Archive for June, 2009

Anuradhapura School Trip

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

Anuradhapura is one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka. It is a beautiful, historic city.

The Grade 10s and 11s from Kandy Model School went there for a school trip. Alex and I went too!

It was really good fun! It was a great chance to see another small corner of the country. And a really beautiful part of the country it was!! 🙂 Flat and quite dry. It reminded a bit of Australia.

We saw several of the sacred sites of Anuradhapura and I had a lot of fun talking to some of the girls (who looked after me in the morning) and some of the boys (who looked after me in the afternoon). I went on the girls’ bus in the morning and for most of the day. They looked after me very well – it was great fun! I then moved to the boys’ bus later on so I could talk to some of them. That was also good fun. But at about 6:30, at the last site of the day, I got asked to move from the boys’ bus back to the girls’ bus. Apparently it wasn’t appropriate for me to be on the boys’ bus when it was dark. So I moved. I was a bit annoyed – I was having fun talking to the boys and I don’t think anything inappropriate was happening or was likely to happen – they’re my students!! But being back with the girls was very nice. They certainly fed me better than the boys did. 🙂

We got back to school at about 11 (we’d left at about 6 in the morning). It was a bit of a whirlwind day and I want to go back to Anuradhapura some other time so that I can spend a lot more time there and see a lot more of it.

Colombo for English Day Competition Finals

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

I went to Colombo last weekend for the English Day Competition Finals. I got to chat to the lovely people from the Ministry of Education who were responsible for my visa extension!! I also got to watch some dramas.

There were other competitions on too: spelling bees, recitation, oratory, copy writing, creative writing etc. But I didn’t see any of those.

I saw some of the Primary dramas and some of the junior Upper school dramas. They were quite cool. Most of them were really talented!! Some of the performances (the monkey!!!!) were brilliant. There was a Cinderella, an Oliver Twist, an Anne of Green Gables and several others.

I also took the Colombo opportunity to go to a coffee shop!!!! Twice!!! On the Saturday and on the Sunday.

I have really missed coffee shops. 🙂

National College of Education

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

I am currently working and living at the National College of Education in Peradeniya (in Kandy). There is a three month residential course on there at the moment. There are two groups of people on it. There are English language teachers learning about techniques in English language teacher education. There are also other people in the field of education (people from the zonal offices and the ministry, principals etc) who are improving their English.

I’m on the course. I’m helping the English language teachers with their coursework and helping the non English teachers with their language. And I’m talking to both groups over meals and in the hostel (I’m staying on site). They seem to love having a native speaker around to talk to. They are nearly used to my accent and I’m mostly remembering to speak at second-language speed rather than at Kath’s normal speed.

It’s nice teaching adults and interesting how many activities that I was doing with teenagers and children I can do with adults too!! Little Red Ridinghood strikes again!!

The course finishes on the 8th (ish) of August. So I’m here till then. 🙂

Right Speech

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

In Buddhism there is a concept of Right Speech (practicing it can help you attain enlightenment). It is about abstaining from false speech, abstaining from slanderous speech, abstaining from harsh speech, and abstaining from idle chatter (stop sniggering down the back, I know as well as you do that Kath avoiding idle chatter would reduce the general noise level of the planet by a very large amount 🙂 ).

Anyway, onto the serious point that I want to make. Right speech (and I’m assuming emails and blog posts count as speech for these purposes) seems to me in general to be a good thing. Though I do think that idle chattering is fine if it does no harm. But if it does harm it seems not to be pointless chattering anymore it then seems to me that it is harsh speech which is certainly bad. But anyway, Kath’s qualms about reducing the amount of white noise being issued from her lips or fingertips aside, right speech is an interesting concept.

Now there is an interesting situation facing me here. Well an interesting set of situations actually. Some of them interlinked. Some of them not. Now unfortunately, I can’t say much more about it than that. Because even though I’d like to be able to tell you all what has happened and who said what to whom and how they replied and how it all made me feel and how it made other people feel and what these things say about the culture of Sri Lanka and her people and what have been the contributing factors in the decisions I’ve been forced to make, I can’t. I can’t because even though what I would say would be true (or as much truth as I can possibly report), it would be harmful for me to say it. Some people would be upset by the things I would say about them. So I am not able to talk about it.

I have been trying to keep several people happy. Some with conflicting ideas of what would make them happy. I have taken advice from several people about how I might be able to manage this. Some people (myself included) have suggested lying or withholding the truth. Some people have suggested burying my head in the sand and avoiding the problem. I’m not happy about any of these things. So I have been trying to be diplomatic and maximise happiness for as many people as possible.

For the severalth time in my life I find myself wishing that it were possible for human beings to talk openly and honestly with each other. When I have a problem with someone, I would like to be able to tell them that I do and what it is without them getting very upset. I’d like to not have to avoid the issue or lie about how I feel or make up an excuse. When a problem is not mine but someone else’s, I’d like to be able to tell people that rather than having to make up excuses for other people and pretend that it is my problem.

