Traveling Teacher Support: A Lesson in Lesson Planning

Thursday, May 2012
by Shannon Behary

Chimseng

It’s been two and a half years since PEPY established Traveling Teacher Support, and the project has not stayed still in any sense. The Traveling Teacher Support (TTS) project exists to train government teachers in English instruction, with the goal of creating self-sustaining English programs based in the government schools. Chim Seng, the project’s sole PEPY employee, holds training seminars twice per month for the Grade 5 and Grade 6 teachers in which he models two English lessons. Beyond these trainings, Seng—equipped with baskets full of supplies—criss-crosses the commune on a motorbike to attend the weekly English classes at each of the participating schools.

Whilst the project is popular with the participating schools (and has been requested at an additional school), Traveling Teacher Support does face significant challenges and much adaptation is still necessary. At most of the schools, both Seng and the government teacher are in the same classroom, a setup that allows Seng to make notes on each teacher’s performance. He observes whether or not the teacher creates a positive atmosphere, explains concepts clearly, and engages students. However, at two of the schools, the teacher is scheduled to teach two classes at once due to a lack of trained educators in rural areas. In these cases, Seng delivers the lesson to the more advanced class while the government teacher takes the other students.

The fundamental challenge for TTS also remains the same. Primary school teachers were not recruited to teach English, and even though the government has mandated that all 5th and 6th grade classes receive 80-90 minutes of English instruction per week, it has not provided any training to make this a reality in rural areas such as Chanleas Dai Commune. Due to this, even the most highly dedicated teachers have a very low level of English and can be uncomfortable teaching the subject. The means that without Seng’s involvement, the lessons are stilted and short.

The English tuition and training is also hampered by high levels of teacher turnover and reassignment. Teachers who have attended training for several months and have attained some mastery over the material are sometimes reassigned to teach other grades once a new school year starts, a switch that leaves Grades 5 and 6 with new, untrained replacements. This provides a real challenge to the long-term sustainability of the project. To address this, TTS has been negotiating with principals, trying to elicit commitments to keep teachers in the same position unless it is absolutely unavoidable that they be moved.

Despite these obstacles, the efforts of the TTS project have yielded positive results. The project creates an expectation that teachers will devote 80 minutes per week to English; otherwise, the burden on teachers to come up with a lesson and activities in a language they do not speak could be overwhelming. Moreover, Seng sets a great example for the other teachers. When put before the primary school classes, he speaks clearly and loudly, fills the time with activities rather than rote memorization drills, and creates a positive and energetic classroom environment.

Teacher Mei Lmom from Run Primary School acknowledges that her students are happy to learn English since they participate eagerly and have fun. Lmom, as well as teachers Khloeut Poeuy and Luy Samarth, agree that without the help provided by Traveling Teacher Support, teaching English would be difficult. The principals also express excitement about the program and are proud to have it at their schools. While aware of its limitations, TTS is making the delivery of a highly appreciated English program possible where it wasn’t before, allowing both teachers and students to grow in confidence and ability.

While we are happy with this feedback, we are keen to understand the impact of TTS more comprehensively as part of our organizational impact assessment that will take place later this year. In the meantime, we have developed the process of evaluating teachers thanks to the creation of a short and clear evaluation form. TTS is still looking to improve in this area by collaborating more closely with the principals at each school, and to this end the project has just adopted a progress report that allows the tracking of teachers’ scores from week to week. This will then be shared with both the principal and the PEPY team to ensure that all parties are aware of, and invested in, the success of the project as it develops.