The Agape Home
Yesterday, we got the opportunity to teach a lesson to orphans with HIV at the Agape Home in Chiang Mai. To say the least, it was a very unique and valuable experience. From a teaching stand point, it was a bit of a challenge. The Agape Home is a residence as well as school, so classroom etiquette was primitive and the variety of ages in the population meant that the classes had mixed English levels, ranging from no knowledge at all, to a decent command of the language. I lucked out and was able to instill some rules and expectations, gaining the attention of the students and also a sense of control. As a result, we had a great class; one in which I am confident that the students learned and retained some new vocabulary as well as more comfort with speaking English. Cengiz had a bit of a tougher time. His calm, confident demeanor and efficient classroom methods that were very successful in a rural school that we had previously spent a day at, were lost among the rambunctious students. The disparity of experience leaves a bit of gap between our experiences: while Cengiz chalks it up as mere practice for the semester that starts Monday, I felt humbled and honored to be there. The kids clearly loved the new faces and our attention. In the middle of class, I had students hanging on to both legs, with students hanging on to them- it was like being a vine covered tree. This, mind you, in a very conservative, no touch society.
One students in particular made me think about things in the classroom. Bow, who was having a birthday, has a face marked with the lasting momentos of corrective surgery. She has been to the U.S, speaks good English, and is a delightful student. Unfortunately, she is anathema. Other students fear/mock her because she looks very different (kids will be kids) and as a result, she has to hang on the out skirts of class and has trouble finding a partner in student interactions. She spent most of the day getting to know us teachers, trading gifts and currency (she has a coin collection) and passing notes. It was great getting to know her and (clearly) making her day; but, it made me think about a very real conundrum I will face on a daily basis- the masses vs. the individual. I did include Bow, calling on her for answers and making her my partner when we had English conversations, but for the most part, I was teaching the rest of the class. I wonder if I should have made more of an effort for Bow, did I merely add to the problem of her being neglected save for sympathy attention. I mean, in many ways we singled her out- she could sit in the back, not pay attention, chat with teachers, we favored her, which set her apart; but we also ignored her for much of class, which set her apart as well. The class exiled her and for the most part that was tolerated. Connecting with students on an individual level is an important part of teaching; but, as teachers who are obligated to facilitate as much as possible to as many as possible, I feel I am often relegated to Utilitarianism. I am willing to move on after belaboring a point, even if a student is confused. To forget about Bow to keep the attention and minds of the class. I call on active participants and students I am confident have the answers often, to keep class flowing and organic, neglecting those who volunteer less. And, when I am willing to be patient and wait on a student, hoping to get an effort, or any type of answer, am I furthering the problem? Someone who I have shown less attention to than perhaps I should is now completely singled out and feeling the pressure. What I’m saying is, for the most part, if most of the class is ready to go, I go. Maybe the student should work harder to catch up, or see me after class, but that’s not often the product. The reality is, that student will probably slide through many more teachers when I am done. Why didn’t you just put forth a but more effort and be the teacher that DID grab their attention, show them some patience, and helped them become a successful student? I don’t know.
*For more information on The Agape Home, or to donate: http://www.nikkisplace.org/index.html