The issue with volunteer teaching, though, is the expectation that it will be easy without any training. While an amateur teacher may have a classroom’s best interests at heart, how easy is it to actually throw yourself at the mercy of a group of children and hope that you can impart some worthwhile knowledge?
An Impromptu Education in Teaching Abroad
I didn’t exactly choose to teach English in Nepal. I was volunteering with a group of children living at an orphanage in Kathmandu, and after walking them to school one morning, I somehow found myself in the headmaster’s office, agreeing to take over his English language classes for the next month.
Sadly, he told me this was to be done without resources as they had no books to spare – meaning I spent the evening feverishly Googling lesson plans and brainstorming topics I thought could be suitable for children ranging in age from five to fifteen.
But as it turned out, I wasn’t prepared in the slightest.
A Teacher’s Life in Kathmandu
My school was located deep in the heart of Nepal’s capital city, only a few minutes’ walk from the teeming tourist hub of Thamel. It gathered students from all around Kathmandu – some paid to attend, while others (like my orphan contingent) had their education paid for by the school itself, and still others were sponsored by benefactors from as far away as Australia.
Our mornings would start with a gathering of students and teachers alike, all reciting the national prayer. Watching from the staff room doorway, this relatively calm moment gave me a chance to settle myself into teaching for the day – and for the next few hours, my time was spent moving from class to class, addressing the different skill levels of each group of children, and teaching them accordingly.
For the youngest, my vague lesson plans were suitable enough. Colours, numbers, and thinking up exotic animals (complete with sound demonstrations), kept the six year olds happy enough.
But the oldest children were my biggest struggle. As teenagers who’d been learning English for years, I’d already been informed that they could speak the language – and yet they sat stony faced throughout my lessons, refusing to say a word.
Learning on the Job
Eventually, I realised that a sure fire way to get their attention, and break that student/stranger barrier, was to look like a fool. As soon as I pranced around the classroom pretending to be an elephant, and ‘flew’ past the desks on a ruler masquerading as a Hogwarts broom, there was a sudden shift in classroom dynamic. Suddenly, my pupils wanted to talk.
When I eventually left Kathmandu, the older girls made me friendship bracelets and goodbye cards. After a month of teaching, my teaching skills had improved considerably – and so had my bonds with the children I taught – but I wished I could have stayed for longer.
Takeaways from Teaching Abroad
I learnt that teaching for a single month is not enough. I learnt that teaching with no resources as well as no qualifications is a mistake – in part because of my inability to create real structure to my lessons, but mainly because I felt frustrated that my opportunity to really impart knowledge to these children lay sadly dormant.
There is a silver lining, though: due to my experiences in Kathmandu, I’m now about to start teaching English in Ecuador for five months. In an entire school semester, with teaching resources and a TEFL education at my back, I feel sure that I can give something of value to the children I teach. Hopefully, they’re just as enthusiastic about having me as a teacher.
By Flora Baker
Flora is a writer and travel blogger, who chronicles her travelling adventures at Flora The Explorer. For more immediate updates you can find her on Twitter, where she spends a large portion of her time discussing travel.