Power outages and other adventures in teaching ESL

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Flowers and plants (Hoa, Cay) seem to be very important to the Vietnamese. They are everywhere and so beautiful.
Flowers and plants (Hoa, Cay) seem to be very important to the Vietnamese. They are everywhere and so beautiful.

Oct 28, 2014

Was disappointed to find that I had to work Monday (today), but I guess with the Halloween holiday on Friday, everyone has the same day off. I should not complain. The Vietnamese office workers seem to work seven days a week, sometimes a split shift. Brutal! But this morning I woke with a splitting headache and all my joints ached. My feet are swollen and I just wanted to sleep. But I had an appointment with William, a native Vietnamese teacher, and I didn’t want to miss it. We had breakfast at a lovely restaurant, one that Thom had taken me to my first week. Now I can go back since I think I can find it again! We sat on cushions on the floor and I worried with my stiff and sore joints I would not be able to get up. William went over pronunciations of the Vietnamese alphabet and told me what buses to take to get to Saigon. Then he drove me to the bus station and back to my apartment so I would know the way. I will still have to Google it, but I know much more than I did. It was very kind of him to spend this time with me, but I was completely exhausted when we were done. I went straight to bed for two hours. Then lay around and worked on my lesson plan for tonight. The ibuprofen isn’t even taking the edge off.

Isn't William handsome? I'm not sure of his age, but, like most unmarried children, he still lives with his mother (his father is dead). William is certainly one of the best teachers at the school and is very concerned about his students. I can learn a lot from him. I'm grateful for his friendship.
Isn’t William handsome? I’m not sure of his age, but, like most unmarried children, he still lives with his mother (his father is dead). William is certainly one of the best teachers at the school and is very concerned about his students. I can learn a lot from him. I’m grateful for his friendship.
This was breakfast, a beef noodle soup with a rich broth and vegetables, like carrots and onions (Hu Tieu Bo Kho). That's a strawberry smoothie. The small bowl to the right has salt and red pepper. to the left is a plate of chilis and limes (which they call lemons here) and a "salad" of sawleaf and fresh basil.
This was breakfast, a beef noodle soup with a rich broth and vegetables, like carrots and onions (Hu Tieu Bo Kho). That’s a strawberry smoothie to drink. The small bowl to the right has salt and red pepper. To the upper left is a plate of chilis and limes (which they call lemons here) and a “salad” of sawleaf and fresh basil. Yum!
The restaurant has a tropical feel with a pond in the middle and all these plants I used to think of as "house plants." Pathos, philodendron and more grow wile here and snake to the tops of trees.
The restaurant has a tropical feel with a pond in the middle and plants I used to think of as “house plants.” Pathos, philodendron and more grow wild here, snaking to the tops of trees.

But I should not have gone to so much trouble to prepare a lesson. The power was out in most of the classrooms and we couldn’t really teach. It isn’t just that it is dark. It is also HOT with no fan or air-conditioning. With my splitting headache and aching joints, I did not do well. All the kids were screaming in the dark and there is simply no way to stop them or control them. By the light of a cellphone, I did a couple simple songs and review vocabulary with my youngest students. Mostly lighted by a cell phone. Then managed to find another classroom for my WE students. By the time I got home, I was exhausted and fell into bed.

It is hard to figure things out here in Vietnam—what things are, WHERE things are. But this is what I signed on for. And my students help me with words and pronunciations. I have coworkers at the school have befriended me and they are helping too. I have the weekend after next off and want to see Saigon, so I’m glad for all the directions, language help and information.

Isn't Miss Andy beautiful? Breakfast at Café Boo Boo.
Isn’t Miss Andy beautiful? Breakfast at Café Boo Boo.
This woman has a small café (cart) on the street near the school (Truong). She's making  me a Banh Mi (sandwich on French baguette) to eat at school while I prepare lessons.
This woman has a small café (cart) on the street near the school (Truong). She’s making me a Banh Mi (sandwich on French baguette) to eat at school while I prepare lessons.

