My intention for this post is everything opposite of negative but there I are some hard truths that I've had to face coming here. I really believe moving to Bhutan was not entirely my own choosing, but rather the universe sending me here for a reason. I am still in the process of discovering my entire purpose. These are my beginning reflections.
I've been teaching here in Bhutan for about a month now. In the beginning everything was so different and I really struggled because of the expectations I had before I came here. I think life was trying to teach me yet again that you should have no expectations, it only sets you up for disappointment - this always seems to happen to me whenever I start to forget this basic principle! Above all else I thought that the Bhutanese children were going to be exceptionally well behaved because of the strict discipline in this country. I thought I would have to fight to get them to speak but it was really the opposite - the only problem was that they weren't speaking English and I had no idea what they were saying! The children would mock each other and laugh when someone got something wrong, I really had to work hard to get them to understand that this really wasn't okay and I would not allow it in my classrooms. They didn't understand positive reinforcement or praise at all and looked at me like I was a crazy person for noticing their efforts.
There is a need to be acknowledged here so great that the children shout out "Madam! Madam!" when they know an answer to a question. This means I have 40 children shouting "Madam!" at me fighting for any recognition. It was so distracting and made such a noise that I am surprised any of the children could think of the answer in the first place. It was really difficult to get them to understand that the recognition would come even if they waited their turn, that I had enough love and praise for each and every one of them. And that everyone needed to use their own brain to think while the others waited to give me their answers. I thought that there would be so much patience and calmness but I am finding myself teaching even these basic concepts to the children. I am teaching them that it isn't a race to get into the classroom or to be the first to know an answer, teaching them not to slap each other in the face for no particular reason and teaching them that I will never ever beat them even if they make a mistake or steal the chalk and magnets I bring into the classroom.
I also did not expect the children's level of English to be as bad as it is, especially after reading through the curriculum textbooks I was given. They are expected to be able to know all the normal things a first language speaker should and although this is not impossible they don't have the foundational understanding from their lower grades to be able to. I walked into my classrooms on the first day fully prepared to teach what was expected of me and the children had no idea what I was saying. They could read and copy answers found in the text, but ask them their own opinion and they were totally lost. They were able to read a load of words but had absolutely no idea what they meant and if they hadn't learned the word previously they had no way of figuring out what it could be. I realised that these children were hardly ever given a chance to really think for themselves and not one child would answer any of my thought provoking questions in fear of getting them wrong.
The children here need so much love. I know that all children do but here they really, really need it. Every morning in assembly I stand in front of the school and while everyone goes about their normal speeches and announcements I project love to every single child for the entire twenty minutes. I visualise love pouring out every inch of my being and flowing over each child. I know that sounds incredibly hippie but I only teach a small portion of the school and they all need love so much because they really don't get it. I walked into my Class IV classroom during my first week emotional meltdown, looked at each child and told them I loved them. I stood there told them I loved them and was met with completely blank and confused expressions. This was obviously the first time a teacher had ever told them this, or had ever loved them to begin with.
I felt completely defeated for the first few days but I am glad to say that in time my defeat turned into determination. I realised how much I could give these children, I realised that I could make them love school and learning and now it has become my mission. The actual curriculum takes up small portions of my lessons and the rest is filled with conversations and singing and dancing and learning about Letter Land. My Class V's are learning about Annie Apple and Golden Girl because they have no way of reading words they don't know and phonics has never been taught to them, and they love it!
In the first few weeks I found myself looking at this mountainous task with dread. But now I find myself so emotionally rooted at my new school and afraid to ever leave in fear of what might happen to these precious beings. They are starting to get me, to get my ways and they are starting to trust me. This feels like a small achievement but one I am happy with for the time being. I absolutely love teaching these children!