Teaching English in Rural Myanmar

11th November 2016
Northern Shan State, Myanmar

Awaking in a village I am yet to know how to spell the of actual name, of in rural Shan State in Northern Myanmar, approximately a half hour drive (just a few miles) from the town of Kutkai and a couple of hours drive along rural roads to the Chinese border, it was time to take on the day. The watery morning sunlight crept through my window and a shriek of laughter from the younger boarding school students echoed through the concrete building, rousing me from what turned out to be a really deep and refreshing sleep. A bumble of two stroke motorbikes reverberated up from the dirt road below. The air around me was crisp, fresh mountain air, in stark contrast to that of the sweaty humidity of Yangon in the Irrawaddy delta. I snuggled down further below my thick duvet and blanket, happy that the hareem of eight legged beasts hanging ominously from the ceiling hadn’t take a nibble of me during the night and making a mental note of whether there were any additional mosquito bites. None. Happy days – the gallons of DEET I had been spraying onto my now rather dry skin had been doing the trick, then again, there weren’t all that mosquitos here to start with which I’m glad of as this is a malarial area and renowned for outbreaks of dengue fever. I drifted back off for an hour or so and awoke again around 07:30. Luring myself out of bed, I peaked out of the window. The cumulonimous clouds rolling in from the surrounding mountains burst, sending large, heavy raindrops down onto the village below.

Today was the first day I would be teaching. Something that I had never once in my life done and something I wasn’t entirely sure how I would take to. I hoped that the students would like me and more importantly, I hoped that they would learn a lot from me being there. Or maybe not even a lot, but at least something! Wandering down to breakfast, ideas of what I could teach today rolled around in my head. I like things to be very structured and sometimes life just isn’t that way, so my anxiety took over and I began obsessing over textbooks and resources for the class. Often, I find that being rather anxious about doing well serves to be quite a good motivator! As long as you can control it well enough… Thankfully several resources streamed my way including a series of textbooks for the Secondary class that I would be taking that afternoon, all of which are textbooks from the National Geographic Learning curriculum, ranging from Pre-Intermediate English to Upper Intermediate. Browsing the categories and with a list of what the students had studied that year thus far, I formulated a lesson plan.

That morning, American teacher Clay would be teaching the Secondary class with me taking them for the afternoon. I had sent across a short biography with information about my background, work experience and interests a couple of months before coming out to Myanmar to introduce myself to the other people working and volunteering with the programme. Clay mentioned in the morning that he would be using my bio as a learning resource for his lesson which proved to be interesting! Especially trying to explain how a wind farm works and about renewable energy! It was a great ice breaker for my lesson in the afternoon and although I felt really nervous prior to starting the class, the students were really responsive and had lots of questions to ask me from their morning session. I started off the class, unexpectedly, explaining about offshore wind farms. The basics of how energy from the wind is harnessed by a wind turbine, how the energy is set via subsurface cables to an offshore sub-station and then sent back to shore. I explained about shallow water seas of the North Sea and how the nations surrounding this sea had an interest in using less non-renewable energy sources of oil, gas and coal, and how renewable energy sources were a priority for energy supply. We even went as far as explaining about the National Grid! It was an unexpected start to my time in rural Myanmar and certainly not what I had anticipated talking about during my first lesson! But it helped to ease me into it and gave us a great starting point for our lesson.

I asked the students to tell me three main themes relating to my biography which they rightly extracted as being; jobs, travel and hobbies. I asked if they had studied these subjects over the last year of their english education here of which they hadn’t. Hey presto… we have three subject areas for month long duration of English study! Aligning these subjects with the different areas of the National Geographic Learning programme and the Think English curriculum, I was able to formulate a vague plan for the following weeks which I have been busy putting together this afternoon.

We decided to start with jobs today, looking at how different job roles are put together using two words as well as word-building suffixes. We played games to get familiar with the vocabulary. Had competitions between the two class teams and I felt that I really created a great feeling of positivity within the classroom. We laughed a lot! Especially during introductions when one lady tried to explain to me that she had three children, but instead was understood as saying she had three chickens! We read articles about cowboys, discussed important things within a job and came to the conclusion that job satisfaction is the most important thing. By the end of the 90 minute lesson (which ended up over-running to about 2 hours – oops!), the students were confidently and competently using their new english vocabulary skills in role play for job interviews. They had learnt so much within such a short space of time and I left the classroom feeling positive for the weeks to come and optimistic that this class would continue to be enthusiastic and engaging. They had asked me if I would go over curriculum vitae’s with them next lesson and on browsing through the Nat Geo curriculum that’s part of it. So with a lesson plan put together for Monday, I’m feeling ready to take on this challenge of teaching and hopefully imparting my knowledge to these students of my own experiences with CV’s and hopefully helping them on the way to securing the job that they want. They’re all trainee teachers and learning English is an important part of their teacher training programme so I hope that what they learn over these few weeks will help them along the way and hopefully will help them to get into a school that they want.

With love from a faraway land,


x x x


3 responses to “Teaching English in Rural Myanmar

  1. Brilliant Hayley very well done I’m sure they will have developed life long skills that they in turn can teach their students 😊 Keep up the good work xxxx


  2. Whatever they learn from you will be great, but the biggest lesson that someone cared enough to help them will stay with them forever, well done Hayley xxxxx


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