Weekends are brutal–from Friday at 6p to Sunday mid-afternoon, I can teach as many as nine 90-minute lessons, plus three or four 15-minute vocabulary review lessons. (this weekend I have 6 of these lessons, back to back.) It’s hard to prepare and I’m exhausted by the end of Sunday. And sleep most of Sunday evening. Starting November we have a new schedule and it seems worse to me. I will mostly get Mondays off and one weekend a month. One week a month, I’ll get no days off, however. The two other native English speaking teachers (Marcus and Bob) really wanted weekends off, the most difficult days to schedule time away. So to do it, we had to agree to one week with no day off and two weekends that are very heavy. Personally, I don’t care what days off I get as long as I can have two days together at least once a month to see the sights.

I struggle with the language each day, but seem to be improving slowly.

My first pizza in Vietnam was at a restaurant called Geckos. Pretty good, too. This is a pesto pizza and mango smoothie.
My first pizza in Vietnam was at a restaurant called Geckos, located near the school. Pretty good, too. This is a pesto pizza and mango smoothie.

Oct 29, 2014

Just when I think I’m keeping my head above water with the teaching, I find some new thing I didn’t know about. These are nice folks, but not good communicators. Not much support, though there are teachers’ guides to each book. I always hear, “just ask if you need anything!” but I don’t always know what to ask. The internet “toys” (like a random name generator and a digital timer) adds some excitement to the classes, but I need to develop more physical activities for the youngest kids. I’m doing ok, except for the entry level classes–they simply don’t understand much spoken English and won’t talk much. So I have to prepare PPT presentations, write out everything and get them to read out loud, changing one or two words at a time for a “model” language conversation. It’s tedious. And to add insult to injury, I was tossed a one page sheet just before class. It was a list of things that I needed to check off and sign that I had been trained in and knew all the school procedures. This makes me very uncomfortable and I don’t treat a document like this casually. And honestly, some of the items I Didn’t know on the list. On several I wrote that I was “learning” but not sure. I don’t know what I don’t know and there are no written procedures, SOPs or standards. Obviously this was a “yes” or “no” kind of questionnaire. There was no option for “I’m not sure.” So I added it. This isn’t likely to make them happy. But I had scant training and was teaching within 24 hour of arrival, jetlagged and confused. Without a procedure, it’s anyone’s guess whether or not I’m following protocol. I’m probably being too paranoid, but I just can’t sign that I know how to do something when I don’t know if I do.

Woke up with a mild headache, but feeling much better than yesterday. My feet still hurt, but the joints are not so painful. Plan to do laundry, prepare lessons and be quiet today. Hope to get over whatever this is. I’m sure it is just a local virus, doesn’t seem to be serious. My body has been through a lot in the last month and I’m sure this is part of the adjustment. Rest cures.

Other things I’ve forgotten to mention:

  • Items are priced separately here—even when they are packaged together and it would be difficult or impossible to separate them. If a price seems low, assume you are paying per piece. There is no discount for buying a package of 6 pens.
  • I have to supply all my own teaching items: pens, white board markers, computer. I’m slowly getting all the additional things I need like maps, toys and supplies for games.
  • I’ve found an online Vietnamese language site that I think will be very helpful. Working through exercises will take a few months, but help me be functional in Vietnamese. The program starts with cultural lessons too, which will be good. I’ve not been happy with my Pimslur program. They want you to learn entirely by listening, but that isn’t a good plan with Vietnamese. We only share 22 or the 29 letters of an alphabet and the tones are not something I’m used to. Plus, the last letter(s) of a word are often not said at all, so you’ve no idea how to spell something even if you do know the alphabet and the sounds for each. The program isn’t a complete waste, but not good for a primary source.
  • I see welding and metal grinding as I drive down the street, but no one ever has any eye protection.
  • Miss Rose helped me add money to my phone yesterday. She bought two cards for me, but showed me where to go (right across the street from the school). She says hold up my phone, say “Mobiphone” (my carrier) and ask for “Phon Car” and hand them 100,000vnd. Easy!
  • The internet at the apartment mostly works, though slow. The cable seems to be out every other day, which drives Bob crazy.
Little altars everywhere....
Little altars everywhere….
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Beth

I'm a professional vagabond. I quit my cubical job in January 2014. Since then, I've hiked the Appalachian Trail, The Camino, and taught English in Vietnam, Turkey, Russia, Spain and Mexico. I'm exploring the world.

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