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21 posts categorized "*In the Classroom - Tips for Teachers"

What To Expect...When You Have No Idea What To Expect

Since coming to Thailand, I've had to learn to adapt and embrace a culture that is nothing like my own. Of course this shouldn't be a surprise, and anyone who does a little research on Thailand compared to the USA would agree with me. I came to Thailand to be an English teacher, even though I feel like I am by no means qualified. Thailand, however, would disagree. I am from America, English is my native language, I have a Bachelor's degree, and I am able to take advantage of all of these things, speak in front of a class and in some way try and influence a few hundred Thai students' learning. Is that actually what has taken place over these last couple of months...I'm not so sure?

There are many reasons for this, and I wanted to take some time to write down my thoughts about how it's been so far being a "teacher" (I use quotes because I don't think I'll ever be able to seriously think of myself as a teacher). There are also several things I wish I knew about the Thai education system and what life would actually be like before I hopped on a plane to come here.

For starters, let me give a little background info on my school. Me and my friend Kaitlin teach at SaoHai Wimolwitthayanukul School, which is a public high school with 2700 students. My classes are large, English levels are low, and any overall organization is almost nonexistent. I never thought that I wouldn't like where I was placed, partially because I had this dream idea that I'd be teaching perfect, respectful children who adore me and are eager to learn. But, if I had a say in where I was placed, I might choose to work at a different school. That might sound bad and I hate that I even typed it out, but I do want to be honest. This post isn't all negative however. I am so happy that I quit my job and hopped on that plane to embrace a whole new life away from my home. I don't want anything that I say next to deter someone from coming to Thailand to teach. This has simply been my experience so far and I want to share it! So for now, let me get into some specifics about what I wish I knew to expect before starting to teach (the good stuff is at the end by the way).

