I arrived at my village energized and bright-eyed, enamored with the Nepali culture and language I was just beginning to learn. I had arrived two weeks ago in Kathmandu and from there hiked up to 2,000 meters, to the base of the shining Annapurna Mountains that would watch over me every day of my internship. I started this internship with next to no formal training in how to teach, but was confident that my enthusiasm would indefatigably carry me forward.
When I actually got into the classrooms, however, I was amazed that conditions could be so bad. Students often lacked pencils, erasers, and notebooks, and usually sat elbow-to-elbow in dark, crowded rooms with hot tin roofs. Floors and furniture were uneven, filling the rooms with constant rattling sounds that easily drowned out my voice, which was echoed and dampened as it bounced off the rock walls. The English schoolbooks were riddled with errors. I ran into cultural differences as well. The English education of Nepal was so poor that even the other teachers of my school, who had taken University-level courses in English, didn’t recognize or understand how to correct the errors. The books’ content was poorly organized and ill-explained. Teachers would hit students if they didn’t behave, fostering oppositional relationships without real respect.
My teaching failed miserably at first. Without speaking much of the native language, I couldn’t explain to students what I wanted from them. Refusing to use the textbooks, I drew some ire from other teachers. Refusing to hit students, I couldn’t force them to do anything at all. I wanted to be a fun teacher, anyways, who earned the love of my students, but without much experience in the classroom I was at a loss to even do that. It only took my first day of teaching to realize that I seriously needed to change.
I started rigorously planning lessons, critically reviewing those lesson plans to determine which teaching techniques worked and which didn’t, and searching for teaching techniques and materials I could use in the classroom. The only way to hold student interest was to make my lessons intrinsically interesting and enjoyable, so I did my best to do just that. I studied the Nepali language so that I was able to better connect with the children and tell them what I wanted from them. For two and a half months I taught, worked on teaching until I was exhausted, slept, and taught more.
And at the end of it all, during my last week of teaching, I had one perfect day in the classroom. I held every student’s attention for every class period, completed my lesson plans precisely, and found upon assessing the students that they’d all had learned what I was trying to teach them. I’ve never felt more proud or joyful – a teacher’s pride, felt for the students, not at all for oneself, and a teacher’s joy at pure, successful cooperation. As I’ve continued my work as a teacher, now in Japan, I’ve often held that memory before me as I would a crystal prism, casting illumination all around, pushing colors into dark places. I won’t let it, or Nepal, go.
– Adrian Engstrom Von Alten, Nepal