Photo: Teachers Grace, Caterina, and Trish at Phobjikha Valley, taken by Grace Miranda.
For many teachers, volunteering in the Reading Program marks their first time visiting Bhutan. For some, it is also their first time teaching internationally. As experienced teachers, they get the opportunity to work closely with Bhutanese schools to support the capacity of both local teachers and students. Four weeks in Bhutan also gives these teachers time to take in the serene views of the Himalayas, observe cultural practices, and form deep bonds with many locals. Each teacher has a unique and immersive experience shaped by the locals in the community they work in. Below are a few highlights from the Reading Program.
Photo: School waste segregation site, part of Green Schools for Green Bhutan
Education through a different context
Teachers enter the school grounds taking in the local architecture of multi-coloured wooden frontages, arched windows, and sloped roofs. Students rush by wearing kiras and ghos, bowing and greeting their teachers. Following the morning assembly, teachers begin classes instructed in English, with the exception of Dzongkha class. Throughout the day the Educating for Gross National Happiness initiative fosters a GNH-infused learning environment for students, teachers, and principals from mediation to adaption of Green Schools for Green Bhutan. Traveling very far from home, teachers gain an enriching experience observing and taking part in a vastly different model for education. Returning back home teachers bring back memories, newly acquired Bhutanese storybooks for their classrooms, and different perspectives that they carry with them throughout their career.
Photo: Teachers in a classroom
Working alongside Bhutanese teachers
Sharing the same occupation in different parts of the world, volunteer and local teachers get to know each other fairly quickly. Volunteer teachers get many opportunities to support the capacity of Bhutanese teachers. They work one-on-one with teachers mentoring them and shadowing lessons. They share resources from their home countries and even develop audio tools to help students practice their reading skills. Finally, volunteers lead professional development workshops in the school or Education District on topics such as phonetics and special education. Volunteer and local teachers work together to help students succeed in achieving quality in education, highlighted as one of the education aspirations in the Bhutan Education Blueprint 2014-2024.
Photo: Smiling students huddled by the classroom window
Interactions with students make some of the most rewarding experiences for teachers. Students bring excitement and enthusiasm to the classrooms that the volunteer teachers match with stories and activities from their home countries. Over the course of the program, students get more comfortable with their volunteer teacher. Students get support from the volunteer teachers to develop their reading and speaking skills. Outside of school, students take initiative helping their teacher get acquainted with the local lifestyle, for example by giving a lesson on how to make the national dish in Bhutan, ema datshi. There is a deep appreciation for the work volunteer teachers take part in during their placement, perhaps most noticeable when engaging with students.
The Reading Program provides a unique and rewarding experience to volunteer teachers to experience Bhutan through the lens of an educator. If you are interested in learning more about spending four weeks teaching in Bhutan, visit www.bhutancanada.org/readingprogram.