singapore american school, singapore
“HELLO TEACHER! HOW ARE YOU?”
My computer sputters and cringes at the noise. I dive into my backpack and scramble for my white earphones. With shaking hands, I plug my earphones into the jack and toggle with the volume until I can hear the soft buzz of the video call. I inhale and hold my breath. I check the time and date: 3:21 PM on November 18th, 2013. My first English class has officially begun.
I can see my students in the top right of my screen, standing with clasped hands resting on their chests. The Cambodian sun is peeking through the slits of the wooden wall behind them, where a draped white banner reads: Teaching and Sharing Skills to Enrich Lives (TASSEL). I quickly count the number of students – 16 are present today. The three girls standing in the front have their hair tied back with yellow and pink handkerchiefs, and the two boys in the back are grinning cheekily at each other.
I gaze at them, absorbing the pixelated details of their moving figures. Their small, bright faces calm my flipping stomach. I smile and respond to their greeting. “Oh, I’m fine. Thank you.” Before I can ask how they are doing, they instinctually reply, “We are fine. Sank you teacha.” I giggle and the butterflies in my stomach fly away.
As the students sit down, I remember the countless hours spent preparing lessons and leading training sessions for the TASSEL chapter members. I remember standing in front of the mirror, identifying how certain facial movements create a specific sound and practicing these movements in absurd exaggeration. I remember my initial reluctance to even start a TASSEL chapter because I felt incompetent and was afraid to fail.
More than 50 lessons later, I still get butterflies every week before a lesson, but the butterflies come from excitement – an excitement to watch my students grow.
On July 20th, 2015, my excitement found a deeper purpose. After driving for four hours from Siem Reap, I finally arrived at Saki’s house. I heard Saki yell, “Hello teacha!” as the outline of his fragile figure appeared in the doorway. Jumping out of the van, I ran to him, unaware of the mounds of wet mud splattered all over my legs. I gave him a big hug and squeezed his hands. He looked a lot smaller in real life than on video, but his smile was just the same. That day I discovered that Saki still cries at the sound of “mother,” who ran away six years ago. I discovered that the three precious girls who sat in the front row do not remember their fathers’ faces, and Makara, one of the two boys who sat in the back, lives alone with his sick grandmother. I discovered that my students needed more than the English language. My students needed love.
This final discovery was transformative in my approach to TASSEL and life beyond TASSEL. Before, I was simply teaching my students the English language in hopes that their education would lead them out of poverty. Now, I want to teach them a lesson that is just as, if not more, important than English fluency: Teacher Lauren loves you. I hope that they will not only be encouraged to pursue their goals but also to share this love and be kind to others.
More than 100 lessons later, I have overcome my fears and learned how to love through action and commitment. TASSEL has been a vessel through which I do what I’ve always loved to do: helping people bloom by loving and encouraging them. I dream to inspire my Cambodian students, my peers at school, my community, and the people I will meet in the future to do the same. Thank you students, for inspiring me first.