I’m sorry that I can’t go into details or give examples for this. But I’m sure you have all encountered similar situations and I’m sure that what I have said will ring true for all of you.

Related to all of this is the self-censorship that is happening with this blog. There are things that I would like to tell some, most or all of you that I can’t say on my website. Because there are people who may read it who may be upset by it. So I am forced to not make those comments publicly. And on the whole I’m happy with this level of self-censorship. I understand that when I say I am forced to not make the comments that the forcing comes from me not from anyone else.

But nonetheless I’m not sure whether it is better that they are left unsaid. There is a very big part of me that feels that I am deceiving the rest of you by omitting these stories. It’s just there is a bigger part of me that feels that posting things that I know will upset people is most certainly the wrong thing to do.

I hope I’m right.

PS: My chief proof-reader (proof-reading controller) has told me that this all sounds quite depressing. So here’s a small note to say that I’m not upset or depressed. I’m happy and fabulous and fine and wonderful. 🙂

Respect for Teachers

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

Respect is an interesting notion. There is showing respect and there is having respect. Now, given that I’m a substance rather than style (function rather than form) type of girl, I care about people having respect. I’m not that fussed about people showing respect.

I think my students respect me. I think my students in the UK respected me. I think my students here respect me. They call me Kath because I really want them too (I’d be quite happy with them calling me Bucket but I think that really is asking too much). I feel uncomfortable with Miss or Madame or any other female equivalent of Sir. I’m just Kath. I feel very uncomfortable when the students here stand when we walk into the room or when we leave it. We ask them to sit down and on the whole they are getting better at complying. 🙂

I am really, really, very, very uncomfortable when they worship us (which fortunately hasn’t happened for ages – I’m hoping it won’t again). For those of you who don’t know the worshipping thing is when the student kneels down on the floor at your feet and bows their head almost to the floor. They put their hands on the floor then bring them up palms together, they do this a couple of times. The teacher then touches the top of their head and they stand up. It’s not just students who do this, people generally do this to someone older than them that they respect. So children/teenagers will do it to aunts and uncles (of either the related or the unrelated varieties). I think I find it really uncomfortable because from my cultural background those actions show a massive amount of obsequiousness and self-deprecation. But I think that it’s not as big a deal here. So I think I am bringing a lot of connotations to this that it doesn’t have here. Well, I hope I am. But nonetheless, it makes me uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable when people do it to me, it also makes me uncomfortable when people do it to other people.

But the point isn’t so much about what I feel of the cultural practice of worshipping teachers. The point is about the gulf between having respect and showing respect. And which is more important.

Alex and I have quite relaxed relationships with our students. We can chat to them about what is happening in their lives. There have been things that they couldn’t possibly talk to any of their teachers about that they have spoken to us about. The way we carry ourselves with them and the way they carry themselves with us is very different from their behaviour with their other teachers. And this isn’t just because we are foriegners. I had similar relationships with my students in England (as did some of my colleagues), but many of the other teachers had the far more distant and formal relationship that is common here.

I don’t think this level of informality or relaxation shows a lack of respect on behalf of the students. There are some teachers whose students call them Sir and stand when they walk in the room etc. But having heard what some of these students say about those teachers outside of class I don’t think these actions can be seen as a sign of respect!

And whether students have or show respect for their teachers makes little difference to whether they learn anything from their teachers. I have heard stories of students who had horrible teachers that they hated and didn’t respect but whom they learnt a lot from. I have also heard of students having respect for teachers from whom they learnt very little.

Ideally, I’d like my students to respect me. I’d like them to think I am a good teacher. I’d like them to learn something from me. I’d like them to enjoy my classes. I’d like them to think of me as a friend and a role model. Some of my students I’m sure will do some of these things. I think my aim for my continuing development as a teacher is to get as many students as possible doing as many of these things as possible. But most importantly it is to get them all learning something from me!

Student Contact

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

I love teaching! I learn something every day when I teach. And every interaction I have with my students is fascinating!!! 🙂 And after five months I feel like I’m actually getting to know some of my students, which is also really nice. 🙂

Thanks to some text messages from some of my Grade 11s I have learnt about lots of smileys. I tend to just use smile, frown and wink. But there are lots and lots more that I’d known about and lots I hadn’t. 😀 And some of my students have a really great sense of humour – dangerous, one might say. 😉

I believe that some of my students are now actually reading my website! So hello, and welcome and do tell me if you spot any spelling, punctuation or grammar mistakes! And let me know what you think of my blog and if there is anything that you’d like me to write about. Since I give you homework and corrections, it seems only fair that you do the same for me.

I’ve had some phone conversations with some of my students. Which has been very nice. Their spoken English is noticeably better now than it was in January – which makes me very happy. Keep it up!!! And in many cases their spoken English is better than their written English, which is slightly surprising (tenses people, tenses).