  1. Public schools are veryyyy different than private schools. I work at a public school, which means we don't have a bunch of extra money lying around for school supplies, decorations, working projectors and computers, clean classrooms, etc etc. The lack of resources can be extremely frustrating sometimes. If I want to plug my computer into the projector to show a PowerPoint in class, and for some reason the system isn't working (happens several times a week) there is generally nothing I can do about it besides cluelessly tinker with the different wires and hope for a miracle. It usually doesn't happen. At this point, I have made note of all the classrooms where the projectors don't work so I can prepare ahead of time for a much more difficult lesson. We do have whiteboards, and if you bring your own whiteboard markers then you are good to go. Another big issue is that the classroom sizes are almost unmanageable. Trying to get 50 Thai students to stop talking, get off their phones and pay attention to a language that they don't understand can seem impossible. Which is why I've had to accept the fact that you might have 5-15 students paying attention, and you kind of just deal with it and ignore the ones who aren't. What I've seen and heard about private schools is quite the opposite. There's more money available which means they can be more selective of their students, which means smaller class sizes, which means more resources and overall more organization.
  2. Speaking of organization, I never knew it was possible for a school to be so disorganized, but damn Sao Hai does a pretty good job at it. Example 1, Kaitlin and I started school at the beginning of November. We aren't told specifically if there is a curriculum, or even what our general class topics are. Believe me, we asked, we just didn't get a straight answer. Not until at least a month in did I learn that two of my classes that I have to test are English for Writing and Reading, and the rest of the classes are Conversation. I also learned around this time that the students take English speaking classes with me, and then English grammar classes with Thai teachers (which you think would help to improve their English skills, but it does not). Example 2 was when I was told I have to hand in my midterm test at the end of November. At that point, I had seen my students maybe a couple of times and had absolutely no idea what I should be teaching them, what their proficiency levels were, and what they had already been taught in previous years. After this, I was also informed that I have to give them a quiz BEFORE the midterm, but for some reason they forgot to tell me. Sounds crazy right? Well it is, but I've learned to accept it. I now realize that essentially no one gives a shit, and that's ok. No one asked what I was going to test my students on, no one asks me what I teach them in my classes, no one even asks me how I'm getting along. But that's fine, because at least no one is breathing down my neck or pressuring me to teach something specific. I have free rein over what I do, which means lots and lots of English games! This is mostly because the students love them and get bored with anything else, like for example...a real lesson. And finally, and maybe my favorite, example 3, which only just happened this week. Our coordinator Kajee told Kaitlin that the school Director had asked how she knew whether or not her students' English was improving. You might be thinking, "yes indeed what a great and logical question." But the catch is that Kaitlin was told at the beginning of the semester that she didn't have to formally grade any of her classes. So she hasn't been. But now she's being told by Kajee that she should have been giving them speaking tests, and she wants Kaitlin to make up 4 test grades for each of her students. We have more than 600 students each by the way...so you do the math. She was told to grade them on a scale of 1-4, as if she knew who each of them was and how well they can (really can't) speak English, and to hand in the grades two days later. I'm kind of still laughing about that one because it's just so ridiculous. If they wonder how we're going to know how each student is improving, you'd think they would have us grade them all to begin with right? Evidently...wrong. And if you're wondering why we haven't been grading them informally, it's because we see our classes once a week, there's 50 students in each class, and it's just simply not realistic to try and teach them and then test them on it a week later. It would take several class periods, aka weeks, to do so. But again, this is simply my situation. Our other roommate Kat teaches at a different school in Saraburi within an English program. She sees her students three times a week, makes up detailed lesson plans, gives speaking tests, and is overall probably a better teacher than I am! But these are the cards I was dealt so I gotta play them.
  3. Sometimes you'll have to do things that you really didn't expect to do. For example, teach on Saturdays. I already wrote about the unfortunate circumstances that lead to Kaitlin and I being forced to "teach" on Saturdays because of Sports Day interfering with classes during the week back in November. With this wonderful idea, the students could get caught up with the course material in time for midterms in December. We were supposed to teach on five Saturdays, but they ended up cancelling the last two because they finally realized that the kids weren't exactly coming to school ready to learn. Some wouldn't even show up. The goal of those days was not met, and the kicker is that we weren't paid any extra for being there 6 days a week. Kaitlin and I both wished that OEG (our program) would have let us know that our school was going to make us do this. I personally felt like the school didn't really care about the teachers and wasn't concerned with what we wanted at all. It definitely wasn't a great feeling, and it left a bad taste in my mouth. It made it hard for me to feel a personal connection to the school because I felt like they really weren't concerned about us.
  4. No matter how much you want them to learn, some kids are just not motivated. That seems to be in part because of the school I'm at, and partly because of the Thai education system. For one, there are so many students at my school and no English program, so the overall proficiency levels are veryyyy low. This is really not surprising when you consider the impossible feat of trying to cater to 50 students' needs in the span of 40-50 minutes once a week. It's just not going to happen. So their motivation levels can sometimes be low since they know that the chances of them learning something that will stick with them is equally low. Another issue is the fact that they cannot fail. If they do fail, you re-test them. And re-test again until they pass. So why bother trying when you know the outcome already?! Great question, I would like to now refer you to 400 out of my 600 students and you can ask them! I definitely feel bad for the few kids in some of my classes who so very clearly want to learn. It's hard to try and control a classroom and also focus on trying to give all the students what they need. And again, at this point I've realized that that will never happen. Maybe if I had smaller classes, or saw them more than once or twice a week. But I've found that there's no point in wondering "what if" because you just have to adapt and learn what the best possible strategy is moving forward.
  5. Thai teachers are way stricter than I ever imagined. And I don't mean yelling or giving a lot of homework. I mean slapping kids on the head or using wooden sticks to hit them on their hands or backs when they've been bad. That was a fun surprise!! But once they see a farang (generally a white western foreigner) all bets are off the table (weirdly using a lot of card game references here?). They know we aren't going to do that with them, so they can go crazy, let loose and be EXTREMELY loud in our classrooms. Again, just something you have to deal with and learn to expect! I'd rather them have a little fun in my classes than be miserable.

If all of that didn't convince you to shut your computer and swear off ever coming to Thailand, then I'm glad! Because now I'd like to talk about the amazing things that I didn't expect to experience before coming to Thailand.

