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#ThankstoEducation My Students are Prepared for the Next Grade

November 13, 2015

Literacy Asia Cambodia

In 33 years of teaching this had never happened before. On the first day of school enrollment for first grade, I had to turn away students. I asked their parents to try another school but they were insistent. Honestly, I was surprised. This never happened before I took Room to Read’s teacher training program.

I was already a seasoned teacher. I had previously practiced many teaching methodologies under the guidance of Cambodia’s Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport. And I had attended training programs at several other nonprofit organizations. But Room to Read’s Literacy Program is different.

In fact, the first time I participated in a training, I thought Room to Read’s teaching strategy was complicated, putting additional pressure on teachers. And the Khmer-language teaching sequences demanded more time and effort to prepare. I also felt I already had enough experience to teach first-grade students. So I asked myself, why I would accept such hard work in return for the same wage?

Sopheap Phum teaches phonics to her first-grade students using a method she learned through Room to Read’s Literacy Program.

When I finished the first course, I assumed there must be a good reason for Room to Read to propose this new teaching strategy. So I rolled up my sleeves, read the teacher’s guide book, prepared a new lesson plan, and started using the new techniques.

A Cambodian first-grader participates in Mrs. Phum’s class, transformed by Room to Read’s Literacy Program.

To my surprise, the students immediately showed interest in the activities. They became involved in the whole lesson even though I was not yet accustomed to this new way of teaching.

A week later, a member of Room to Read’s technical support staff observed me in my classroom. I asked her about my teaching and my students’ involvement. She was very appreciative of some of my lessons and demonstrated how best to teach others that I found difficult.

After three months, I saw significant changes in my students’ behaviors. Their letter recognition skills improved dramatically and by the second semester they started to read simple words better than I had seen from students I previously taught.

Over the next two years I continued to attend Room to Read’s Teacher Training. My favorite part has been learning new teaching techniques and sharing my experiences with my colleagues.

Now I find that students enjoy their classes from day one. First graders are learning how to hold pencils, draw different shapes, and color in the Room to Read activity books. Whereas I used to write words on the blackboard and ask students to repeat them, now I apply phonological awareness to expand their vocabulary and reading comprehension.

I am very happy that my teaching has also been acknowledged by parents and other teachers. My colleague from second grade has said my students come into her class with outstanding reading and writing skills. And many higher-grade teachers say their students are easier to teach because they come with a strong foundation in literacy.

This year I have a big class — 46 students who are eager to learn how to read and write!


Sopheap Phum’s story is one of a collection of inspiring stories we’re celebrating as we reach 10 million children. Read more in our special Impact Report, Thanks to Education.

Find out more about Room to Read’s Literacy Program teacher training & support.

Learn more about how to get involved with Room to Read.

A Cambodian first-grader colors in Sopheap Phum’s class transformed by Room to Read’s Literacy Program.