What it’s like teaching English in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Now to talk about the real reason I’m here in the first place, to teach English in Phnom Penh! A very nerve-wracking and rewarding experience that I don’t think you could ever actually prepare yourself for. So as I have previously mentioned I was placed in the CamFirst school, on the Norodom campus with the three male interns that I live with. The age group that I was given to teach was kindergarten so the children I teach go from the age of 3 to 6, the younger children tend more to be given to females, males will never really get given a kindergarten class. Therefore, being placed with three guys in this school I was destined to work with the youngsters whereas the guys teach children up until the age of 15. At first, I was a little disappointed because I wanted to be given a challenge, I was looking forward to children that had more of a comprehension of English. However, I must say I did grow to love my classes quickly, all the children here will surprise you with how much they know at such a young age, and whatever age you get given you will find it a hugely rewarding experience.

Students at school in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

The first week within the school you just observe the classes that you are going to teach and watch how the teachers take them through new vocabulary, take plenty of notes at this point, they will come in handy for lesson planning! Even simple things like the routines of saying good morning and how a class is ended before the children go home are worth taking note of just to be aware of the culture and routines that the children react best to. In this week, also speak to the home teachers in your classes and check what they expect you to teach the following week, so that you don’t show up with a lesson plan that covers vocabulary the class have already done/will find too advanced. You will get given a coursebook to follow so no need to panic about lesson plans, you have some guidance and once you’ve observed you’ll know how much or how little work outside of the coursebook you’ll need to do. If you prepare yourself well it won’t be as much of a shock once you start teaching.

i-to-i Cambodia intern Ellen teaching her class of English students at school in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Beginning teaching on your own can be petrifying, little things are easy to worry about like if your voice is loud enough or not if you are speaking clearly enough, if you have an accent the children may find confusing etc. That’s even before the actual teaching itself! My main worry was being loud enough to keep the class focused on what I was saying, with young children they get bored and distracted so easily so you have no chance if you’re mumbling. When I began teaching in Phnom Penh, I was pleasantly surprised that when being put into the situation you just work with it and get on with it. You get some funny moments where you find the children are pronouncing things wrongly such as lemon being pronounced lea-moon, an easy mistake to make here but something I’d never heard before! Being with kindergarten meant that I always have a home teacher or assistant in with me, they are so young that they always need someone who speaks Khmer, also I had bigger classes so I needed the extra support. I generally always felt like I could have help if I needed it.

When you’re in school you start to feel like a bit of a celebrity, the children get so excited to see you. You can’t walk through the corridor without giving a few high fives and fist bumps, its also common to find that your legs are being hugged as well. At first it’s overwhelming and surreal but it gets to be really lovely knowing how much the children enjoy having you here. It’s nice as well that the children you don’t teach also want to speak to you, you’ll get used to being called ‘teacher’ rather than your actual name. I found it a challenge going into each of my classrooms because the children would erupt into ‘hello teacher’ and come up to me for hugs, high fives and fist bumps so I had to fight my way to the front of the classroom. It’s worth it though, makes you feel wanted here and like you’re really making a difference, at the least you’re brightening up the children’s day and you can’t put a price on that.

Cheeky TEFL students gather round for a selfie with i-to-i TEFL intern Ellen in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Before you know it you’re in the swing of things and have been teaching for a few weeks, around this time you will get observed by your headteacher and Kimlay (he runs the internship). This is obviously quite a nerve-wracking experience but if are interested in trying to find a job after the internship then this is an ideal chance to show off your skills. If it’s your first experience teaching then don’t put pressure on yourself, they will simply give you guidance on how to improve and you will still get a reference for the experience of taking part. I can honestly say you will come away from this internship having gained something irrelevant of how good a teacher you are, it’s all a good experience for anything you would like to do in the future.

The hardest part of the internship will be saying goodbye to the children you’ve become attached to over time. Trust me you will definitely get favourites!

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