  1. The wonderful feeling you get when students tell you that they love you or get excited when you play a fun game in class. Just this week, one of my students from my favorite class left me a present and two cards on my desk for no reason at all. And actually while I was just typing this she came into the office and gave me another card. I do not deserve her.
  2. The huge smile that will break out on your face when you have the cutest student realize they said something properly in English. And yes I do have a favorite student who is the cutest thing I've EVER SEEN!!! And that's including puppies.
  3. Getting to know some of your students' personalities. I love laughing at the weird things they do or the sounds they make while being goofy in class. All of that warms my heart and makes me leave my classrooms smiling. And I don't even like kids!!! (Proof that anyone can do this).
  4. Overall getting to experience Thai culture and all the crazy, weird, and beautiful things that that entails. Like seeing three, four, or five people squished onto a motorbike drive by you. Without helmets I might add. Or taking a van to Bangkok for the weekend and swearing you're going to die at least five times on the trip as people zoom past you or drive on the wrong side of the road, but you always make it there safely. Or having teachers and students wai you in the morning, every morning to show respect (that's when you put your hands together and make a small bow with your head). Or learning to take cold showers and almost not even being bothered by it because it's so hot out. Or getting used to seeing the weirdest food combinations you could ever imagine being put into a crepe and devoured by a student after school. Or taking your shoes off outside most houses or stores. Or drinking soda out of a bag because this is Thailand. And also saying "this is Thailand" far too often but that's the only proper way to describe the crazy shit that happens here.
  5. The amount of places that you can manage to see on weekend trips and all the beauty that this country has to offer. I've so far been to Bangkok, Kanchanaburi, Ayutthaya, Lopburi, Krabi, Chiang Mai, and Pai and have plenty more plans for the rest of the semester. I am also planning on traveling around Asia afterwards, just because I can!
  6. Thai money will get you far. The first month of working I had to use my own personal money to buy things, as I get paid at the end of the month by my school. But after that, I have not once dipped into my own money. Granted I haven't been able to save a lot (or any) of that Thai money yet, but it has gotten me through the months of traveling and lots of eating!
  7. No matter how hard I think this job is or how frustrating my school can be, I would choose this over working at home every. damn. time. I quit my last job because I was unhappy, and so far the overwhelming feeling I've had while being here has been pure joy. Maybe I don't feel that 100% of the time, but at least I'm not sitting in an office hating my life for 9 hours a day. THAT was torture. THIS is paradise.
  8. The people that you meet and become friends with are just amazing. I came here expecting to live with Kaitlin, but didn't expect to also gain a second roommate. Our friend Kat, who used to live about 10 minutes away, recently moved in with us at the end of December. We had been saying for a while that she should move in, as we had an extra bedroom, and she finally did! Our friend Tracy and her boyfriend live in our neighborhood as well. And our friends Emily and Laura live a couple hours away south of Bangkok. We see them almost every weekend when we get together to travel, and it's always great to spend time with people who have similar mindsets as you. One funny thing we talked about was that everyone always has that "token" friend who up and moves across the country or the world to do something crazy. And for us, we are all that token friend. We all left our families and friends to come to Thailand, and now we're experiencing a totally different way of living together.

So, the moral of this story I guess is that if you want to put your life on pause and come teach in Thailand or anywhere else in Asia, do it. Do it now. There are a million and one schools in Thailand that desperately want foreign teachers to come and work at their schools. It's an amazing way to make a difference, even if you don't feel like you are, while also earning enough money to travel and see the world. My situation is just one of many. I know I'm going to be asked about my experience once I go home, so I figured this was a surefire way to get around answering the same question a bajillion times - I'll just direct them here. Looking at you relatives that I see once or twice a year!

P.S. - This is the card that my student just gave to me. BRB crying.

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Make sure to check out my other personal blog for more stories and pictures! https://danielleinthailandblog.wordpress.com

The One Where I Figured Out How To Send Money Home

So the really exciting thing about being an adult is having bills and responsibilities no matter where you are, right? Wrong. Nothing is worse, actually. I make a decent paycheck in Thailand standards as a teacher, which sounds like a lot until you find out that every month I have to send roughly half of my salary home every month to cover bills/loans/other random adult BS I hate with a passion. 

That's frustrating in and of itself, but I haven't mentioned the good part yet- up until today I could not figure out a fast way to send money home to my US bank account without physically going to my Thai bank and filling out a form, waiting in line, paying a huge fee and then biking back. Well today my life has changed for the better because.......

GOD BLESS FACEBOOK, the one and only time I will say that. 

