Imagine having to teach a foreign language to a group of third-graders with nothing but paper, a whiteboard and a marker. You’re beginning to panic, aren’t you? That was my first reaction when I arrived at my school in Cambodia and saw no flat-screen TVs, no projectors, no classroom speakers and no iPads. What am I going to do? I thought. I’ve been a teacher for three years, and I had been fortunate enough—spoiled, really—to teach in classrooms equipped with the best educational technology. It got even better during COVID-19 when all my students received personal devices. The activities we were able to do seemed endless!
Reality hit me as I scanned the empty classrooms. All I saw were whiteboards, desks and stacks of textbooks. I remembered learning this way during my elementary school days in El Salvador. How had my teachers managed? Those days are long gone, and college did not train me to teach this way. I felt a bit of relief when I found out we would be teaching online at the beginning of the school year due to the logistics of bringing students back on campus during COVID-19. Even though I am no longer fond of Zoom classes after the past year, I could still use some of my regular teaching methods.
I soon discovered this was not the best arrangement. I didn’t know any of my students’ names, and after their being online for so long, some were so limited in their English that they could barely answer me. When they did, I couldn’t even repeat it correctly. Whatever gave me the idea that teaching English online would be easy? On top of that, the Internet was not very fast, and having nine teachers trying to stream their class simultaneously was not ideal. I could not count how many times I called a child by her shirt color or had to reconnect to a call.
As the days went by, I wished more and more that the children would come back in person. I would have to rethink my teaching methods, but I would learn their names correctly and point or demonstrate if they didn’t understand me.
In the fourth week of school, I had my first in-person class in Cambodia. What a difference! My students were happy to be back—they did everything I asked them to do. I felt energized by their enthusiasm, and I realized I did not need all the fancy technology I thought I’d miss so much. A whiteboard, a marker and textbooks were all it took to have a great class. We sang songs, played games, wrote in notebooks and repeated after the teacher. That is how they learn, and no one seemed to notice the absence of TVs and iPads.
That day, I remembered how the Teacher of Teachers taught while sitting on the mountainside, out in the open—no electronics, no whiteboard and not even notebooks—yet his followers were eager to learn, and He taught them lessons far more significant than English grammar. As I teach this year, I want to follow Jesus’ teaching methods of love and personal relationships; these are the basics of true education.
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