My Story: A Day in the Life Teaching English in Cambodia

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Today we’re excited to hear from Judith, an Australian volunteer English teacher in Cambodia, who sent us her story.

I brace myself for an early morning cold shower before my host family wakes, and grab a quick simple breakfast of banana and bread. My tuk tuk arrives at seven thirty. The driver tries to dodge the pot holes and puddles from the overnight rain as he navigates his way, weaving between the trucks, cars, tuk tuks, and motor bikes. I think of the students’ short journey to school: They tell me how thankful they are to avoid biking for forty-five minutes on the congested, potholed road to the government school where a teacher may not be present, or may ask for money.


On arrival after a forty-five minute tuk tuk ride, a call reverberates: “Welcome today!” The students play soccer and other rambunctious games on a nearby dirt block of vacant land.

With a beat on an old tire rim, beckoning students to class. The children run to their classrooms, leaving their inexpensive, worn sandals neatly lined outside their classroom. Eighty children sit on plastic chairs, five or six in a row, at long wooden desks in one classroom. When I walk in, the students stand and warmly greet in unison: “Good morning Teacher”. They stay standing until told to sit down by their classroom teacher. I greet them: “Good morning Grade 4”!


I begin with simple English and instruction commands: hands on head, hands on shoulders, knees and toes. We then all happily sing with actions “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”. The students respond enthusiastically; most Cambodian schools teach by drill. The teacher is watching me, too.

My lessons are all spoken in English with known and new action songs, reading a story, counting, colours, days of the week and prayers. They’re gaining confidence in English speaking. I smile at one student, waving with a “Good evening Teacher” as he leaves for lunch!

They’re so keen to hear and speak English. The school offers a quality education–and they’re eager to learn, studying from 7:30 till the lunch break.

At 11:30, they go home for a quick snack lunch and return at twelve thirty, ready to commence the afternoon lessons until five o’clock. Meanwhile, the staff practise their English with me at lunch time. I’m quizzed: How do you say jam? Autumn? Thursday? Thumb? Throw? The English language frustrates their tongues as Khmer does my own.

Art lessons are not part of the Cambodian curriculum, so most of the children have never experienced the use of scissors, glue sticks, nor using textiles to create patterns and designs. They love colouring, cutting, pasting. I display samples of finished craft work, then encourage their own unique work, which we proudly display on the wall. I am touched by their active conversation about it in their own language.

After an exhausting day with the students, the homeward journey in the tuk tuk often takes longer; the big trucks are on the roads. It is time for a cold drink of water from the fridge, and then preparation for an English class with teenagers at 5:30 this evening.  These students soak up the English language from a native speak, and are keen to converse in their simple English. A ride on a motor bike to and from the class adds to the continual prayers murmured for each day’s safety.

The Realities

One parent shared that their child had learnt more in the first six weeks of school than in their whole life time of six years. Due the Khmer Rouge, most parents did not have the opportunity to study,

The weather alternates between hot, humid and dusty or sluicing rain. Some nights it pours so heavily, that the main roads and lanes flood. The cities lack infrastructure to drain the water. Rain floods the dirt floors of my students’ huts, soaking their mattresses.

The poverty students face on a daily basis is real. Yet each of my five trips to teach English with Cambodian Care schools has delighted me: the faces, the smiles, the experience, the overwhelming feedback. It’s seared in my memory with fullness and satisfaction.

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