Someone in our CIEE Teach in Thailand FB group asked the great question "how are you guys sending money home to cover bills and things in America?" The first thing I thought is, why the F didn't I think to ask that here? Followed swiftly by, wait did anyone have a new answer for this? Lucky for me someone did. 

So I just want to say that I did try my very hardest to figure this out on my own, I read every online resource, I tried every stupid website and app but most things weren't international or had a huge fee. I tried adding a second account to my paypal account but you can't send money to yourself from one account to another... UNLESS triumphantly raises finger into the sky

You open two separate paypal accounts with two separate emails....DUH takes finger and jams it into brain for not thinking of this concept sooner

So shoutout to the girl from facebook who floated this idea in the group and allowed me to find a way to send money, quickly, without having to go to the bank and for 1/20th of the cost. My only regret is not figuring this out sooner and avoiding all the fees I've already paid but hey better late than pregnant! ....I mean never. 

Anyways I just wanted to post a blog about this in case anyone else teaching abroad was struggling with this now or in the future. 

May the exchange rate be ever in your favor! 

The Cha-Cha Slide Makes a Thai Debut

The passing of Thanksgiving back in the states has gotten me thinking about my recent momentous life change and all the new beginnings it has presented that are worthy of my gratitude. When I think about all the blessings I’ve already accrued in my short time here, my students top the list by a landslide. I spend my school days on a tumultuous roller coaster of emotion that ranges from anxiety to adoration to frustration to impressed awe, but regardless of my mood’s flavor of the day, when I hop on my bike and head home my students have left me in stitches, and feeling very, very loved. During our teaching certification course at orientation our aggressively British facilitator asserted again and again: “Thai students are not nasty, they’re naughty”, a prophecy that has been decidedly self-fulfilling. The Thai education system is known for it’s dry plug-and-chug format in the classroom setting, in which students are inundated with lecture-style information. I strive to keep my classrooms interactive because it not only sustains my students’ motivation, but also makes them genuinely excited about the material and class in general. I know what you’re thinking. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No it’s Super Teacher! Fully equipped with engaging, activity-based heroism!

 Well you, dear reader, would be absolutely incorrect. As with most things in my life, I have an affinity for conceptualization but leave something to be desired on the execution front. Enthusiasm is a double-edged sword as it’s sometimes manifested in the form of craziness. It’s not always cute Thai child craziness as my social media presence may suggest; sometimes the scales tip and it’s rabid hyena craziness. Albeit, Hyenas in cute matching boy and girl scout uniforms, but ravenous dogs nonetheless. The high road no longer exists in my reality, I’ve tried every classroom discipline technique in the book with varied success, the most effective being mercilessly peeling a star sticker off of the troublemaker’s name with the eye-contact of a wild west gun fight and the slow motion drama of Neo evading bullets in The Matrix. The kids sulk as if I have just taken one of their limbs. Calling out students in front of the class for unruliness used to be my chosen class-quieting move, but was ultimately unsustainable because I couldn’t maintain an angry teacher façade while yelling at Tigger to sit down (an actual name of a friend’s student). Scolding desk mates Boom and Boom-Boom for wreaking havoc with Cannon and Ball, or getting the attention of Arm, the tiny, Thai, toothless, parka-wearing Gandhi, simply cannot be done without a smile. However, I realize that sometimes these kids just need an outlet to release their quelled energy. Thus, Super Teacher’s™engaging activity based heroism occasionally devolves to watching Scooby Doo youtube videos in class, and that’s okay! Much of my job is just showing these children the encouragement, affection and support that they don’t always receive in other parts of their lives.

Now re-read that last sentence, and replace the words “encouragement, affection, and support” with “abject ridiculousness and hilarity”. I’d like to reintroduce you all to my aforementioned intimate friend: the chasm between intent and execution. I absolutely love playing and joking around with my students. When I’m having a tough day, nothing lifts me up quite like hearing them brutally butcher the pronunciation of ‘parallelogram’ on a repetitive loop. In return, I also have my students teach me a word in Thai every day, to continue breaching the gap and better relate to them in the struggle of learning a new language. The students get incredibly excited to watch me word vomit all over their nuanced tonal tongue. Last week I requested that they teach me how to say the date in Thai. There’s a good chance I celebrated 40th birthday while the “teacher” I called up to the front breezed through the infinitely syllabic sentence. The class blinked at me emptily, waiting for me to repeat it, so I hissed and gargled and rolled r’s in a nonsensical order until the elusive bell finally rang. I think next week for payback, I will give them English tongue twisters.

