Mamie mai bpen kruu (Mamie is not a teacher). I’ve said this so many times it’s almost become part of my standard PCV introduction. Everyone wants me to teach English and everyone thinks I’m here to do just that. It doesn’t help that every other farang in the area is here to teach English, including another male PCV that lives close to me (I’m convinced most people are somewhat disappointed that they got me instead of him; not only is he a white male, he’s actually a teacher and here to help teach English). Once a week I teach English at the SAO (subdistrict administration organization – the government building that’s kind of responsible for me here). It’s an hour lesson every Wednesday and the class includes a various mix of teachers, SAO officers and a few other people. They often seem as excited to be in the class as I am to be teaching it (which is to say there is no excitement). I do my best to psych myself up every week and prepare a fun, engaging, informative class, but sometimes it’s hard to teach English to a class of 30 people all by myself in a way that’s fun and engaging and informative all at once (also did I mention I’m not a teacher?).
Kids learn English when they start school here. Every time I go to a school I get the standard greeting, ‘Good morning teacher! How are you today? I am fine’. I’m fairly certain they don’t know what any of this means, as they often run through the whole thing without pausing for a response: “good morning teacher! How are you today? I am fine thank you and you?” or some variation of that. It’s cute, but a little disheartening that they learn this so young, repeating it every day and yet many of them don’t know what they’re saying or when to say it (even adults sometimes will say ‘good morning’ to me at 6pm, or as I’m riding my bike I’ll hear a group of kids screaming ‘goodbye!’ at me as I approach them). In these visits to the local schools I’ve made sure to explain my role as a Youth in Development volunteer while also repeating that I’m not a teacher. I had a lovely conversation with a teacher at one school about this, and just after I thought she had an understanding of what I’m trying to do here, she goes in front of all of the students who had assembled together at the end of the day and tells them about me. ‘We have a teacher here from
and she’s going to teach you English!’ Facepalm.
After PST I knew that teaching English would likely be part of everything I do, and I’m more than happy to incorporate it into the activities I’m involved in. I quickly realized that it’ll be a struggle to get any projects started that are more than just teaching English – at least for a while. I’ve gone past the point of frustration sometimes when I have the ‘Mamie is not a teacher’ conversation. I tell them this and they laugh at me and call me a teacher. I tell them about what I’ve done in America and what I can do here and they look at me like I’m an idiot (and then ask when I’m available to teach English). They put me in front of a class of students, leave the room and insist that I’m not teaching, I’m just talking with the students – in English.
I appreciate their desire to learn English. I realize that ASEAN (Association of South Eastern Asian Nations) is important. I understand that everyone is preparing for the launch of the AEC (ASEAN Economic Community) in 2015 and learning English will be helpful for so many reasons. But that’s not what I’m here for, and my community was (supposed to be) well aware of my role before I showed up. If I wanted to teach English I wouldn’t have joined the Peace Corps. I would have taken a job that paid me to teach English instead of choosing to volunteer for 27 months. I’ve readjusted my expectations about my service several times over the past 5 months. There’s a difference between the wild, infinite ambitions I dreamt of prior to coming here and the reality of my service now that I’m here. This isn’t to say that I’m not still ambitious – it’s just that now I have more realistic ambitions based on the realities of my situation, community, and resources. My thus-far short career in social work has taught me the importance of meeting people where they are. Look at the situation as it exists, not as you think it should be. You can’t charge in with your ideas of what you think is important without talking to the people involved and finding out what’s important to them first – you’ll never accomplish anything if you do. I’ve done this before and learned a lot from it every time. I did this during my field placements in grad school on an individual and community level and throughout the 3 years after grad school that I spent working in initially unfamiliar neighborhoods on the southside of
Chicago. The process of doing this in a new community,
in a foreign country and a foreign language will take many months to
accomplish, I have no doubt. In the past
couple months I’ve been saying yes to every opportunity and having conversations
with everyone that I can. I’m teaching
English because so many people want to learn and I have the time to do so right
now. I also incorporate my own agenda,
teaching about American culture or giving them words other than ‘fine’ to
explain how they’re feeling today. I’m
also building relationships with these people that I hope will turn into other
possibilities down the road. There’s a
reason I’m here for 2 years. I can’t
expect to start an amazing, life-changing project a few months in (although I can’t
help but secretly hope that my small Tuesday youth group will turn into a
spectacularly successful 2 year project).
So for now, I teach a little English sometimes and remind everyone
‘Mamie mai bpen kruu’.