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Some heavy thinking… March 2, 2010

Filed under: Vietnam — polyachka @ 12:13 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

I was not feeling great today. If you read “Men are from Mars, women are from Venus”, you would call it “at the bottom of my well”. Girls didn’t use the computers in three weeks. Maybe they don’t need XOs?  Did I fail as a teacher? I don’t motivate and challenge them enough?  Or girls in general are not much interested in computers?

I complained to Andy that I feel down.. that maybe my teaching is a  waste of time.  Girls enjoy our lessons now, but after I leave, what if they never use computers again (horror stories I heard about some failed projects)? I doubted myself on so many levels…  I even wrote a letter to Adam saying that life sucks…

Andy said he has no answers, but (from his two-year experience of teaching English) it depends on the day. Sometimes you leave the class room thinking “oh, boy, that was a waste of time”, but other days you really see progress and that justifies everything…

I was thinking about having a new approach to teaching. I want to show to the girls pictures of my family, my hometown, place where I live now. And tell them about my experience of going to school and college. I plan to tell them about the power of education  and reading. I want to ask them about what they want to become. And tell them that they may achieve it all if they study and work hard for it.

I also want to show them how to type in Vietnamese. I will show them the map of the world and places where I lived and traveled. I plan to have our lessons more personal and more inspiring…


2 Responses to “Some heavy thinking…”

  1. Clytie Siddall Says:

    You have the right ideas. Most of all, you need to connect with your students, and I think you are already doing that in some areas. However, where do they rank on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? I found in teaching multiply disadvantaged students, that there was very little point in trying to get across theoretical concepts when the students were hungry (food not provided or couldn’t afford it) or exhausted (forced labour or having to work overnight to survive) or very worried about family issues or general survival (rent not paid, child abuse, close family members at risk in refugee camps, local gang threats…). These issues need to be solved first, if possible (just talking about them can help, and give practice in problem-solving strategies).

    You need to connect your students with opportunities they can use in everyday life. Can they use the graphic activities to decorate their school or shelter? Can they make things for their families? Can they engage with penfriends (email or snailmail)? Can they enter competitions or practise for exams (use the computer to drill or to create a final copy)? What are their vocational training options: can you get employers or higher-education reps to supply info. on computer and information-management skills required for good jobs? Tell them how much good programmers earn. Show them how success can give them more choices. What is their pathway to higher education and better jobs? What are their goals? What do they want to change about their circumstances (many want to help their families)? Do any already have relatives or contacts abroad with whom they could email or chat (using e.g. the GNOME Vietnamese software)? How about communicating with a similar-age class in another country (e.g. a Vietnamese-language class)?

    I’d also suggest (if it is permitted) showing your students the wealth of information now available online in Vietnamese. The Vietnamese Wikipedia ( is a great place to start. It also has links to Wiktionary (vi.wiktionary is a comprehensive Vietnamese dictionary with the most up-to-date terms available) and many other resources in Vietnamese. You can choose Vietnamese as your Google language, and search primarily for Vietnamese pages. There is more and more out there for young people, now. A quick search in Vietnamese brought up a useful article on Net safety for children ( on a site dedicated to children, an amusing article labelling Internet Explorer “a problem child” (một đứa trẻ có vấn đề); and (for example) a search for “zoo” (vườn thú) has Hà Nội Zoo at the top, with plenty of pictures available. You can encourage students to search Google in Vietnamese (there are over 100,000 articles in Vietnamese on Wikipedia alone). Even searching in English works, if you include the phrase “tiếng Việt”: this will bring up pages which offer Vietnamese versions (although it also brings up sites which have sloppy auto-translation or just translated terms and conditions). There is a huge amount now available online to Vietnamese people of any age.

    Even with the political constraints, you can make education more real to your students. Get to know them better, and find a pathway they want to follow. 🙂

    I am unsure from your posts if you speak Vietnamese, or not. If not, that would certainly make things more difficult. Disconnections in support staffing, and evident breaks in communication will also obstruct your work. However, determination and sincere, consistent effort will win through any barrier. If these kids know you care about them, and they know what you teach them will help them achieve their goals, then they will try their hardest. « Học giỏi nhé ! » (Let’s study well!)

    BTW, it’s important with Vietnamese students not to allow them to confuse open learning with lack of priority. Vietnamese people normally place high priority on education, but are often used to a highly-structured, non-participative “chalk-and-talk” approach. Anything else can be interpreted as trivial. Vietnamese students will appreciate being reminded that study is a serious matter, that what they do in the classroom has a major effect on their immediate future, and that however friendly and approachable you may be, you are still their teacher (cô giáo) and a person of authority. Any inattentive behaviour from them also reflects on their parents. Vietnamese parents are generally excellent supports for students’ school goals.

    Good luck. 🙂


  2. verhovzeva Says:

    Hi Clytie,
    Thank you for your feedback. The girls I teach have no parents, but they are being taken care of by the shelter. Their basic needs are fulfilled, but I think I need to appeal to their other needs, like becoming good citizens and having fulfilling well-paid jobs. I’ll spend more time directing their energy on how to achieve these goals. Also I find that very often in life we get inspiration from something new and follow it. So sometimes children may not know their needs or what to do in the future, that is where education and teachers help.
    I do not speak Vietnamese, but local volunteers provide translation during our lessons.
    As for communication with other students we are already working with Elsa from Boston on establishing that.
    Thanks for your wisdom and reshaping my thoughts by giving them more structure!
    Polyachka 🙂

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