of the class and asked a student who was making no effort to get his book, in Nepali, Where’s your book?

He looked at me blankly, This is 5th grade.

Fuck.

Nobody had the book because I was in the wrong class. I looked at the teacher who was still glaring menacingly at the students. Patricia just put up her arms and shrugged, clearly wondering what I was going to do.

Well, I said trying to keep up my pace, I can teach this, and dove in head-first with the materials I had. I couldn’t do the writing activity without the books. Suddenly, I had to adapt my lesson plan to a different grade.

The class went well enough but I had to ask myself if I could have written the lesson plan better so that it could have been more adaptable because you can’t always rely on the students having something, like a book or pen.

As we left someone said, considering I was in the wrong class, things had gone really well and asked what I thought.

Well, I said with a smirk, it was enlightening.

Bhairahawa Secondary, the high school

The next day I was to teach at the first government school established in Bhairahawa. Patricia had made more visits to this school and felt that things would go better than the day before, but since I had the time I thought I’d go over to the school a bit early and chat with the teachers so that everyone was a little more comfortable.

I sat in the teacher’s room and met with the teacher whose 4th grade English class I’d be taking for the day. She was a nice enough woman, Manju. When she asked the helper to bring tea for me in Hindi, I saw an opportunity to practice my Hindi before my upcoming trip to India.

I told the helper, Gaaram wallah dijieh, much to the delight of the other teachers.

The other group of PCTs came just as my conversational Hindi was peaking. Soon I found myself in front of the class teaching.

It’s remarkable how easily I transferred the energy I had gathered from chatting with the other teachers into my class. Manju came to class, but sat in the back amongst the PCTs and Patricia, which created a much more relaxed environment for the students.

The class went great. The kids went insane and sand and threw up their arms and legs and hands and feet in the air on command by the end of class. The class ended on a high note with some kids frothing at the mouth with excitement.

I left with a deep sense of accomplishment. The kids were waiving goodbye and asking if I’d come again the next day to teach again.

One out of two isn’t bad, I suppose.