I also love dancing with them. In fact, Emily and I may have unintentionally created a cult following for “the cha-cha slide” amongst our primary students. We fully anticipate a turf battle breaking out against rival gang, “the Macarena” fanatics, any day now. Queued up I have the Electric Slide and The Cupid Shuffle. When things get really dire, I will teach them Gangnam Style because desperate times do in fact call for desperate measures. I take solace in the knowledge that the students already inexplicably worship Ed Sheeran at a golden alter, so any music I bestow on them couldn’t confuse their taste any further. Channeling the students’ energy into dancing at the beginning or end of class has been a useful tool, but has not completely eradicated the inherent classroom insanity that comes with teaching little ones. My overweight second grader with a penchant for shaking it everywhere, on everything and everyone, all the time, comes to mind. He couldn’t say a sentence in English if held at gunpoint, but suddenly turns into a gyrating Miley Cyrus on all available windows, desks, doors, and even backs when I’ve turned to face the whiteboard. It goes without saying - I love him. Independently of the stellar joke material my students’ anecdotes facilitate, I am so lucky to love and learn from these clever, vivacious kids each day!

Until next time!

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The One Where I Apologize To Every Teacher I've Ever Had

  • I am so sorry for all the times I talked while you were talking.
  • I am so sorry for the times I used my cell phone while you were teaching a lesson and then raised my hand and said I didn't understand the topic you were trying to teach.
  • I am so sorry for not doing my homework or not reading the material.
  • I am so sorry for being a pain in the ass in general.

     I say all these things because oh how the tables have turned.

    So it turns out, teaching is really effing hard. Lesson planning is super frustrating and time-consuming and NOT FUN no matter what people think. Meetings, grading papers, keeping track of pens, managing a classroom are all things that come with the territory of teaching and all drive me insane.

    This job is even harder when you add in the fact that we do not speak their native language so if they don't understand something they can't even really tell you why they don't understand it or what exactly they don't understand.

    It's probably important to mention that I have taught before, lots of different things to all different ages but this is another level of teaching that I never knew I was capable of doing.

    So you're probably wondering right now if I hate it here and if I'm regretting this at all and the answer is: not one bit. Somedays are harder than others but when a kid says they learned something from your lesson or draws you a picture or smiles and waves excitedly when they see you... That's the good stuff that makes this job so cool.

    The main thing I've learned is that my teachers are all good people for dealing with teenage pain in the asses like myself without losing their shit on a daily basis. Love you all.

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Teaching and What I Wish I Knew

 

    I have been teaching in Thailand for the past two weeks. I can’t believe that it has already been two weeks!! Besides learning the ins and outs of my village and adjusting to a new way of life, I have been working on lesson planning and grading. If you have never taught before, this may be more difficult and time consuming than you would expect. However, when the kids grasp the concepts being taught, their faces show so much happiness it makes it all worth it.

    Being in Thailand for almost a month has given me some culture shock in and out of the classroom. Below is a list of five cultural differences I have experienced so far (more will come as I stay longer).

 

1: The Respect of the Students:

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    The students in Thailand respect their teachers much more than those in the U.S. Yes, the students still talk in class, but what middle school student doesn’t? When I ask them to be quiet they show respect by almost immediately quieting down. The students thank me after each class and even those I have never met still say “Sawatdee Kha” (“Good Morning”) and bow their heads to me. Even though the students in Thailand have more respect; how the school is run seems to be slightly more disorganized than in the U.S.

 

2: Thai School Systems:

            The school system in Thailand is more laid back and little less organized than in the U.S. For example, students do not always come to class on time. This can be because they do not want to, or because they were in a meeting with someone and you did not know, or because they were simply taking their time on the way back from lunch or recess. If they are tardy there is an expectation that they will bring the teacher a late slip explaining where they were, but that doesn’t always happen. Another example can be when an entire class doesn’t appear. Other teachers may assume the impacted teachers have been told that a class is on a field trip, but that isn’t always the case. Adaptability is key and you learn to go with the flow. You realize that receiving information at the last minute about your class, such as them not being in attendance due to an event, is not that unusual. Some of this is due to the language barrier, but some is simply the way it is. It has been two weeks and I am learning to live “Mai Pen Rai” – which basically means, “it’s okay.”

