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Starting to Begin to Commence

The King decreed school begins officially November 1st, which fell on a Sunday. Off we went, my host family and I to the ceremony under an open tent at the school. Many, many speeches were read by dignitaries who did not seem to mind that the kids and their mothers were more interested in sweet drinks than the speakers sweet words. Blessings all around! We begin!

Peace Corps recommends for the first week volunteer teachers observe our counterparts in the classroom, and after a week or two decide whom we wish to work with. This takes some consideration. Our counterpart(s) will partner with us for the next two years, not just in the classroom, but on secondary projects as well. We begin to get started!

On Monday classrooms are still dusty, desks need to be moved in or out, and there’s more dust from that, and no one has a textbook, so class ends early. We begin to get started to commence!

On Tuesday the schedule has changed, and the afternoon teacher did not know that he was supposed to teach this morning, so he didn’t show up. Students are here, but no one has a textbook, and there’s no one to teach them anyway. We begin to get started to commence to get ready!

On Wednesday one teacher must go to Kampong Cham on family business and the other teacher dismisses class at 9:15 because his uncle is in the hospital in Siem Reap. Out of 47 students only five have the textbook. We begin to get started to commence to get ready to get organized!

On Thursday we have a lesson. My counterpart has taught English for 27 years—from the same lesson plan. He showed me the yellowed pages of his carefully lettered curriculum: Chapter One, Lesson One. He diagrams a sentence and teaches parts of speech. Students stand to deliver, “I can spell trousers: t r o u s e r s.” Two tardy boys get punched on the back, and he pulls another’s hair for giving the wrong answer. The bell clangs. Class is dismissed.

On Friday I realize I am the only one who is starting to begin to commence. I’d say a light switched on, but the metaphor is dim at a school with no electricity. The other teachers know that clearing the dust, rust, and rubbish is just part of the opening sequence. Moving furniture around is how you settle in. Family obligations always take precedence—that is part of the lesson. If someone does not have the textbook, you share. We are not beginning. We are a week into it; school has already started.

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