Fiona Whyte - Teaching English & Other Subjects in Sri Lanka
Being the first ever volunteers at Pinwatha School, there was no real way of knowing what to expect. No reports from previous volunteers or anything. On the other side, the teachers wouldn't know what to expect of us either. It was a new experience for everyone involved. Thankfully, it has been a hugely enjoyable and fulfilling one too.
Of course, it has come with a few surprises. When we visited the school with Projects Abroad staff, Charley and Ligaya, it was agreed that Fiona and I would observe (a word I'm not sure they fully understood) classes for the first week and then begin teaching properly in the second week. This was re-assuring as neither of us had any idea how to teach English and were suddenly plunged into the realisation that we didn't really know what we were doing. However, on my first day, one of the English teachers (who, for a long time, we simply named 'Beard' until we found out his name was actually 'Sisira') told me to teach his 40 minute English lesson with grade 11. A straight 'no' was offered and I observed for that day, but actual teaching began on day two - six days before agreed!
It's a good job then that most of the kids are so eager to learn and impress you with their English. They are very easy to teach as a result of their liveliness and enthusiasm. Also what struck us was the size of the school compared to its class sizes. It was very badly hit by the tsunami, being just 30 metres or so from the sea, and has only just recently been fully restored. During the re-building process, however, many kids (whose parents could afford it) were sent to other schools, and so little by little, the population of the school has dwindled. Because of this, the smallest class, grade six, consists of just two pupils and the largest, grade eleven, has just 14. It also means that the kids are easier to get to know, and some of them entertain you constantly with their abundance of character.
We found that the staff were just as keen to learn things from us as the children were. They seem intrigued by England; this strange, distant country with no wild Elephants, safe driving standards, where most bus journeys cost at least the equivalent of Rs100 and where some people drink their tea without sugar. Indeed, they find our culture very amusing and are always entertained to discover some of the quirky little things we do, like dipping biscuits in tea!
All in all, Pinwatha school is a great place to work. Everyone is very welcoming and hospitable, the classes are tiny and the kids are great fun. We look forward to another month here and will be sad when we leave in May.