Teaching assistants from the United States will try out unconventional methods of reaching out to their charges in rural schools.
BRIGHT-eyed and raring to go best describes the 100 Fulbright English Teaching assistants (ETA) who were recently greeted by the US ambassador to Malaysia Joseph Y. Yun at his official residence in Kuala Lumpur.
These American youths have agreed to volunteer and spend the next 10-months fostering a strong command and a love for the English language among primary and secondary school students in eight states throughout the nation.
Each of them were brimming with innovative lesson ideas, but for some, such ideas might need some tweaking due to the recent floods that has devastated the east coast and Perak.
One of those who’ve had to rethink her plans was 22-year-old Becca Rudquist.
The Minnesota native, who will be sent to a secondary school in Kelantan, said she is going to go in with no expectations.
“I was told about the floods and I’m not sure if it would affect the plans I have for my students,” she added.
The sports fanatic wants her students to be serious about sports.
“But I’m not sure if the field will be ready for use,” she lamented.
Many of Becca’s teaching plans involve defying the conventional classroom concepts.
“I don’t like desks to face the board. I like the desks to be in groups,” she said, adding that she wants to incorporate play and movement into her lessons, never mind that her students are from an older age group.
“Maybe I’ll try using little squishy balls in the class,” she said.
She acknowledged that her strong Minnesota accent might prove to “be challenging” for her students.
“I think it will be difficult for me to make out the local accents too. I don’t yet know how the Kelantan accent sounds like, but I’ve been told it is quite different from the rest.”
Becca has also taught in Singapore before. She wanted to come to Malaysia and was drawn to the programme because it is an excellent way of teaching English to local students, and learn about a new culture.
She added that she received advice from a former ETA who told her to “go in with no expectations”.
Returning ETA Samuel Teng, 24, said he was excited to return to the Land of The Hornbills.
Samuel, who hails from New York, said he came back again as an ETA because he loved his experience the last time.
“It was a lot of fun and I met many great people.
“I made a lot of really close and strong relationships,” he said, adding that he kept in touch with his new friends and ex-students via Facebook.
He plans on hosting a cooking-themed activity during the English camp that the teaching assistants have for their students later this year.
“It will be similar to the one I did last year based on Top Chef, the American reality TV cooking competition.
“I taught them how to cook some American dishes. I also taught them different English words used in cooking and things you can find in the kitchen.
“At the end of the day, they were given three common American recipes — macaroni and cheese, eggplant parmesan and snickerdoodle cookies — as part of a cooking competition,” said the culinary enthusiast.
Samuel said he was looking forward to working with the students again and incorporating food terms into his English lessons.
During his previous stint, he had to talk slowly and enunciate every word so that the students could understand him.
“As in all schools, there are students with different proficiency levels.
The higher-level students are able to understand my American accent easily,” added Samuel.
He said that this was because they watched American television programmes and listened to music from the United States and the United Kingdom.
“With the lower-level students, it took a lot more coaxing, speaking slowly, really enunciating my words but in the end, they picked up easily.”
The ETAs have in the past been known to conduct lessons that defy classroom norms and Drew Hasson, 23, has no plans of breaking this tradition.
His plan is to dress up as a ninja and then creep in through a window as long as there are no bars.
Admitting to “being a little insane”, he wants his students to be unafraid and express themselves.
“I’m really passionate about arts education such as painting, sculpture, dance, music,” he said, adding that he had taught dance in America.
“I want my students to be engaged in stimulating conversation and debate and carry out interesting activities,” added the excited ETA.
“It is so vital that they know how to express themselves.”
Drew says he isn’t sure if the local students will find his teaching methods easy or otherwise but he is confident that his accent will not be an issue.
“I hear that the school that I am going to be placed at, has a high level of English proficiency. So, I’ll probably get to speak and use more advanced vocabulary with them,” he said.
Drew explained that he joined the Fulbright programme because he was curious about Malaysia being a diverse and multi-ethnic country.
International Relations student Maggie Nelsen, 23, said the ETAs have been receiving Bahasa Malaysia lessons to help them overcome communication issues.
“Learning Bahasa Malaysia has been challenging but we’re all motivated to learn,” said the teaching assistant who will be in Terengganu.
Yun said the ETAs will be sent to schools that are safe in flood-hit areas.
It will be an “overseas adventure” for them as they will learn the language and connect with Malaysians, he added.
The previous programmes, he said had been successful in increasing English language proficiency among Malaysian school students.
Now in its 10th year, the programme, he said started off with just 10 teaching assistants in Terengganu. It has now expanded to eight states and there are 100 ETAs in 70 schools.