I am expecting some emails from them, but it seems that getting net access is harder for them than I thought it would be. Even though there is a computer room at the school with a broadband connection and they do seem to have had sufficient access to see my website. But, regardless, I am very much looking forward to hearing from them and am sure the emails will be worth the wait!! 🙂

Culture vs Individuality

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

There are some aspects of the Sri Lankan culture I find difficult to cope with. But there are some aspects of the British culture that I find difficult to cope with too, so this isn’t a uniquely Sri Lankan experience. 🙂

But what I have found here is a lot more of “that’s the way it is in our culture” as an excuse/explanation for some form of behaviour. It is astonishing how many Sri Lankans that I have met don’t like eating rice and curry three times a day. So why do they do it? Because it is their culture. In some cases what people want and what the culture dictates are aligned. Women should have long hair because it is beautiful (and because it is the culture). In some cases they aren’t aligned. Women should work and look after the house and the children and do the cooking and cleaning because that is the culture.

I think the tension between being an individual and being a part of a culture means that balance is difficult for anyone to find. Being completely individual with no regard for the culture that you are living in is probably a difficult way to live and I suspect doesn’t lead to ultimate happiness. However, being a stereotype of your culture and abiding by its mores completely is probably also not the path to ultimate happiness. I think we each need to decide at what point along the spectrum we lie. I for one am quite far down the individualistic end of the spectrum. I don’t really have too much time for cultural prescriptions (unless they are what I wanted to do anyway). There are many times when I wish I wasn’t so extreme. It might be quite nice to be able to feel comfortable wearing a dress once in a while, but it’s a skill I just don’t possess. 🙂

Personally, I believe that doing something purely because it is the culture isn’t good enough. Mind you, I also believe that doing something purely because it is not the culture is equally bad. I have certainly been guilty of both but feel that as I’ve got older I’ve got better at doing what I want to do with consideration (but not blind obedience) to the culture that I am in. I hope to continue getting better at managing the balance. I’d also like to see a lot more people trying to get the balance right for them. I don’t object to people who are stereotypes as long as they are happy. What makes me sad is people who know what they want to do but feel they can’t solely on the grounds of cultural acceptability. And that goes for Australians, English people and Sri Lankans of both genders and all ages.

Human Nature

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

There are cultural differences between England, Australia and Sri Lanka. There are differences between stereotypical English, Australians and Sri Lankans. There are general tendencies that are more or less prevalent in the three different countries.

Australia and England differ from Sri Lanka in that in Sri Lanka there are few foriegners and the culture is quite uniform. I have been staying in Sinhalese areas with Sinhalese people – so almost everyone I have met is Sinhalese. And while there are some differences between Kandy, Colombo, Ratnapura etc the differences are quite minor. In England and Australia there are very many more people who are not English/Australian. And even those who are natives may only be 2nd or 3rd generation so their culture is frequently that of their parents, grandparents or great grandparents or more likely a fusion of several different cultures.

I was asked what the main food is in England and I found it very difficult to answer. There just isn’t the uniformity of food consumption there that there is here. Here, everyone eats rice and curry, most people eat it three times a day. Some people will have hoppers, string hoppers, bread or noodles – all with curry. But they will only have these at most once a day, but more likely once a week or once a month.

But despite the differences – which are certainly real and noticeable – there are many similarities.

People are people. Wherever you are. Some people are really lovely. Some are not. Some are really very hospitable. Some are not. Some are very generous. Some are not. And I’ve met some of each in Australia, England and Sri Lanka.

In staff rooms in English schools there are conversations about the relative quality and commitment of the teaching staff. There are teachers in England who are very dedicated to their students and to their own skills as teachers. There are teachers in England who seem to hate teaching and resent it and their students. There are teachers in England who think they are perfect and that there is absolutely no scope for improvement whatsoever. There are teachers in England who go to work, teach and go home again without a second thought for the students or their teaching. There are teachers in England who seem to only teach for the chance to exercise power over their students. Each of these species of teacher can be found in Sri Lanka too.

There are conversations at the dinner table about the neighbours. There are bad neighbours and good neighbours (anyone currently singing the Neighbours theme tune, please stop before you get thumped by the person sitting next to you 🙂 ). Parents complain that their children are lazy. Children complain that their parents don’t understand them and are too strict. Teenagers complain because the world doesn’t understand them and they are powerless. Some students work hard and enjoy classes and respect their teachers. Some students are lazy and do no work and disrupt classes and have no respect for their teachers (even if they stand when the teacher walks into the room).

Basically, people are people, everywhere you go. Each person you meet is an individual. Just because someone comes from Sri Lanka doesn’t mean they will be exceedingly hospitable, or that they will be unreliable. Just because someone comes from Australia does not mean they will be good at sport, or that they will be a drunken moron. Just because someone comes from England does not mean that they will be very polite, or that they will be a football hooligan.