Alison Nair was the Grinnell Corps Nepal fellow for 2002-2003.
Alison Nair's Reports
Report 1Alison Nair
Today was the 21st anniversary of Lalitpur Secondary Boarding School. The day was celebrated with a program of Nepali dancing and singing, as well as with speeches from the principal and the director of the school. There was even a special visit from the ex-Minister of Education who happens to be the patron for the school. For me, today was a chance to see the kids I normally see uncomfortably sitting in a crowded classroom counting down the minutes until break, in a different way. First, I got a chance to casually talk to them in a more informal setting, something that I don't feel like I get to do enough here. Second, I got a chance to see them all dressed up and excited about the hard work they had put into the presentation. I enjoyed their company and beamed with pride as they performed.
The story of how I ended up in a sari watching these amazing kids goes something like this. Less than 48 hours after the dizzying haze of graduation Jessica and I boarded a plane to Chicago, to Los Angles, to Tokyo, to Bangkok, and finally to Nepal. On one Friday I was frantically finishing a final paper and on the next Friday I was half way around the world in a new bed, in a new house, in a new country.
We started teachers training the next day and I first stepped into a classroom as a teacher four days later. And now, anniversary day, I have somehow managed to make it into the second term already. Time seems to be flying by.
Thoughts on Teaching
Teaching is both the best and worst part about being here. At one moment, the kids are excited about the lesson, engrossed in their learning, and enjoying themselves. At the next, kids are engrossed in their own conversations and all my attempts to redirect their interest back to the lesson are ineffective. This continual roller coaster ride was a bit of a shock to my system when I first arrived and I must admit it got the best of me emotionally. Though it took a while, I think now I am adjusted to both the good and bad of teaching, allowing me to be content.
The students here continually amaze me. They are intelligent, insightful, and have great senses of humor. Even though I don't know them all that well, based on my current knowledge, I am quite fond of all of them. And the most exciting part is that I get to learn a little more about each of them every day.
There is a lot more to being a teacher than just an affinity for your students, though I think a genuine like for students is what really drives most teachers. I like teaching and I can see teaching as something for which I could develop a great passion. I love the process of learning and see the value of having good mentors to help along the way.
It is with parts of the actual practice of teaching that I tend to struggle. Not only did I have no teaching experience when I arrived, but the differences between Nepali and American schools presented an extra challenge. We did have a short teaching orientation at the beginning of my stay with Father Brooks, who helped Madhab and the other founders of the school get their start. Brooks, an American who has been living and teaching in Nepal for over thirty years, had a familiar outlook on how to teach. After the teacher's training and taking some time to remember how my elementary and junior high teachers taught me, I had plenty of ideas about what kind of teacher I wanted to be.
Then the first day started and I threw a lot of that out the window. Like Grinnell students can often be, I was so caught up in a theoretical version of me as a teacher, that I forgot to think about practicality. I had severely underestimated the importance of classroom management and all of my illusions about completely discussion-based classes with a creative and free exchange of ideas were useless in the face of 40 screaming 10 year olds.
I spent most of the first term in a constant state of adjustment. Now that I have been through it all once, I feel ready and excited about this term. Already my classes have been much more enjoyable on both ends and I feel more confident that the 40 minutes of the student's day I get is valuable to their education. This is not to say that I am a good teacher. After three months, there is no way that anyone could be a good teacher. I do, however, feel like I am learning what it means to be a good teacher both theoretically and practically.
My seven and eight level classes (like 7th and 8th grade in the States) have been the easiest probably because it is easy for me to relate to them. The subject, grammar, is also strangely to my liking, even though I knew very little about it before I arrived. I think this interest has to do with my desire for order. However, what the students really need is not an organized list of the grammar rules, but a strong grasp on how to apply them. What I mean can easily be seen through the results of my first term exam. Most of the students did quite well when I asked them to put a sentence in the past perfect continuous tense. However, when I asked them to write a paragraph about what they did over their last holiday, they had a horrible time sorting out all of the ways of expressing the past tense. So for my grammar classes, application is going to be my focus this term.
I have grown quite close to my five level (5th grade) classes over the past three months because I see them five times a week instead of only twice like my grammar classes. I teach Compulsory English, which consists of a book and workbook with different stories and activities and a lot of room for creativity.
