Tag Archives: gratefulness

Confessions of a Volunteer English Teacher

Last week, I mentioned the difficulties presented in my project by the frequent changes in classes due to shifting needs at the Empowerment Center. Over the course of my time here, I have taught just under 10 different classes. As one of the only native English speaking volunteers regularly coming into the center, my managers often move me around to better accommodate the fluctuating needs of the students attending the center. As a result, these classes differ in age as well as levels of ability in English, which means that my approach to teaching has changed with every new class that I take on, as it should. However, my thought process in embarking on this project was that by choosing to stay for here for three months, I would be able to invest in building relationships with one class of students over a long period of time. I simply did not account for the fact that though my presence would remain constant, the demands on me might change.


Last summer, after the schools let out, tons of young children flooded the center which overwhelmed the volunteers. In preparation, this year, the older students were asked to leave by a certain date to make room for the younger students presumed to be coming. However, I didn’t know that it would be my older students’ last day until that day, when one of them told me how much he was going to miss our classes. Having already gone through many changes of class with different groups of adults, I found my heart breaking yet again.


Another important factor to mention is sharing classes. When other volunteers come to the center, sometimes I am asked to move around or temporarily switch to teaching another class to better accommodate the skill set of new volunteers. Other times, we co-teach the class at the same time. This is arguably even more difficult, as I admittedly struggle in having my time with the individual students suddenly interrupted by people who, at first, are strangers to me. I worry about my students, whom I know well, and how they’ll fare under the new structures and attitudes that come with a new instructor, even if I’m in the room to mediate. Thankfully though, my anxieties about changing, sharing, and switching classes were always met with nothing but reassurance thanks to great relationships with my supervisors.


As this continued to happen, I began to introspectively analyze my responses to the changes thrust upon me. By nature, I am someone who thrives by being in control. One of the greatest challenges of this project for me has been learning how to re-channel my internal need to be in control into positive energy that is able to better embrace the fluidity of my placement. Establishing routines is great, but getting rigid in them to the point of opposing change is not. Understanding that sometimes, as a volunteer, I do not get to have the final say in what the students need is crucial. And though it has taken time, I believe that I have indeed learned my lesson and grown because of it.


For example, when my advanced conversation lesson was suddenly interrupted by my manager Amal because the volunteer to teach the youngest students at the center had not shown up, she asked me to end my lesson to become the new elementary level teacher. I had lesson plans prepared through the next week for my advanced students, where we would continue our intellectual discussions about politics, anthropology, communication, and etymology. I would have to scrap all these plans and instead create new plans for basic introductory English. But disappointed and frustrated as I was when this initially transpired, I dismissed these feelings almost as quickly as they came. Because my work in this center is not about me, or the lesson plans I’ve made, or which demographic I prefer teaching. It’s about the students. It’s about Amal and Jamillah, who work so hard to coordinate these classes and more to empower the women and children of Rabat. It’s about my sponsoring nonprofit, Cross Cultural Solutions, who have chosen to invest in Le Feminin Pluriel as their partner program.


While it may seem like an obvious epiphany to have, I would emphasize that I didn’t fully understand the gravity or the difficulty of doing something I didn’t want to do out of necessity until the circumstances were upon me. At least, not until circumstances like this were upon me. Circumstances were I was needed elsewhere, and not in a small way. If I did not teach the children, the class would cease to exist. But I am here, and so the class can and will exist. Because I chose to be willing, and I chose to relinquish control for the sake of greater needs than my own. As a result of adopting this philosophy, I believe that I was able to fulfill and serve the mission of my project better than I ever imagined.


My weeks with the little ones, whom I very affectionately refer to as my little monsters, have been tough. It was the first class that I had to integrate a discipline regimen into my teaching, the difficulty of striking that delicate balance is something I imagine any parent or educator can speak to. I missed my older students and our advanced discussions, but I was able to find new joy in watching my little monsters succeed and improve in reading aloud during our daily Circle Time. I beamed with pride as they conjugated basic verbs in the past, present, and future tense. And yet again, I found myself falling in love with each and every one of them, never wanting to leave their class for another.


But alas, this is my final week at Le Feminin Pluriel. And today was my last day with my little monsters, as I promised my older students I would return to them before the end of the season. And while it is heart wrenching and difficult to say goodbye, I take solace in realizing just how much these students (every single one of them) have helped me grow over the last two and a half months... How special it has been to experience the symbiotic nuances of working toward empowerment with such energetic, engaged, and kind people!

How To Say Goodbye…

I have learned so much in the process of being here in Thailand in ways that I still cannot count.

I have thought of how to say a nice, wrapped-in-a-bow version of goodbye to this place, but I do not think I can do it. This week at school, it was extremely hard to say goodbye to my students. They all gave me cards with sweet “I love you” and other versions of adoration and praise. In many ways, that is enough to return home with and feel accomplished. My coordinator gave me a sweet certificate that listed creativity and enthusiasm as reasons for why I was appreciated at the school. Okay, so maybe the alphabet and telling time is not rocket science or the arguments about abstraction that I am more accustomed to, but these were the building blocks that I had long forgotten.

In addition, I have gained so many new friends in so many cultures and from so many different traditions. My closest friends at the center range from England, France, Thailand, Germany, and the Netherlands. I have grown a much deeper appreciation for simple language because that is the language that we use to communicate. Before I left home, I leaned much more to sophistication only because that was the main part of my environment.

I have also lost many things as well. I have lost my fear of traveling alone. I have lost my guarded sensibilities about what composure means. I am happier with abstract notions of structure instead of the rigidity of my overanalyzed plans for the future. I can approach the world as it comes with a much happier, less stressed perspective.

I cannot say thank you enough. This trip was a gift and an a priceless opportunity. I am so grateful for every person that has helped me get to this point in my life. I am so grateful for every person that taught me a new piece to the puzzle of Thai culture. In terms of generosity, I have never seen so many totally random, different people come to the aid of a clueless foreigner more than what I have been a part of for the past 3 months. I will miss Thailand. I still do not think I know enough about the Thai culture, but I want to come back one day.

So long Thailand... I came here to make a difference in this world and walked away also being taught.