Friday, December 18, 2009

I'm A Real Teacher!

Well I have been at my school for almost 4 weeks now, being the lead teacher for 3

(although I missed 2 days for a Visa run and we had 2 holidays) and am mostly getting in the swing of things. It takes a while at any job to learn the routine and all the rules they forget to mention as well as your resources, who to ask for what, and when to do your planning. At first I was very busy during my workday but I am enjoying being busy, and if you know me you’ll know how much I enjoy organizing something like a classroom and lesson plans! Also my classroom is rather new so we don’t have tools from previous years. I teach 3 periods of English a week which involves teaching the letters of the alphabet and some basic language and I also teach 3 periods of Social Science which is learning about animals, the senses, manners, etc. Every morning we start with some practice of basic conversation and singing. I have a Filipino assistant teacher who speaks pretty good English and she is in charge of teaching 2 periods of Math every week (colors, shapes, counting) and a Thai teacher who teaches 4 or 5 periods of Thai each week as well as some singing and conversing everyday. The kids go to Art once a week, Song and Drama twice a week, and Sports once a week which at this age is just a different teacher watching them climb around the play area. It’s so cute though they have a Sports school uniform that they wear once a week for it! (Starting in first grade, the students have mandatory boy scouts/girl guides lessons once a week and wear a uniform for that too!)
       So while it may not seem like much that I'm actually creating lesson plans for, it is a busy day, especially because the kids need to be monitored closely by more than 1 teacher at all times. We have a couple kids who will literally run out the door when you're not looking so we have to lock it or keep a very close eye on them. One of the rowdy kids started last week and I came back from my lunch break and usually the kids are asleep but 2 never went to sleep and the Thai teacher literally tied the new kid’s ankles together! It was actually kind of funny because that was the only way to slow that kid down!
The Thai teacher seems to be able to get the kids to listen pretty well during her lesson because they understand Thai way better than English. She has very strict rules with the school on what the children must complete so she intensively helps 2-3 years olds write their Thai letters in notebooks. Apparently the Thai teachers get fined for every page on which the penmanship isn’t perfect. My Thai teacher is very sweet and doesn’t speak much English. I don’t want there to be any hard feelings between us because I know I get paid a lot more than her. She gets there before me and leaves after me! I respect her as much as possible and learned a good knowledge of “Thai-glish” to communicate with her. I have also learned that giving a proper “wai” as a greeting or thanks to a Thai person really demonstrates that you respect Thai customs. I wai to the teachers on gate duty as I enter the school, to my students parents, and to my Thai teacher. Its way cuter when the kids wai me or their parent though!
A little bit more about my students since I find them so fascinating… Many have one English-speaking parent at home but I'm assuming they spend most of their time with mom and mom is Thai. I actually am just realizing that despite how close I feel with these kids and how attached some are to me, none of them have ever expressed a personal thought or feeling to me in English. A few don’t say much in Thai either, because they are so young, and some talk a lot of Thai at me. One student has an Italian father, one has a Norwegian father, one has a French father, and one has two Russian parents. We got a new student who has an Australian dad who is almost never in Thailand; it is interesting that there are a few dads who seem to parent mostly by sending money… Anyway, this new girl will not leave my side. She will hardly even let go of my hand while I’m teaching and she’s been here 3 days! The Thai-French girl eats nothing but bananas and banana chips and she goes by Nana. And the poor Russian kid doesn't speak English or Thai and has a rough day! While he is one of the youngest students, he is very smart; he has only been here one month but when he participates he is better than most students. The Thai teachers are obsessed with this boy; at assembly I literally have to get out of the way for every teacher who comes to fully smother him with hugs and kisses. All the kids are cute but the little white one with the shaved head is unique for them, and his name is Spiridon so they call him Spiderman. One thing I feel I am missing out on with my students is learning their personalities in depth, like when they speak to the Thai teacher or their parents in their language. I have spoken a little Italian to the half Italian kid and now he speaks it to me sometimes and has taken a special liking to me. Interestingly enough, my best-behaved and best English speaking students have 2 Thai parents and likely hear no English at home; these families work hard. The school is a private school but I don’t think the families are necessarily all rich, they are families who highly value education.
Daily routine… Every time we leave the classroom the kids line up with their hands on the shoulders of the person in front of them. It’s so funny because every time I take the leader’s hand to walk them to the out, the line just starts swaying sideways. Its like the kids forgot they were attached and don’t pay attention to their walking! When they get to the table for lunch or snack they must first say a “prayer” which consists of saying “Khop Khun, Ka, Khun Kru, Thank you teacher!” (That’s thank you teacher in Thai then in English). I love when they do that! The Pre-K classes and 3 levels of Kindergarten have a 30-minute assembly every morning where they sing, dance, talk about the weather, etc. Its rough on my little ones but they manage to make it through. The older kids have a morning assembly and a post lunch assembly. We are having a Christmas assembly on the 24th, then a classroom party, then the kids go home and we’re off until Monday Jan. 4. The Kindergarten/Pre-K teachers are doing a little dance to Jingle Bell Rock (heavily inspired by the one from Mean Girls) and each of our classes are singing a Christmas song. Maybe this assembly will be entirely in English…
It is very interesting to think about all the foreign teachers and Western families here and imagine what brings them here. There are a couple of English teachers who have kids at the school. There is one teacher, about 50 years old I think, who came to Thailand with her husband about 12 years ago. She started tutoring the daughter of a restaurant owner where she often ate and I don’t really know the story but the family basically said you can have her; this teacher has raised her as a daughter this whole time. It makes me realize that there are so many people who venture out to new countries and have unique lives and that I’m actually not crazy! (You hear that, Grandma!). On the other hand, there are so many people back home who have no interest in traveling this far or for this long. Working here is pretty easy, you come on a tourist visa, find a job, then “technically” start working after you make a visa run out of the country to change your visa to a non-immigrant visa so the school can get you a work permit. I went to Malaysia for my visa run and my friend in Bangkok went to Laos for hers. I had one afternoon on the beach there but really it was just a long drive and some worse food. The other people on my visa run were 3 white guys dating Thai girls.
A few cultural notes… I read that only Burmese, Lao and Cambodian people are allowed to work as cleaners, which is an occupation otherwise reserved for Thais; interesting as the opposite seems to apply at home. The newspapers here have very vulgar or strange photos such as pulling a dead body from the water or cops posing with a murderer with all his weapons displated on a table in front of him. When I leave for work in the morning people are often waiting on the street for a monk to come by and collect offerings and deliver prayers upon them. Also a couple weeks ago I realized that Buddhists use a different term of reference to determine what year it is. No it is not 43 years in the future here but it is the year 2552 on the Buddhist calendar (everything else is the same). Also to hail a taxi or bus here you don’t wave your hand up in the air or do the “come here” wave that we do at home; that is how you call a dog here. You must put your palm face down and do the “come here motion” which personally reminds me of a cat. It is a subtle difference but summoning someone incorrectly will result in no response. I sometimes sort of wave the way they summon and the kids will come up to me so I have to remember to wave side to side. I enjoy the idea that you can untrain and retrain yourself in order to adapt.

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