Becoming a Teacher Storyteller

Helping to Amplify the Voices of Teachers Across Myanmar

by Sandi Tun

I’ve been an advocate for improving access to training opportunities for Myanmar teachers ever since I failed to get a Fullbright Fellowship in 2013. At the time, I was disillusioned with my 9-to-5 job and was eager to take a sabbatical from work. As a lifelong nerd and lover of learning, I felt compelled to study the development of education in Myanmar, especially in the years after the country’s transitioning from dictatorship to democracy, and applied for that coveted program. As it turns out, Fullbright wasn’t meant to be and I didn’t get the fellowship.

When one door closes, another one opens…

Instead, what I got was an opportunity to volunteer as a teacher with Teachers Across Borders, an organization offering training workshops for teachers in developing countries. Luckily, I was able to negotiate ten weeks off from work to pursue my volunteerism and off I went.

An Inthar fisherman perched on his boat in Inle Lake (2013)

That summer, I travelled to Nyaung Shwe, a local village on the busier end of Inle Lake in southern Shan State and spent 8 weeks teaching English to tourism industry students and working with local elementary school teachers.  The teaching schedule was grueling, but I loved every minute of it.  Every teacher, student, school administrator, cook, cleaner, family member, TAB volunteer, and everyone in between seared themselves into my fondest memories.  I reveled in listening to their stories and learning about their lives; and it was in those moments of engaging with community that I realized my role as teacher could extend well beyond the classroom, Nyaung Shwe, Inle Lake, and Myanmar.  Epiphanies come to me when I least expect them!

Enjoying some smiles with high-school students from a local orphanage after our evening tutoring session (2013)

I’ve talked to dozens of teachers and the message is clear – after decades of neglect, teachers in Myanmar need and want better access to professional development opportunities, more educational resources, and greater classroom support. When I returned to the U.S., I added educational outreach to Burmese American Collective’s programs and started amplifying the voices of teachers in Myanmar by sharing their stories, struggles, and triumphs on a public platform. We advocate for teacher training because training improves the quality of teaching provided to students and contributes to the development of sustainable education policies across Myanmar.

Training teachers improves the quality of education for their students

Baby Bo wondering what’s going on during a break in training (2018)

In Yangon, there are plenty of opportunities for volunteering or donating financially to teacher training projects throughout Myanmar. Both local and international organizations such as the Myanmar Institute for Politics and Public Policy, Suu Educational Institute, Teachers Across Borders, Gift of Education, Text Myanmar, Whispering Seed, the U.S. Embassy via the Teacher Tree and many others, offer training across Yangon.

What is lacking are more programs outside the big cities

Small town and rural teachers are in greatest need for professional development training and it is this community of educators that Burmese American Collective aims to support. Learn more about our 2019 educational outreach goals for teachers in Kyaikmaraw and Taungdwingyi at GlobalGiving and get to know two local teachers who participated in a 2018 training workshop in Mon State over the next two blog posts.

I am still finding my feet as an advocate for teachers in Myanmar but am excited to share their stories. Thanks for joining me on this journey!

Saying farewell to teachers and school administrators in Kyaikmaraw, Mon State (2018)
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