By SAW EHTA LER
It was a Saturday, 1:45 PM in an after-school class. A group of students were studying Science with the substitute teacher who was also the Head of the After-School Program. The lesson focused on the growth of plants. The teacher asked, “How do trees grow?”
Some said “roots”, some answered “branches”, some went with “trunk and twig”, and some even said, “leaves.” She became furious of the answers because none are true.
2 p.m. It was recess time but still the students failed to satisfy the teacher. The class of around seven students who were in 7th grade that time were led to the playground where over 200 other students were playing. The teacher showed them a small tree and shouted at the top of her voice, “Trees actually grow from the crown. How uncritical and terrible you guys are! You should think properly!”
That didn’t end there. The most shocking ending was all of them were beaten with a black, approximately 4 inches wide and 3 feet tall stick fence in front of the many other students. It was a humiliating, embarrassing and shocking experience for those students.
I was one of those students.
That scenario is always mentioned whenever I conduct professional development meetings to teachers about creativity or critical thinking. Since I was a child, I have always wanted to become a teacher and that incident made me certain about one thing.
I want to be an educator not a humiliator.
The students learning from me should have an opportunity to express ideas confidently, think critically and see the differences clearly without any worries of possible humiliation. I want my learners not to experience the fear that I’ve had in my childhood after-school classes.
After years, I started to stabilize my career of educating others and it has been observed that “the unconventional after-school program for learners which is open to all, in spite of their educational, motivational and financial disability” is necessary in my community. For over half a decade, before I started my after-school program, my town, Lashio, has had some as well which are famous nationwide here in Myanmar.
On the other hand, there are still those individuals who are unable to get the after-school opportunity, especially learning English. My inspiration are those people.
“The teacher is not only there to teach but to influence and educate others. Do you want to open a school or a bank?”
These lines are from the movie, “Little Big Master”, a leading role in Hong Kong Box Office touched my heart. It is about a teacher who moved to a small village to teach five poor girls and these lines were spoken to her to persuade her to leave the village and make herself more famous and gain a great amount of money for herself and her company.
These lines inspired me to lead and create ALC (English & Development), a kind of after-school program, where young learners, tweens, young adults, adults and even working adults, have easy access to.
Now, we have learners from different areas. Some are from families of blue collar jobs and there are also some from white ones. The students are diverse and they are learning from their differences. This summer of 2018, we also had a great opportunity to educate the students from the villages who have very low access to English learning and after the summer, their improvement was splendid.
As our motto goes, “Sharing the best things for your definite future,” all of the eight teachers, including myself, are sharing our experiences, teaching with the best practices, empowering their language abilities, and facilitating their interpersonal development.
In September, we conducted different projects for youths – video projects, teaching their juniors, games activities, board games, social media projects and sustainable development planning. The three main themes: Hoax, Natural Disaster Prevention and Problem Solving Plans have been contributed to the community. Real life projects are rare in learning for my area but the participants have conducted not just a paper project, but real ones.
Traditional exam-based learning is a key in our education system and it is strongly believed that is the role of after-school educators to provide the effective practices to their learners. For young students, learning while playing is very valuable and game-based learning has been introduced for years. Field trips, tours and hand-on learning activities are recommended for my learners. Instead of lecturing, the adults study best from group discussions where they share and educate different people. They are also encouraged to present and argue different opinions.
My journey in the after-school program was not smooth in the beginning. It started since 2014 but there was very low interest on the program and some were concerned with the unconventional teaching approaches. The stationary and other supplies were from my pocket money and there were only one main educator and two volunteers until 2017. But starting this year, new, talented and qualified facilitators are participating and the community is now interested with the program.
I hope that after-school programs will be more popular even in a town far from the capital. My inspiration still remains true. It is true that the community has the chance to develop through learning English, having real life practices, and empowerment from needs-based approaches.
Humiliator is not found in an English dictionary. But for me, it refers to a person who put others in humiliating situations through words and actions. It can give a long-life wound. This is why I would like to remind teachers to notice that their actions matter a lot for young people.
Saw Ehta Ler founded ALC (English & Development). He meets with over 600 people weekly in the purpose of educating them. He is from Lashio, a town from the Northern part of Myanmar. Exploring the new cultures through travelling is his passion and he also enjoys having short documentaries videos in Burmese.