I taught these girls to the best of my abilities and hoped with all my heart that my efforts would at least let them know, it is never too late to learn.
In the summer of 2011, I decided upon volunteering as a teacher at the Rachvithee Foster Home for Girls. The first day I arrived, the principal introduced me to my class of first graders, to whom I would be teaching math and English every day. All the girls were so well behaved and sat rigidly in their chairs. Little did I know that as soon as the principal left the room, I would be plunged into a room full of chaos. Nobody cared that one plus one equaled two. Girls were talking amongst themselves and pieces of paper and pencils were flying everywhere. Just as I thought it could not get any worse, a girl ran out of the room. I stood frozen to my spot, torn between chasing after her and leaving the class unsupervised. The noise in my class was so loud that a teacher from the next room had to come help me settle the kids down.
After a few days, I was ready to quit. I decided to give it another go, but this time I devised a new strategy. I walked into my class with a bag of candy and said whoever could answer my math problem would get a piece. To my surprise, it worked. Over half of the students were raising their hands and paying attention to what I was teaching. Others who were not participating were either asleep or doodling something in their notebooks. At least they were not disturbing the class. I was content for the time being.
As I got to know the girls in my class, I noticed that many of them were held back several years. Some were eight or nine years old and were still in the first grade. I also realized that the same girls kept getting the questions right, both math and English. Halfway through the semester, another volunteer joined Rachvithee Home and became my co-teacher. This gave me the opportunity to work with individual students whom I thought were being left behind. Much to my surprise, many of them did not know basic mathematics. Some could not even write their own name in Thai, let alone English.
A horrible wave of realization hit me that the reason they did not pay attention in class was not because they did not want to learn, it was because they did not know how. The Rachvithee Home was awfully understaffed and teachers could not give these girls the care they needed. The only way possible was to hold them back and keep them in the first grade with the hopes that they would learn what is needed when the next academic year came. With the greatest sympathy, I taught these girls to the best of my abilities and hoped with all my heart that my efforts would at least let them know, it is never too late to learn.
I cannot say I have a solution to this problem, all I know is that it exists. I learned a lot from my experience at the Home. I never knew how tiring teaching could be, but it drained me of all my energy daily. I would come home, crash at 9 p.m. every night and wake up at 7am, feeling almost as tired as I was the day before. I also realized just how lucky I am. I encourage all to give back to society in any way they can. Just because there is no solution does not mean we cannot alleviate the problem.
Article written by Panarat Anamwathana.