A Story by teacher, Mr. Will Jones
I was in Siem Reap, Cambodia, to visit Angkor Wat, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the most expansive and beautiful ancient Hindu temple complexes on earth. As excited as I was about that visit, I was equally excited when I saw a poster on the wall of the Bliss Villa Guest House where I was staying offering guests the chance to teach English for a day at a small rural school operated by local Theravada Buddhist monks. So after spending New Year’s Day on an astonishing tour of Angkor the World Wonder, I awoke the next day to an adventure at the Angkor Buddhist Organization School.
On the morning of January 2nd, my guest house host, two orange robed monks, and a traveling companion and I boarded noisy tuk-tuks and bumped along dusty red dirt roads for 30 minutes. Habitations of all descriptions, vegetable gardens, rice paddies, cattle and water buffalo were the most prominent features of the landscape. We arrived to find a small, open air pavilion and three dirt floor and palm frond walled classrooms on a narrow strip of land receding about 50 yards from the roadside. Across the road was a rough field for recreation, and a palm roofed open walled kitchen where the locals prepared lunch for the monks.
After a brief orientation about the curriculum by the gentle, soft-spoken monks, I was escorted to my classroom. The second I entered, roughly fifteen beautiful children ages 10-16 stood at attention, raised their hands in an attitude of prayer and respect, and, in perfect unison, greeted me: “Good morning teacher! How are you?” Imagine the smile that spread across my joyous face and the warmth that filled my heart at this greeting. In all my years as a secondary English teacher and a high school administrator, I had never received such a warm welcome.
With a small instruction booklet, a dry erase marker, a beat up white board and a lot of imagination, I taught four forty-five minute English classes. By the end of the day my students knew a lot about my family, the names of the items of clothes I was wearing, and in a leap of instructional faith, synonyms, like “pretty” and “lovely.”
I watched and smiled as eager students wrote names and phrases in their copy books, as they chanted rhymes about purple sneakers, as they giggled with delight when I overreacted comically to their mispronunciations or when I encouraged and rewarded them by drawing stars beside their work. Sadly, I learned that the two beautiful young girls with shaved heads had recently lost their father, their appearance a part of their mourning.
My biggest reward came at the end of the day when the students gathered around to thank me and ask if I would be their teacher the next day. No, I said, but thank you. I will remember you forever.
photo by will jones
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