 

3: You will Never Stop Sweating:

    You will never stop sweating no matter time of year it is. Currently Thailand is starting their winter and it is still 80 degrees everywhere with about 70% humidity, if not more. Walking to and from school causes my hair to expand and frizz because of the humidity, even at 7:00 am. You will never stop sweating. I hope to eventually get used to the heat, despite having other travelers tell me it’s difficult. On the plus side, a lot of restaurants have outdoor seating, and the fans help cool everything off. I am also glad there is air conditioning where I live. And, I’m grateful I’ve arrived in October, as it is the beginning of winter. I’m hoping I will adjust before summer. My recommendation for travelers: wear clothing that breathes and is loose fitting, and bring deodorant. 

 

4: Food Stores and Restaurants: IMG_2260

    I live in a village that is well off, so there are stores that sell western foods as well as Thai foods. I have been able to find goldfish, peanut butter, Doritos, and Oreos. A lot of food stores also have potato chips, but many of them are interesting flavors: seaweed, sushi, salmon, and other seafood flavors, just to name a few. Pizza is not as hard to come by as one would think. I have found one place that makes decent pizza, and it’s within walking distance. KFC is located at almost ever corner but some of the menu items are spicier than in the U.S. The Thai restaurants have amazing foods. I don’t know what I am ordering most of the time, but Thai owners and employees are really helpful in explaining the items and letting me know if it’s super spicy or not. I have loved 90% of all the Thai foods that I have been eating. There are some that are not good at all; unfortunately I don’t know what they are called.

 

5: Squatter Toilets and Toilet paper:

    Coming over from the U.S. I was used to having toilet paper in all public bathrooms and toilets that were off the ground. What I have found in Thailand are squatter toilets in about 75% of public bathrooms and bum guns, a.k.a. bidets, in every bathroom (some did have toilet paper but not many). I have used some squatter toilets but am still getting used to them and the bum guns. If you use them incorrectly you get your pants all wet – consider it a learning situation.

Even with all of the cultural shocks I am so excited to be in this wonderful country! I can't wait to make even more memories and experience it all! Stay tuned for more! :D

Back to school

    Back to school back to school to prove to dad I’m not a fool! Today was my first day teaching at the Saritdidet School in Chanthaburi, so that phrase has been stuck in my head all day (thanks Adam Sandler). The school is huge, and each grade is in a different building within the campus. I am teaching Prathom 3 and 4 (aka third and fourth grade), and I move around between 2 different third grade classrooms and 3 different fourth grade classrooms. I was able to pick between teaching first and second or third and fourth, and I happily chose third and fourth as my sister is a fourth-grade teacher in Delaware and I met my boyfriend in fourth grade (aww). All of my classes have around 40 children in them, which as you can imagine has already been somewhat difficult to manage.

    All teachers sign in at 7:15-7:30 in the morning prior to gathering in the dome gymnasium for morning announcements and the national anthem. All Thai people highly revere the king, and they are a bit of a nationalist country. There are pictures of the king absolutely everywhere. It is very common to have a picture of the king in front of your school, street, home, storefront, etc. So, the morning anthem is a big deal and is taken seriously every morning. This morning, all of the foreign teachers for grades 1 through 12 (there were about 9 of us) had to stand in front of the school and introduce ourselves. It was actually cute rather than nerve wracking once I looked out to see the hundreds of smiling Thai children with the same haircut and uniform waving back at me with excitement. The children here warmly respect their elders, and many of them would bow as they walked past me when I was sitting down as to not be taller than me (a sign of respect) or wai me (a less formal sign of respect where one bows with their hands pressed together in front of the face). It’s really cute how giddy they all get to see a new farang (white foreigner) teacher around school.

