Teacher tandems

NB: This page is under revision. A full update will follow later this year.
For the moment, you can still read the original text (2018) about the First Project Phase here.

“What you see is what you get”: Skills, knowledge, attitude

“The best teacher is the one who gradually makes himself redundant.” (George Orwell, 1903-1950)

Our contribution to further education in Laos is structured as a 4-tier cascading system, in which both partners are learners and teachers. I was asked to design it in July 2015 and it is continually being developed, expanded, and improved by the entire team. It is governed by the principle that β€œteaching” means studying and providing the conditions in which a particular group of learners can learn.1

Its smallest working unit in our bi-directional “teach-the-teacher” project is the tandem-partnership between 1-2 Lao teacher(s) and one German volunteer. On the higher operational level, there are teams at each school or college which can range from 4 to 40 active members. The largest unit, the entire team, consisted of ca. 80 people after about a year, and since our new partners joined – the Lao German Technical College late in in 2016 and Savannakhet University early in 2018 – the number more or less tripled.

The tandems build a working-relationship together throughout the four tiers:

  • language skills development through regular English lessons (one hour a day)
  • development of teaching skills (methodology and didactics) through job-shadowing, hospitations, tandem-teaching, feedback, and joint lesson preparation (one hour a day)
  • customized workshops on relevant topics and practical help through new material, introduction of new teaching equipment & digital media, modernisation of libraries and laboratories,
  • model-teaching in “Activity time” for pupils and students and in various new “English clubs”, which focus on oral communication (1 hour a day)

In each of those four areas, the German partner accompanies and guides their Lao tandem-teacher(s) through four phases of development: Presentation, practice, consolidation, performance.

In this example of model-teaching in the new “Maths club”, the goal is not oral communication in English, but proficiency in maths. One of Fabian’s maths tandem-teachers – whom you cannot see – is standing nearby and watching him. She observes what he is doing, and how, and then tries it out herself with another pupil. She decides to try this again on her own, maybe already in her next lesson. Once in the classroom, she discovers that she does not have enough compasses for her class – and this constitutes three topics for the next three teacher-tandem-lessons: Lesson planning, choosing and securing enough materials, finding/making/keeping track of them.

This process is only possible because, at the same time, the Lao teacher guides their German tandem-partner through similar learning stages regarding their own confrontation with an overwhelmingly foreign setting and culture. They, too, then learn to expand their language and teaching skills. This “zip”-like, or “bi-directional”, learning process creates a safe learning environment in which mutual trust and then also challenges grow. More ideas develop and anything can happen from here.

Once our partners teach their first own fully self-developed, communicative, methodologically accomplished lesson and their pupils are wide-awake, eager to participate, and involved, we should move on. And once we have transformed our Western (pre-)conceptions into a great deal more understanding and humility and have made enough progress in the development of our “global citizenship” competences, we are ready to go home. This presupposes discovering the still-colonized corners of our minds in the first place, for which we follow the gentle sign-posting of our partners.

Text by I. Martin

Photos & video by I. Martin



1 In the literature, the term “teacher training” is used as the temporal reference to the in-service rather than pre-service education of teachers. The term is increasingly replaced by “teacher education“, especially in the English-speaking world, because this term foregounds the preparation of teachers for their role as “reflective practitioners” rather than “training of routine tasks”. As this binary opposition maybe does not scale enough the needs of teachers who are also foreign-language learners in a part of the world where English is a “distant” language (and L3), one could use the term “teacher training/education”. In our bi-directional teaching set-up, the term “teacher tandems” seems most appropriate.

2“I’m starting with the man in the mirror” is a line in a song by Michael Jackson.


Appendix: Overview of workshops

Enter “workshop” into the “search” window on the main page for the articles written on the workshops held between 2015 and 2018:


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