A Filipina teacher in Vietnam writes about learning from her students

Odyssa Rivera Abille

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During their free time, a couple of students drew this on the board. At first, there were only two steps. I asked them to make it five. ThPhoto by the author

With this new job as a teacher in Vietnam, I find myself  - too many times - lost in the chaos of students bursting in and out of classroom doors, running in hallways, and hearing dozens of voices calling for attention.

Working in a school means following a distinct structure.  There's a timetable, a school calendar, lesson plans, numbered lists.

Despite being part of an organized body, I am caught in the middle of disorder daily. Too many students, too much noise and activity. 

But underneath the rubble are unforgettable pieces of insight.

Afraid and unseen

After every class, I spend a few minutes to write my reflections. This helps me remember who's who, what meaningful things happened that day, and prepare for the next meeting.

I also write down anecdotes that arise from interactions with my students. 

One of my Grade 7 students who calls himself Nocoin was about to report for his group. Before he uttered his first word, he knelt on the floor. 

I asked, "Why are you kneeling?". He replied, "Because I'm scared." It was funny (he was trying to make us laugh) and also, very real. 

When they are afraid of judgment, they change their behavior to make themselves smaller. They'd rather be invisible. 

Isn't that true for all of us?

Wanted: Best Friend

I asked a class to write a descriptive article about their best friend. One of them, Anh, a self-proclaimed loner, confessed she doesn't have a best friend.

At the end of her essay, she wrote, "I wish that one day, I'll have a best friend I can write about."

It made me sad thinking of students who are out of place during group activities. 

With supportive comments about her well-articulated work, I wrote, "I also wish for this to happen. One day, you will find someone you can write about."

No matter what age we're in, we look for at least one person who can understand and see us for who we are.

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My Grade 7 students deeply engrossed by a cartoon show on Youtube.Photo by the author

The lessons I pick up from my students are straightforward and uncomplicated. They're also timeless and universal.  

I now teach for a living. Everyday, I meet my students to discuss, facilitate, and assess their work.  

They may not be aware that their classroom is also MY classroom. That we are educating each other. That they are teaching me in more ways they can imagine. 

This article was first published in my blog.

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I write about relationships, the complexities of human life, and writing. I'm a self-published author of two poetry collections entitled "Like A New Sun Rising" and "From Where I Stand" available at www.amazon.com/author/Odyssa.

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