The biggest challenge I have is with my classes 1, 2 and 3 (1st, 2nd and 3rd grade). These classes are not graded and there is no set course book or material. Madhab's idea when he assigned me these classes was to have the little kids hangout with a native English speaker so that they can just pick up the language as young children are miraculously able to do. Though these little ones are completely adorable, they are also out of control. I am at an obvious disadvantage in this battle because I can not speak Nepali well enough to give them directions or scold them in their native language. Often times I know they can not understand me and there is nothing that can be done. This lack of communication also changes the power dynamics considerably because on some level it allows them to set their own rules.
Over the last term, I have been able to figure out some ways to swing the classroom control in my favor. It helps to keep them constantly busy - this means having them constantly writing down vocabulary words, drawing the animals in the stories I tell them, speaking and repeating whatever I am talking about, and having actions to every song. It seems like the best way to keep them from misbehaving is to keep them busy.
Though I am mainly here to care about the students at LMV, the cultural experience here is a huge part as well. Though it is not complete immersion because Jessica is here with me and I am teaching English, it is still a constant learning experience and, as with my students, I get to learn a little more about Nepal every day.
Jessica and I are fortunate to be living South of Kathmandu and Patan in a partially rural area called Kusunti. It is only a fifteen-minute walk from school and a large bus station from which we can get just about anywhere in the valley. From school, the road starts dark and dirty with plenty of traffic but as you move further along, the street gets cleaner, the roads get less crowded with cars and more crowded with kids playing. About 10 minutes along, the road breaks into a beautiful view of the hills (they look like mountains to my Iowa standards but apparently the real mountains are hiding somewhere behind the clouds, which have constantly covered the sky since our arrival). From the roof of our house, there is a beautiful view of the encircling rice patties, which terrace up on the hills that surround. I know that I over-romanticize Nepal's beauty but I can't help it.
We stay with the principal of LMV school, Madhab Sitaula and his family. This has been quite a different experience from my childhood, as I had no siblings and wasn't around more than my mom and dad. However, Jessica and I have a floor to ourselves in their house so we have privacy as well as company upstairs whenever we want it. The Sitaula's have been accommodating, hospitable and kind. I am thankful for the chance to live with a Nepali family as it greatly enriches my life here.
The Unfortunate Parts
The monsoon season started a few weeks after we got here and has been going strong ever since. There was a period in late July when it rained constantly for three days and when it rains here, it doesn't just sprinkle. For me this only meant a break from my normal morning runs and blisters on my feet from my constantly wet sandals. Locally, we were pretty lucky because the only consequences were the school closing down for one day due to flooding and a landslide knocking out the water supply to our area for a couple of days. In many other areas, food supplies were completely blocked and landslides kill hundreds of people in the lower-lying Terrai.
The most popular comment about the floods was "this is not what Nepal needs." This is in reference to current political situation and the Maoists. Recently, there have been a series of bombs set off in the Kathmandu Valley. These bombs seem more designed to rile things up than to kill. Most of them were small and set off at government targets early in the morning or at night. It is quite a change to be living in a place were there are bombs most days, but because they don't seemed to be targeted towards killing civilians, I do not feel unsafe.
More recently there have been a series of attacks on police stations outside the valley that have lead to the deaths of more than 100 police officers. In the most recent attack, I was told there were over 4000 Maoists involved. The scary thing is the "Maoists" who are fighting and getting killed are more of a human shield for the Maoist leaders, than Maoists themselves. Often these fighters, through threats to themselves and their families, are forced to fight. They are dying, not the leaders of Maoists. Every night on the news there are new pictures of dead supposed Maoists. They show women crying and the destruction caused by the Maoist riots. It is strange to be so close to all of this but feel so far away.
All in allâ¦
Though the Maoists are an unfortunate part of my Nepali experience, overall, I can't complain. Though things are never easy, I am never sorry that I am here. At times I feel guilty about it all. I am having a totally amazing experience here and learning so much from my students and all of the people I am around on a daily basis. But what am I giving them? I don't really know that my inexperienced teaching ability can be justification for all that I am learning here. Though in some ways this answer is unsatisfying to me, I guess all I can really give is to show that I care.
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