Two of the three teachers have been with us for almost four years and the third teacher was promoted from the cook/cleaner position. The two longest-serving teachers do not have any university training in child development or early childhood education. They have been learning from me over the years, as this is my area of expertise. They have also attended workshops and trainings. To see how quickly the teachers have learned and implemented these foreign concepts of working with young children has been amazing. We operate with a play-based curriculum and encourage child-directed play. This philosophy of working with children is even questioned in the West, in the USA. In Cambodia this approach to early childhood education is relatively new. In some ways it goes against traditional Cambodian cultural practices and thoughts about children. However, a wealth of research supports this as an effective way to help children in being ready to learn upon entering school. Albeit hesitantly, the teachers began using this method of working with the young children and after a few months they began to see positive behavioral change in the children. The children were more cooperative, had better self-control, and were gaining confidence in their abilities.
The teachers then began to fully embrace the methods. They have since sourced their own materials and designed their own activities that support the children’s play and learning. The teachers encourage whole heartedly the children to direct their own play. The teachers have been able to discipline the children firmly but with compassion and understanding. This is done in a way that doesn’t punish or shame the child but teaches so the children learn and practice appropriate behavior. All that is stated above is in itself amazing and commendable. However the teachers deserve even more praise and admiration for their work in the last school year.
At the beginning of the school year we were approached by an NGO that works with children with various disabilities. They wanted us to consider accepting a child with down-syndrome into our pre-school program. I was reluctant to do so. I myself had not much experience working with children with down-syndrome. The children in the preschool program were living in dire poverty. Some suffered from abuse or neglect, some lived in single-parent homes, and many lacked adequate food and shelter. So the teachers already were dealing with many challenges. I thought perhaps it was unfair and nonproductive to overwhelm them with a special needs child when they have not had experience working with any previously. After some research regarding how to work with a child with d-s and several discussions weighing the pros and cons, we decided to accept the child into our program. He is a lovely child who is a bit chronologically older than the other children and had never experienced a pre-school setting. Of course he did prove to be challenging at first. It took a lot of hard work and caring by the teachers, but after some time the child along with the other children was able to sit for circle time, sing songs and listen to story books being read. He eventually participated in the arts and craft activities and made friends with his classmates. The teachers never complained but would ask for information and guidance when they were challenged by his behavior. I get choked up while writing this because clearly this child won the hearts of the teachers.
The teachers stepped up to the challenge, quelled my fears and exceeded my expectations. The parents were so happy to see their child having fun and making friends. What a wonderful learning experience for him. It was as well a great learning experience for the teachers, his classmates and indeed me. I can’t thank these special teachers enough. They are truly amazing.
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