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Teaching, General Teaching Projects in Sri Lanka by Adam Kessler

Children at my school

I arrived in Sri Lanka with Projects Abroad about a month ago now, full of enthusiasm. I had passed a TEFL course just before coming out, so had a month of intensive teacher training under my belt. I felt ready. I knew what concept questions were, and I was proficient in over nine tenses. I could say 'shut the hell up' in six different languages. However, perhaps predictably, school was nothing like I'd expected.

So on my first day I ended up teaching my class animals and verbs - monkey climbs, fish swim etc. I learnt a lot about concept questions in England - essentially asking the students questions to check they understand, and so I seized the opportunity to put this into practice.

"Fish swims?" I asked them, and by physically going up to them and moving their heads I managed to get a response. "Good" I lied. "Now, monkey swims?"

Playing Simon says

"No!" the children should have cried "How could you commit a zoological error of such colossal magnitude? Surely nobody but the most incompetent of natural scientists should be aware that the common monkey (chimpus araborelous) spends its time climbing - or since you insist on restricting us to the present simple tense - the monkey climbs." Instead they just nodded their heads, having evidently learnt that nodding makes me happy. The teacher immediately repeated my question in Singhalese, which at least allows them to understand, but at times is a bit annoying.

Sigiriya rock

The second day of teaching was much more fun than the first. The children had lost their fear of me and Alistair, and so whenever we went out at break time we were attacked by a swarm of rampaging children, all calling out in Singhalese at the top of their voices. Desperately trying to calm the masses, I informed them all that my name is Adam.

"My name is Adam! My name is Adam!" they all yelled in what was, for some reason, a perfect Scottish accent.

"No, no!" I told them. "MY name is Adam. What is your name?"

Child at tsunami camp

"What is your name? What is your name?" they chanted, delighted with the new game. Sighing I gave up attempts at communication and went back to shaking hands, which is the one thing guaranteed to cause a riot. For some reason they absolutely love shaking hands, they just can't get enough of it. As soon as they understood this novel means of communication, they spent all break-time following us round, frantically grabbing at our hands and shaking.

Monkey playing with water bottle

They are also kept exceedingly amused by our lessons. Not because of our excellent lesson plans (for good reason) or because of our dry wit and sparkling epigrams. No, the things that send the children off into paroxysms of laughter are our attempts to shut them up! Clapping at them provoked mild titters, gesticulating for quiet with a ruler leads to much general merriment, and my attempt at putting my finger to my mouth and saying "shhh!" led to riotous laughter and a spontaneous round of applause.

It's infectious laughter, happy rather than malicious, and I find it quite hard to keep a straight face in lessons. I was trying to teach them the time, and clapped my hands for quiet. After a burst of laughter, something like silence was obtained. "Now", I told them, "The time now is ." I paused, sneezed twice into my handkerchief, and went back to the lesson. I got another two words out before dissolving into a fit of giggles, while Alistair watched sadly from the side.

So, all that remains is to point out that, despite the problems, teaching English here in Sri Lanka is a wonderful and constantly varied experience.

Adam Kessler

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