Thoughts about my stint as an English reading volunteer

March 22, 2014
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Teaching is one of our company’s activities for corporate social responsibility (CSR). Every Friday each week, my teammates, boss and I worked as volunteer teachers. Together with other volunteers from the company, we go to a public school in Taguig to spend one hour teaching grade 1 pupils how to read in English.

Normally, grade 1 students are 5 or 6 year olds. But in this school, we were surprised to pupils who are already 9 years old and still cannot read. Most of the kids also know the English alphabet: small letters, capital letters, in order and what comes before or after a certain letter. But we found out that they cannot read words, no matter how short, like dog or cat.

Our job is to help them read short words and identify the meanings of those words. Then hopefully, progress to phrases and sentences. Every week, we used a different set of lessons and activities to keep the kids interested.

As a Japanese language teacher, I was trained to teach adults. Teaching adults and teaching children are two very different things and a teacher needs a completely different mindset with these 2 audiences. I have never taught kids before so this CSR thing made me nervous at first. What if the kids don’t like me? What if they get bored with me? What if they learn nothing from me?

Once at the school, I quickly realized that all my fears were unfounded. Kids are not very complicated beings. They are interested in you just as you are interested in them. No preconceived notions — unlike us adults.

One of my very first students was a boy named James. Initially, he was very shy. He barely talked to me but he followed whatever instruction I gave him. Then I decided to make small talk. Things like where he lived (Maharlika), where his family came from (Zamboanga), what his favourite color is (yellow). Slowly, he opened up and started telling me all sorts of stories…we’re friends. Score!

The following week, he was absent from class. A lot of the volunteers also did not show up so the remaining volunteers that did show up had to take 2-3 students each. It was tough, especially if your students have different skill levels. Each one was also vying for your attention, or fighting over the crayons, or trying to talk over the others.

I have an issue with some of the written activities, though. Some of the pictures depict things that local schoolkids might not be familiar with. For example, a cub. How do I explain what a tiger cub is to a child who has never seen a real tiger? I had a bit of luck with the word “bear” because at least the kids are familiar with teddy bears. In one of my reports, I suggested using words that children are already familiar with like cat, dog and fish.

Another issue was that they are being taught English in the vernacular, which I believe is counter-productive. In one of the activities, the letter P is represented by a picture of a pencil, and Vernon’s student kept saying “P for lapis”.

During one of the more serious conversations I had with my boss, I asked him “do you think one hour each week is making a difference in the children? Do you think what we are doing is worthwhile?”

Vernon answered matter-of-factly. “Hopefully, in the days that we are not teaching them, someone else is doing the teaching”.

You know what? He is absolutely right. First and foremost, the parents and the teachers have the primary duty to teach the kids at home and at school. If you remove the volunteers, they still have to do the job.

Unfortunately, it is a fact that not many schoolkids are getting the help they need to maximize learning. In school, classrooms are always filled to capacity, with one teacher having more students than he/she could handle. A teacher will have a hard time focusing on each student’s need and progress.

Another sad fact is that many parents leave the teaching completely to “the professionals”. Some parents have to work long hours in order to provide for their families, and they usually have no time to help their children with their studies. Other parents have not finished school so they cannot teach what they do not know. And another set of parents are simply just apathetic about their children — what happens outside of the home is no longer their concern.

School is about to end for the summer. But once the new school year starts in June, I would like to volunteer again. I want to keep on doing this for as long as I can. I want to see kids learn how to read and enjoy it.

Hopefully when I come back in June, i would not see anyone familiar, especially my students. It means they passed and have been promoted to grade 2! :)

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Snack time!

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My student James gets a ribbon from Vernon

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Kevin trying to steal the “Mr. Popular” award from Vernon

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All work and no play makes one a dull boy — everyone believes that. So at the end of a busy week, my team always go out for round or two of drinks, just exchanging stories and jokes. That day, we were at our usual Friday hangout, Dencio’s and it so happened that popular actor Richard Yap will be at the Venice Piazza for an outdoor concert. Ha! Free entertainment :)
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Vic and Karlo, for some reason, ended up wearing the same shirt…which I called couple shirts! Here they are, rocking the black couple shirts, haha.

 

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Glossika

Life is a choice: if you can’t have all, have some at least. If you can’t be good, don’t be bad. If you can’t be totally happy, don’t be completely sad. ENJOY LIFE!

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