Alban S. Holyoke
When I started college I never envisioned myself teaching English, much less in Nepal. In all honesty English is not my strongest subject; my friends often joke with me about my poor spelling. When I applied for a Fulbright grant to teach English in Nepal I thought of it as a long shot. When I received an email telling me that I won the scholarship, I realized that I would have to put my words into actions. Fortunately, I have some very incredible mentors in the US that got me excited about the prospect of not only traveling to a vastly different culture, but also the joys of teaching.
When I came to Nepal I had little experience of teaching in a formal setting, and none in an English classroom. During my first month in Nepal I received a crash course in teaching methodology, which bolstered my confidence somewhat. But when I visited my first Nepali school, my spirits sunk. I was standing in the middle of a room of screaming kids, with all the classrooms around me. I sat at the back, observing the class from a dark corner, making notes about the classroom, the teacher’s methodology, and how the students responded. That night I talked to my parents in the US and told them I didn’t think that I was up to the challenge of being an English teacher. I had anticipated it being difficult, but nothing like I had seen in that first school. Our teacher training ended, and I was sent to my school. Set free to teach as best I could, hopefully to do more good than harm.
That first day when I arrived at my school, there was a snaking line of smiling faces, all thrusting flowers into my overflowing arms. Their smiles said it all, “we’re happy you’re here!” I sat in the staffroom with other teachers while they tried to make me comfortable by making small talk in Nepali, most of which I didn’t understand. That first day was exhausting, and when I went home after school I lay down on my bed and thought about how tired I was, and I hadn’t even taught. My first week went by in a blur. I went from classroom to classroom introducing myself, and having a hundred different kids introduce themselves to me with little hope that I would remember any of their names. Then came Dashain holiday, and I had yet to actually teach a class. Most of my time was spent in the staffroom, or observing other teachers’ classes. My anxiety about teaching only multiplied over the holiday, and when the school resumed I was certain that my first class would be a failure.
My classes arranged, I went to the school with very low expectations. I would be teaching class 7, first period. Although I had prepared for class, I was startled by what actually happened. I went to class being anxious about how I would do, but to my surprise, staring back at me were twenty smiling faces. I was amazed at how receptive they were and excited to learn. When the bell rang for the second period I was surprised at how effortlessly the time had passed. I smiled and said goodbye, and the twenty smiling faces echoed their own goodbyes in response. I had done it, one class down. It wasn’t so hard, and I was surer of myself in the second, third and fourth classes of the day. The day, just like my classes, passed quickly and before I knew it I was back on my bed reflecting on my first day of teaching. I was exhausted, but happy.
Over the course of those first few weeks I began to learn my students names, their strengths and their weaknesses. They very quickly welcomed me into the school community. At the same time, I was trying new teaching methods that they had never encountered before. I tried to challenge not only in English, but also to think in progressive, critical ways. Though all this, they stuck with me. I thought a lot about how mature, and intelligent my students were compared to me when I was their age. But I learned quickly that I shouldn’t be suppressed by my students’ capabilities. At the very moment that I would start to think of one of them as a poor or lazy student, they would baffle me and their peers, with an incredible dialog, or answer. It was this uncertainty, and spontaneity that kept me on my toes, and excited to come to school.
Everyday after school I would go home exhausted. After a few months I met another teacher and told him how tired I was after school each day. He insisted that I must have been doing something wrong, that I shouldn’t be so tired. In reply I said that I was fine being tired, in fact I wanted to be tired. If I had gone home and felt anything other than exhaustion, I would feel as though I hadn’t accomplished anything that day.
That’s how time passed until a few weeks ago. It was all of a sudden that I realized I wasn’t a new teacher anymore, and then it was time to go. I had done it, and enjoyed every minute with my students. My fears from the beginning were never realized. I found that I was a pretty good teacher, perhaps not because of superior teaching or English skills, but because I cared about my students. On my last day of school another teacher told me that the students “really love Alban sir, really really love Alban sir.” It touched me that she would give me such a compliment. I would have been flattered if she would have said “the teachers really love Alban sir,” but that wouldn’t have meant as much to me. I knew that she was right, that my students really did love me. And I, in return, loved them back. Perhaps that’s why we had such a good rapport, they knew I cared about them, and they about me. That also may be why they worked so hard for me, humoring my spelling mistakes, and new teaching methods.
As I sat on the stage at my farewell ceremony I could see those one hundred faces that I met eight months before with little hope of learning their names, smiling back at me. There was Pratima, Monoj, Swastika, Sajan and so many others. I can honestly say I have never felt such an outpouring of love as I did that day. As they left I said goodbye and hugged as many of them as could fit between my arms.
While I may not have been a perfect teacher, certainly making mistakes along the road, I’ve very happy the way things turned out. I’m going to miss my students when I return to the United States, but I will always remember them and teaching English in Nepal.