A day in the life of an expat teacher in Myanmar

2nd May 2016 at 13:00
This teacher doesn’t need to set an alarm clock. She's so attuned to the local environment she rises and rests to the rhythms of the school around her.

I teach on an education project in Myanmar that trains teachers in English and the teaching methodology appropriate for primary and secondary. I live on campus and, as a result, my ears have learned to tell the time.

If it’s light when I wake but quiet, I know that it must be between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. Birds are chatting and there is the faint sound of a hundred trainee teachers answering their PE teacher’s instructions. If it’s light and noisy, it’s past 7 a.m. and time to get up.

Water splashes as the trainees shower and shout to one another, giggling, wrapped in wet longyi sarongs, maneuvering to and from their hostels, which lie within jumping distance of my bungalow – you can hop over the drainage gutter as a shortcut to reach them.

At 9 a.m., I commute approximately 30 seconds to class. The fans whirr and push hot air around a room where the walls are all decorated with root-like termite tracks. At first, my students are shy and unsure of a foreign teaching approach, but they work enthusiastically in groups.

After my classes finish at 3 p.m., there is a rare silence as the trainees attend their traditional music class on the other side of campus. I might go to the copy shop to get materials printed or sit outside and spot lizards and butterflies around the banyan tree.

At 4 p.m. the trainees attend agriculture classes that involve watering the plants and sweeping the leaves from the paths, the even sound of brush meeting earth signaling that the college day is coming to a close.

6 p.m. brings sundown and with it a chorus of chanting. The trainees pray for an hour and I am enveloped in 500 voices, rising and falling, breathing Buddhist mantras. This is when I cook some vegetables on the stove and relax in my wicker chair.

From 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. there is a cacophony of voices, trainees reciting their notes from the day’s lessons. Some low and measured, some urgent, others robotic. Part of my job is to facilitate a move away from this kind of rote learning to encourage the development of thinking skills and the modeling of a more interactive teaching approach.

When the recitations die down, I drift off to sleep reflecting on my day. Did my students understand me with the language barrier? Do they understand the relevance of what we are doing? How can I improve my lessons? Did I waste college money by turning on the air conditioner today in the hope that it would magically start working? (It didn't.)

If I wake in the darkness to nothing but the crickets and the campus dogs howling, I know it is between midnight and 5 a.m. If I wake in the dark and hear footsteps, I know it’s between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. when the trainees awake and begin their day. This means that I still have 1 hour left before I need to put the finishing touches on my lesson plans over my morning coffee, so I return to my slumber until I can hear the PE teacher’s calls from across the grounds again.

This first-person perspective was written anonymously by a teacher-trainer living on campus in Mynamar.

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