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Foreign teachers introducing ourselves to the hundreds of students (not nearly all pictured)

 

    My first class of the day was a third-grade class (known here as P3). When you walk in, they all stand up and wait for you to say the learned phrase “Good morning class,” to which they reply, “Good morning teacha!” Then the teacher says “how are you today?” and the students say “I’m fine thank you. And you?” and so on. This is a universal thing in Thailand, I’m really not sure who implemented it but I learned in orientation that it’s definitely a thing. I showed a PowerPoint about myself and asked them to make nametags with their nickname and their favorite animal. In Thailand, most kids go by an American nickname because Thai names are too long to pronounce. Most are random words, car names, etc. In my first class I had kids named Jigsaw, PeePee, Santa and Gun. These children love anything creative, so making their nametags as beautiful as possible took up a good 35 minutes of the class. After that I spent the leftover time singing songs like “Head Shoulders Knees and Toes” and playing Simon Says. There is some actual curriculum for the classes to work with for future lessons, which is nice. Some schools here in Thailand throw you in with absolutely no curriculum or knowledge of the skill level of your students. In my other classes I did about the same thing. One fourth grade class was especially flattering, and wrote compliments to me on their name tags. I’ll try not to pick favorites though…

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The outside of one of one of my P3 classrooms

 

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One of the student's name tags from a P4 class. Like I said, I"ll try not to pick favorites..

 

    Oh, did I mention it’s hot as all h*ll in this school? Some of the classrooms and offices have air conditioning, but I was told they don’t always have it on. As I write this in my office with beads of sweat dripping down my face, I’m assuming they haven’t turned it on at all.  Plenty of schools do not have air conditioning at all however, so I really can’t complain. At least it’s giving me more of a chance to really assimilate to the Thai way of life. I’m sure there are plenty of things I left out about the school and there will be plenty more school experiences to come so I will check back in a later post!

 

Sawatdee-kha!

 

Teacha Angie

(oh…did I mention I strongly dislike being called Angie? Well, that’s how Thai people say my name. Learning to embrace it :)

 

How to Know You're Making a Difference (3/3)

“Taming the Teenager”

Best for last, this really hit me in the feels. There’s a student who has had some behavioral issues, which will not be divulged publicly, whom I teach. In general, he doesn’t seem to care about attending class and participating. With this class, I taught The Giver, which is my favorite book. This English subject is focused on vocal communication, so we worked with the audiobook some, and then I planned to show them the movie adaptation of the book, which any student would prefer. However, I got this particular student to actually pay attention - when frankly he never has in my class before - by showing the movie. Not only did he pay attention, he also cared enough to move [away from his friends] by my computer, so he could see the movie better.

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Actually leaning to see the screen before...

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This felt like a huge victory for me, and I was proud that I could deliver something in class - that actually pertained to the course material - that made this student stop and care. I can only hope that he took something out of this movie, and maybe it'll even inspire him to want to participate in class more in the future.

It’s the little things…

Comment with questions or suggestions for a post!  -G

The End of a Semester

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            Impressively, I was given a whole 16-hours to prepare my goodbye speech (in contrast to my Valentines Day speech, of which I was given 20 minutes notice). Teacher Ying appeared before me late Wednesday afternoon, flustered and breathing heavily (I’m not quite sure why she felt the need to run to me), and said, “Just talked to foreign language department… they want you to…” And here she paused and laughed to herself, unsure of quite how to say it, while I was gripped in panic. Wanted me to what? Put on a dance for the whole school? Go with them on a trip to Cambodia? What?

            “…Give a speech. A goodbye speech. Tomorrow morning. Now, you can have time to prepare for it.”

            “Oh, no,” I said, but it was half-hearted, and I knew it would do me no good. “Teacher Ying, do I have to? I hate public speaking!” But as I said it I was smiling, because as much as I’ve always dreaded public speaking, I didn’t completely feel convinced of my own words. Of course, public speaking still makes me nervous. But when, 6-months ago, I would have been Googling, “Ways to Calm Down Before a Speech,” and throwing cold water on myself in the bathroom moments before, this time, I only felt a slight twinge of nerves.

            I mean, I guess for one thing, I’ve been ‘public speaking’ every day for 6 months. Monday through Friday, I stand up at least twice a day in front of a group of 25 to 30 students. I’ve practiced the art of speaking slowly; of enunciating; of continuing to speak even when I think what I am saying is stupid, or when I can see my audience is more interested in their phones or their pillows (yes, they sometimes bring these to class) than me. It’s been great practice.

           But today I gave a goodbye speech to 3,000 people. And it occurred to me, as I spoke to them all this morning about my feelings about leaving, exactly why it was so comfortable and easy to speak to such a crowd.

