When we conduct a training session for young teachers, we emphasise big or generous ideas, such as constructivism or critical thinking. They sure are important considerations, and require serious explanations.
But when we follow up teachers in the field, we find out that their difficulties depend much more on very basic work ethic and routines. I’m not questioning the goodwill of the Cambodian people. You’re not reluctant to perform the required tasks, unlike the French who go on strike for nothing. What many Cambodian teachers lack is habits.
Here are some common issues I’d like to discuss a little bit:
Schedule and punctuality
There are two main reasons for a lack of punctuality. The first one is a lack of commitment. It’s just unexcusable. It’s a strong disrespect for coworkers. The teacher who comes late is wasting the time of other people as well as his own. Some teachers lose up to 10 minutes on a regular basis. To compensate such a loss, we should make them work 2 month more and cancel all of their vacations!
The second one is more understandable but should be addressed with extreme concern. When you work, you always have a multitude of small tasks you don’t think about: a letter to answer, a document to read, a coworker to see, some material to pick up or whatever. It’s easy to loose 10 or 15 minutes because of those small tasks and to forget a big appointement. Sometimes those retards concern very dedicated people who just have a bad organization: we want to fill a little gap before a meeting but we don’t consider the time we need to perform the new task, or the time required to go from the library to the meeting room.
Answer your emails at once, even if you don’t have a precise answer to give. At least write: “Thank you for your question. I will give you an answer tomorrow.” Of course, you do answer tomorrow. It’s a matter of politeness, but also a matter of efficiency. Indeed, if we don’t answer immediately, we tend to forget totally. I myself made this mistake several times. The consequences can be important. The more you linger, the less you dare to fix your mistake.
I’m not talking about the ability to write state of the art lesson plans. I’m just talking about having a lesson plan at all! Why do you need a lesson plan? To please your hierarchy? No! A school director has enough to do without checking every lesson of every teacher! The framework that the administration provides during training sessions is just an example to help you think about the essential. The goal of the lesson plan is efficiency. If you don’t know what you want the students to do, they won’t know either. If you don’t know why you do an exercise, you risk to work in vain. It’s as simple as that. Preparing a lesson plan is only about knowing what you want, to avoid those awkward hesitations that make the students and the teacher unhappy.
A tricky part is the use of a manual. A good manual is precious. It saves you a lot of time and can reduce your preparatory work dramatically, maybe even to 5 minutes for 1 teaching hour. It’s obvious that you can’t spend more than 1 hour for 1 hour on a regular basis, especially if you work in primary school. However, it is dangerous to reduce your preparation time to nothing, even if the manual is very good. There may be some mistakes in the manual or some exercises more difficult to understand. Always check if the exercises are doable! It’s mandatory! Not because I say so, but because you will put yourself in trouble if you don’t do it. Most of the modern manuals try to promote original approaches. Sometimes you have to prepare your material or organize your classroom in a specific way, just to follow the instructions on the manual! There is no room for improvisation, if you need to use flashcards or make the students work in groups. You can’t just say: “Now, you do the exercise 10 page 25.” Maybe this exercise 10 page 25 requires the use of an LCD projector! The schools generally try to provide you with good inspiring textbooks and with a good and practical teacher’s book. But it’s a fact that modern manuals tend to have a major default. They don’t have many redundant exercises. You don’t have many ready-to-use activities in reserve if one of them happens to not be doable.
The material preparation
It should always be made in advance. There is nothing more ridiculous than a teacher struggling with his computer for 10 minutes in front of his class before playing a 2 minutes audio file! Don’t put yourself in trouble!
The cleaning operations
They should be made in advance as well. We cannot afford to lose 10 minutes before every lesson in order to clean up the rooms. The students can do the job a few minutes before the teacher arrives. It’s only a matter of organization. Don’t be mistaken, I strongly recommend to teach hygiene on a regular basis. To be honest, Cambodia is a mess. The streets of Phnom Penh or Kampong Cham are literally disgusting. Solving the problem will take a lot of time. And it begins with the cleaning habits you’ll give to your students. However you don’t need to do it at the expense of the Khmer lessons!
Changing your plan on your own initiative.
A teacher is usually the one who can make the best decision for his classes. However, he’s not alone. Many other workers are involved. The minimal politeness requires that you share the information. People can visit you in your classroom. They expect to see a specific kind of lesson. You have a program to follow, you are supposed to teach specific subjects at a regular pace. It’s unacceptable for instance to replace all your English lessons of the week by Khmer lessons, without at least referring to the director. The school is committed toward the parents, the ministry and many other stakeholders to provide a specific set of teaching. By replacing your lessons arbitrarily, you make your administration lie.