The monastery, probably like any boarding school, runs on a regimented timetable. The boys have classes everyday except Saturdays and throughout the day they have brief breaks. I came to love the daily tea-time ritual every afternoon. Nepali chiya is different than Indian chai but just as enjoyable. Nepal’s version of the drink seems to come sweeter, which the young ones certainly slurped down quickly. Like in India, taking the time to relax and drink a hot cup of tea is a treasured. It’s a big deal here in this part of the world. The afternoon tea-break lasts just 30 minutes, and like children the world over, they were determined to milk those 30 minutes for all the fun and enjoyment possible. They would sprint from the classrooms, grab soccer balls and hacky-sacks, and make full use of the large cement courtyard.
Most of the younger boys joined me when I perched in a small patio area near the courtyard to enjoy the steaming hot chai and watch the older boys play sports. Each class period is marked with the loud clanging of a gong near my the patio. For several days in a row I startled so violently at the sound that the Level Three boys who ring the gong would give me an emphatic “move Meeeeess” (Miss) before striking the small gong with all the force their 14-year-old arms could yield.
When I first started at the monastery, I focused on teaching the boys lessons out of the books. We had been given few instructions, just told that there was a curriculum that we should progress through at a pace of our choosing. The other teachers seemed to zip through lessons, but I wasn’t sure they were grasping much. Some of the students were on their third trip through the same exact textbook because they hadn’t learned it the first time through.
For that reason, I asked for permission to augment the lessons with other games too. We branched out from the basic reading comprehension style daily lessons. Lobsang was supportive and positive about me using any sort of creative games or lesson plans to keep the students interested and learning. The younger boys responded to stories and games while the older monks showed strong reading comprehension but they had a lot of grammar questions. My cousin had worked in the Peace Corps in Guatemala for two years, so she came to the monastery and helped me teach a range of fun games that she had found effective during her time in Guatemala.
The games broke down into two categories, although there was overlap. We had several educational games that could be adapted to a range of lesson plans and topics. And then there were the reward games, which mostly focused on being a whole love of fun. They loved both types, and I found that the enthusiasm for the class at every level improved when we wove games into the class period.
With the younger monks in the lower levels, they lacked much comprehension. They had wonderful reading skills, but they weren’t understanding 60 percent of what they were saying. To combat this we slowed the lessons down to a creep and focused on total comprehension of the lesson. Because my Nepali language is basic, we used pantomime and gesture to communicate lessons and questions.
They loved one of the simplest games; it was a clear hit. The boys would read a story and then we would pick out the new vocabulary and assign everyone gestures to fit the word, or sometimes just fun gestures at random. For example, for the word “tap” they would have to drum their fingers on their desk, “whisper” was easy too, but other words necessitated a bit of imagination stretching. Once we had agreed on the gestures, I would tell another story that included the new vocabulary. Everytime I said a keyword, the team that did the corresponding gesture first received a point. This game got competitive! They listened so carefully to try and beat the other team, and it had the benefit of drilling the vocabulary and the cadence of speech.
The non-educational games were easy, I just thought back to the many afternoons and summers of my youth spent at after-school care. Everything from Simon Says to Hangman to Mother May I scored me major points with the students, and we added a game called Red, Green, Yellow to the line up. Between them all, the students were entertained until the gong rang each day.
Although the main routine consisted of school and tea time, I learned to arrive early every morning so that I could watch their morning prayer. It’s a lovely chant that they recite before the school day and I came to love listening. outside of the classrooms:
A feeling of love and positive energy suffused the grounds during their chants. It made me feel warm and fuzzy inside even though I didn’t understand a word. Prayer is one of those things that transcends conscious comprehension.