Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Teacher Stuff

kids at my door
It’s getting more and more difficult to think about leaving.

When I first arrived at Mongar Lower Secondary School, it was a strange feeling. I wasn’t given any direction, and I felt quite lost. School had been closed for two weeks for the special puja, and when we did start, we were in a transition between principals. A new principal had been assigned to our school, but the previous principal had not been given her new posting. Although, theoretically we had two principals, neither was taking command, so the job fell to the VP. He was also new to the job and new to the school, so it took him awhile to take full charge.

That first week, I didn’t have any assigned responsibilities, or even a desk or chair to call my own. I knew I was expected to get a Special Ed program started, but with absolutely no guidance, I didn’t know where to start. This was the stage when I didn’t even know the procedure to get a pencil or a piece of paper. I also didn’t know who were teachers and who were various other assistants, and remembering names was impossible. There are about 35 teachers, and I still don’t know all of their names.

Having a place to work was my top priority, so I explored the school buildings, looking for a spot to call my own. I discovered that the “health room” was really only a place to store first aid supplies. This small room has its own door outside, but is connected to the science lab, which is also rarely used. There were two desks in there, one for Devika, the “health –in-charge”, and one for Pem, the lab assistant. Devika is also a teacher, so she has her main desk in one of the staff rooms, and Pem spends most of his time upstairs in the office. I asked Devika if I could use the room and she kindly cleared out the desk for me. The health supplies were still in a cabinet there, which meant that she needed to pop in from time to time, but no big deal.

It has been a slow process, but little by little I have made the room a pleasant place to work. I was very excited the day I got a clock and a stapler. Later I got an old computer. I have put up an alphabet frieze and lots of charts of poems and song lyrics. I have potted plants on the windowsills. I added mesh to the windows to keep out the wasps which are always working on a nest there. I did that after a wasp got stuck under my kira and stung me three times!

The old principal left in July, and the new principal took over on October. Things have really been happening since he took over. Teachers were moved to new spots, and my Special Ed colleague, Yeshey, moved in to share the room with me. I almost instantly got the greenboard I’ve been asking for since the beginning. We got a better computer and printer! Recently we had a telephone line strung to our room, so we now have broadband internet!! I have purchased a license for Reading A-Z for a year, so we are able to access and download all kinds of great teaching materials.

Yeshey and I are planning our second workshop for the parents of students with special needs. We were given a budget of $2500 to provide two of these workshops. We did the first one back in the spring, and I was shocked at how much money was used to provide tea, snacks and lunch for the participants. Yeshey insisted that it is expected, and is always factored in as the main expense.

I was adamant that we wouldn’t use the money that way for the second workshop. The money could be used much more wisely for materials to benefit the kids. Consequently, this workshop is being held on Saturday morning, and we will only be providing tea and snacks. We have printed off booklets for every student from Reading A-Z, and we are making lots of games and activities for parents to do with their children during the long winter break. My hope is that these students will be able to keep up their skills during the holiday, rather than fall further behind.

A very interesting aspect of conducting parent workshops here, is that one must plan two versions, one for the “English literate” group, which makes up about one third of the parents, and another for the non-English speaking illiterate group. All of the parents sign-in upon arrival, and the latter group signs in with their thumbprints. It was amazing to hear Yeshey’s observations about this group. After the spring workshop, she walked home with a few of the women who live in her village, and they were flushed with excitement. They said it was the first time they had ever held a pencil!! A couple of the women were inspired to learn more, and said they would get their children to teach them to read and write.

By the way, every morning I am greeted by an increasing number of young students who like to start their morning by coming to my room to look at books or listen to a story. Some of them meet me at the top of the 108 steps, and one little boy always proudly carries my schoolbag down for me. At my door, everyone is eager to be the first inside, but after many reminders, they now come in without pushing. They are learning to handle books carefully, and to be good listeners when I am reading to them. When the bell rings, they all say, “Thank-you Madam”, and head outside for morning assembly. It is a lovely way to start the school day.

This week I am working with many of my students for the last time, because next week is tsechu, the week after is exams, then marking and the wind down, and then I will be leaving. It has been very difficult to tell the kids that I won’t be back next year, except perhaps for a visit. I have really loved my time here, but I feel it is time to return to Canada to work on new dreams.


  1. Lovely and fascinating blog post Ann. I posted an excerpt on the BCF blog, go check it out! Raewyn

  2. Hi Ann,

    I am just now learning about Bhutan and teaching opportunities there. I would LOVE to know more about your experiences especially your work setting up the special education program. Anything more you care to share would be GREATLY appreciated.

    1. I realize that it is now two and a half years since you wrote your comment, but this is the first time I have checked my blog!! Are you still interested in Bhutan? email me annberman@live.com