Thursday, August 14, 2014

Notes from the Mayul School, 2011


In honor of Throwback Thursday (#tbt), and my upcoming adventure, I wanted to share some notes that I originally wrote for the website of the Blue Valley Foundation, following a three-month stint in 2011 teaching English at the Mayul School in Gande County. More will follow soon about the reason behind the reminiscing, in this moment I am simply basking in the joyful memories of this exciting experience from a time before Twitter, before this blog, and when the joy of teaching was just beginning to blossom in my heart. 



The BeginningHaving just returned from an incredible three months teaching at the Mayul school, my heart is full of love and inspiration for this incredible institution, its students, and those who work tirelessly to keep it alive. I met Hungkar Dorje Rinpoche at a teaching event in San Jose, California, where he invited me to come and teach English at the Mayul School during the summer of 2011. Despite previous teaching and travel experience I had little idea of what these three months would hold for me, as a result my time there exceeded anything I could have imagined or dreamed of.

Arrival In GolokI arrived in Gande County in June of 2011, only a couple of days before the new school session was scheduled to begin. Over those first few days I watched students trickle into the village, returning from summer vacation spent in the countryside with their families. The students seemed joyful and excited about returning to school; seeing their smiling faces inspired me every day to match their motivation and excitement in the classroom.

Classroom and Community Following an opening assembly of students and teachers I moved into my room at the school, establishing my place in a community that, over time, would begin to feel more like a family than an educational institution. Classes began immediately, and I took on a schedule of ten classes a week taught to three different levels of students. It seemed that both teacher and students were nervous on the first day; I was anxious to see how my teachings would be received in a Tibetan classroom while my students seemed unsure of what to expect with a young American woman as their teacher. As soon as classes began, however, lessons felt natural and comfortable. I quickly found that the vast majority of my students were interested in learning and succeeding in the English language, and students responded with open hearts and minds to a new and different experience in the language classroom.

Going into this experience my primary goal was to develop student’s comfort level with the English language, ultimately mastering elementary conversation skills that they could use in the real world with other English speakers. In working toward this goal I created lesson plans that focused on basic and relevant topics that the students could relate to on a personal level and that included practice in speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills. My hope was to give the students tools with which to express themselves, and to open their minds to the many opportunities and doors which are opened with the acquisition of a new language.

A Rural Tibetan Introduction to English Language – clearing a path to greater economic self sufficiency and cultural integrity
Over the course of two and a half months we covered multiple subjects, from basic conversational introductions to grammar and vocabulary related to food, family, and daily schedules. The students responded most strongly to lessons which gave them language with which to express themselves. For example, they absolutely lit up during a lesson on the use of the verb “to be.” Every students loved learning how to say “I am happy,” or “I am tired,” or even “I am sick,” because for the first time they were able to express these feelings to me and be understood. I loved that personal side of the classroom experience, the students were learning to communicate and I was a real-life guinea pig for them to practice on. I became close with the students during this time, and it was so special to watch them blossom and gain confidence in expressing themselves using brand new language.
Students were tested in the first week of classes, periodically over the course of the session, and in a cumulative final examination. These tests allowed me to gauge student’s prior knowledge and exposure to the language, progress over time, and, most importantly, overall performance and improvement over the 2.5 month period. Some students struggled with very basic reading and writing skills, while others were a bit more advanced. However, by the time the session ended all students had one thing in common and that was vast improvement. On the final exam the majority of students were able to read and understand questions covering previous course material and respond with full sentence answers. This demonstrated a vast improvement that made me proud and spoke volumes to the hard work and dedication of these amazing students.

From The Heart 
I’d also like to speak to the tireless hard work of the teachers at the Mayul School. I was only there for a few months, and despite the richness of the experience it is not an easy place to live and teach; these other teachers do it year in and year out, demonstrating an incredible dedication to their students and the belief in the great importance of education. These teachers deserve a huge amount of recognition and support for their never-ending compassion, effort, and ongoing commitment to the school and its students. They were a true inspiration that I will never forget; I can only hope that I can be as strong and effective in the classroom and in life as these individuals are.
Following final exams during my last week in Tibet we hosted a graduation ceremony for the Mayul School’s very first graduating class. During this week teachers, students, friends and family came together to celebrate the huge accomplishment of these students, a group that I had the pleasure of teaching. Formal schooling in this setting is not a traditional part of Tibetan culture, so this school and its students are truly paving the way for the development of education in this region, especially for those who have previously not had access to it. Watching these students being awarded diplomas in recognition of their monumental accomplishment as their friends, family, teachers and peers cheered them on was a truly magical moment.

Saying goodbye the day I left the Mayul School was sad; despite the language barrier I formed many incredible and meaningful relationships during my time teaching, so it was hard to leave not knowing when I would return and see these people again. However, of the many gifts of this experience my wonderful memories and an inspired, open heart are the ones for which I will be forever grateful. I hold the students and teachers of the Mayul School in the highest regard in my mind and in my heart and can only hope to return soon to continue supporting the school, its English program, and my new friends.