My Fulbright project has several components to it, and one of them involves teaching autobiographical poetry writing to students here. The plan is for students in Vietnam and my school (and any other interested schools) to learn about each other through poetry.
So far, I have focused on teaching a series of eight lessons to one class each in grades seven, nine, ten and eleven, as well as one university level class. The students in these classes have varying levels of English and are working hard to write about themselves. Once these lessons are complete, I will work on building a website for sharing poetry and publishing an online curriculum guide for teachers.
Just as one experiences culture shock when traveling to a new place, there is also an adjustment to be made when working in a new environment. Learning to teach classes that are twice as large as what I am used to (usually in a smaller space) has been a challenge. It didn’t take long to realize that the students who were interacting the most in class had the best English, while the many quiet students were struggling. I have had to adjust lessons and provide additional support for students who need it, but it is impossible to reach 45 students in a 45-minute period.
I have also discovered some of the quiet students have excellent English but are afraid to speak. Some of their feelings have come through in their writing.
Vietnamese students are under enormous pressure and will often have other work out while I am teaching. There also seems to be a culture in Vietnam of carrying on conversations while the teacher is talking. It is not meant to be rude, but seems to be a natural thing to do in almost every class I have been in. Two student teachers here from Indonesia have noticed the same thing. Scheduling is another cultural difference. Schedule changes happen frequently and often with little notice.
Some challenges cross cultures and would be very familiar to just about any teacher – like the class where half the students lose the previous week’s poem, the students who say they understand but really don’t, the ones who finish a minute after I give the directions, and the times when the wi-fi goes down just when I need it. And then there’s that student who tried out some English vocabulary in his poem that is definitely not appropriate for school. (I can spot a seventh grader anywhere in the world!)
All of these challenges are really very small and easy to adjust to. And there are differences that are definitely more positive. For example, in nearly two months, only one student has asked to leave the room during a lesson, and only once has the class been interrupted by a visitor. And it never gets old when the class stands and greets me at the beginning of the lesson and applauds at the end. (Maybe they’re just glad class is over, but I choose to think otherwise.)
This week, I have recruited several university students to assist in my middle school and high school classes. They are helping to get more students involved in the classes, translating when necessary, and are a great example for the students. I also appreciate the warm welcome from the teachers and administrators at Nguyễn Tất Thành School. The teachers are under a lot of pressure to get their students to pass the English exams, so I am grateful for the access they have given me to their classes.
Many students have been producing excellent drafts of their poems and are becoming more and more eager to share their work. Stay tuned for information on where you can read and comment on their poems. (Update: You can go to the poetry website here.)
October 24, 2016 at 09:51
Absorbing read. I look forward to reading the poems… working with students to write poetry has been one of my most rewarding experiences as a teacher …
October 25, 2016 at 09:55
I’m always surprised and impressed at what students can do with poetry. I’m sure the students in Vietnam will not disappoint.
October 24, 2016 at 10:13
What you have is such a gift. Enjoy every minute, keep up the good work and keep posting (:
October 25, 2016 at 09:55
Li nda Wight
October 24, 2016 at 10:16
A lot of material to cover – should be interesting results- Google luck TiM. Your students have a lot of pressure to achieve. Pretty fall day here, but leaves are falling fast . Have a good day to you and your students
October 25, 2016 at 09:56
October 24, 2016 at 13:57
October 25, 2016 at 09:53
October 24, 2016 at 19:35
October 24, 2016 at 19:54
Hi, Treyvon! Hope you’re having a good 8th-grade year. Reading any good books?
October 24, 2016 at 19:41
Mr Flanagan it Anthony and Trey
October 24, 2016 at 19:55
Hi, Anthony! Congratulations – you two are my first student commenters. Read my posts for home reading!
October 24, 2016 at 20:28
I also, would love to read a poem if you can share it.
October 25, 2016 at 10:05
I’m hoping to start my website for poems by the end of November. Hopefully it can keep growing from there. Stay tuned!
October 24, 2016 at 20:54
The naughty words are always spelled correctly. God bless the seventh graders everywhere!
October 25, 2016 at 10:05
October 25, 2016 at 07:50
Great reading Tim! So’n Trung what great photos they help so much with learning and getting to know the culture and all of you thanks so much and keep them coming!
October 25, 2016 at 10:08
I’ll pass the word on to Sơn. I was very impressed with his photos, too.
October 25, 2016 at 21:37
Looking forward to reading the student’s poetry. Love the photos!
October 28, 2016 at 06:08
So, when are you going to apply for a Fulbright program? You’d be a perfect candidate!
October 26, 2016 at 16:13
October 28, 2016 at 06:09
Thanks, Eve. Congratulations on the new PEP2 center!
October 28, 2016 at 12:23
Just got to read this one. Fell a little behind. So interesting to read the customs of the students.
October 31, 2016 at 22:45
Just like at home! Another poetry unit, they follow you everywhere. Sounds like you are having fun.
November 1, 2016 at 08:51
It is always energizing working with the students. And it’s nice to have a schedule that gives me time for other pursuits.
December 24, 2016 at 06:39
Hi Tim. That was a very good read! I’m a spoken word artist currently based in Cambodia. I have been looking into teaching poetry in Vietnam, this is the most inspiring thing I’ve read so far, would there be a possibility of any jobs going in the next couple of months?
December 24, 2016 at 08:13
Thanks for the comment, Simon. Unfortunately, I’ll be finishing up here in just two weeks. There are many, many jobs focusing on teaching English in Vietnam. If you can package your presentation as a way for students to practice English, I am sure many schools would be interested.
December 24, 2016 at 09:38
Thank you for your response, That’s a shame, I loved the idea of what you do. I think it’s always best to be somewhere to research properly though so I will come to Vietnam and I’m sure I will find my feet! Good luck with the website, Tim. I would enjoy reading them I’m sure!