After being a classroom teacher for 30 years in the United States I decided I wanted to teach English to adults from other countries. During my second year of a Master’s Candidate in TESOL/AL at Columbia University, I came upon a post for a teaching opening in Sri Lanka at an adult language school.
The website attached in the job description depicted students from a wide diversity of cultures who seemed both jubilant and focused as they huddled together to tackle the intricacies of the English language. I was still a little wary though…I had never planned to go as far a distance from New York as Sri Lanka but after talking to Sebastian on the phone, I decided I would take the risk.
I’m very glad I did and after spending two terms in Sri Lanka in 2015, I decided to return to SVS School for English in 2016, after a year back in the United States.
Before my first stint, I remember being apprehensive about travelling to a country as far away as Sri Lanka but the emails I received from the team at SVS were warm and reassuring. This is a program that takes care of their teachers.
The curriculum is clearly delineated in an organized, step-by-step manner and ample time is provided to share notes with colleagues about ways to implement or tweak the daily lesson plans. There is a lot of encouragement and enthusiasm on the part of the administrators to put your own personality into the curriculum’s structured framework.
Sebastian, Mark and the rest of the SVS team go out of their way to make teachers comfortable outside the school as well. At least one magical trip to Maskelyia, an estate in the hill country where the foundation’s charity hospital is located, is organized every term.
During my first trip to Maskeliya I was entranced by the brilliant, star-studded skies, dips in a swimming hole fed by a dramatic waterfall and hikes overlooking velvety green tea plantations. Other impromptu weekend activities such as garden cricket games, barbeques, and card tournaments crop up all the time in the course of a term.
As an older teacher – I was 60 when I first arrived in Sri Lanka – I was nervous that I might not fit in well with the other younger teachers but that proved to be a baseless worry. Our shared interests in funny and poignant moments with students and updates on our daily adventures completely transcended any differences in age. Laughter-filled lunches were just the ticket to rejuvenate us for our afternoon teaching and evening classes.
I cannot describe my SVS experience without mentioning the students, who are wonderful. I was surprised, at first, by the number of Buddhist monks who attended the programme from as far as China. But I quickly grew to learn that they, along with every other student who came to class, were full of enthusiasm and relished the opportunity to work and learn in an academic venue with native English speakers. Nothing is more uplifting than to be in a classroom where my students’ animated conversations in English during directed activities drown out the noise of the Colombo traffic on the street below.
Finally, something that I especially value as part of the SVS family is that while teaching and learning English is of importance, equal value is placed on cultivating a warm sense of community for everyone involved, from teachers to students. And I’m so proud to be a part of that.