            It was because I knew that even if they don’t know me, they respect me. A lot of them think I am beautiful (students I’ve never seen before often point at me and say, “Oh, suay—beautiful—teacher”); they think I am smart—at least, they think I know what I am doing up there in front of the classroom each day; and they think I am kind. And I can feel this appreciation, so standing up on stage, I didn’t have any of those mean thoughts towards myself that I normally would, in a room of 3,000 (“I probably look gross; I sound like an idiot; I shouldn’t be up here”). They’ve given me a confidence and a pride in myself that I can only hope I’ll find again in whatever future job I have.

            Here’s, in essence, what I said in my speech (at least, what I wrote down to say—I’m sure I left some parts out, but this is what I’d planned):

            “Hello. I would just like to say that it has been such a privilege teaching you all.    You know, so many of my friends back home dread Monday through Friday because of their jobs. And I know I have been so, so lucky, that I wake up Monday morning excited to come here, to you all. Thank you for showing me your culture. Thank you for including me in everything and making me feel at home here in Sakon Nakhon. Thank you to my co-teachers and director and you, Teacher Owen (he was on stage with me). Thank you for setting great examples of wonderful teachers, and for your kindness. Thank you, most of all, to my students, for your enthusiasm each day in the classroom and for your friendship. I will never forget a single one of you. I know you will all do incredible, unbelievable things with your lives. Good luck with everything. If you are ever in America, let me know, and we can… you know, hang out. (Because America is awfully small). Again, thank you.”

And then I bowed to them as they’d all bowed to me, hundreds of times before.

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            So, how does it feel to be finished? I’ve been asked this a lot. I taught my last class Monday afternoon. And when I got home, the first thing I felt was an intense level of relief. It’s such a heavy feeling, to be burdened (and gifted) with the responsibility of increasing a student’s English proficiency, especially when I never knew quite where to begin. Do I start with content—showing them songs by Bruce Springsteen, who they’ve never heard of, or Billboard Hits of 2017, to include them in a musical conversation with the world; showing them passages from books like Catcher in the Rye and Catch-22, books that changed my life and changed so many others; do I show them movies that portray American culture, movies that educate and move and inspire… or, do I start with grammar, with parts of a sentence, and how a verb must always follow a subject, and just how fascinating grammar is when you understand the formula and know what you can plug in where and when you can break the rules and why? I mean, my god—how can one person just decide which is more important, or which should come first?

            So I feel relief that I did the best I could, but that I don’t have to worry about it any longer. I hope whoever comes after me to teach these kids is a little more experienced than I was, because these kids deserve the chance to become fluent in English. They deserve the chance to watch a movie in their movie theatre without the weird Thai voice-overs (which never matches the lip movements, and is usually terribly translated). They deserve to read The Great Gatsby. They deserve to listen to their favorite songs (by the Chainsmokers, and Justin Bieber), and know, really know, what they are singing.

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            But after my speech, I also felt sadness and wished, a little bit, that I could stay longer (I know—I never thought I’d say that, either). Because my words were not lies. They have made this place feel like home to me. And I am so nervous that whoever comes after me will not have the passion and love that I have for English, or for these kids, and will be someone who doesn’t know how to relate to them or inspire them or grow with them. And it is sad that I will not necessarily know how they all end up.

            I’ve made plenty of lists before, and a lot of my lists mention all the difficulties of living abroad. I’d like to make one more, but this time, I’d like to list all the things about Sakon Nakhon that I will miss the most.

1. I will miss feeling like the wealthiest person on the planet. Seriously—I was shopping at the mall the other day, and I saw two dresses that I thought I could wear for whatever job I get next (in other words… not crappy quality from a street market, which I will inevitably throw out in 2 weeks when it falls apart). But they were “expensive”: $20 each—totaling 1,400 baht (anyone who lives here, knows… this is a lot of money. This is the amount I pay to rent my motorbike for a month. This is the amount I pay for a round-trip ticket to and from Bangkok. This is probably 3-weeks of rice and chicken and weird pork balls. This is probably 1/6 of someone’s monthly paycheck.) So when I bought these two dresses, the saleswomen, who had watched me wide-eyed as I’d begun picking out three, four, five of these expensive dresses to try on, and then had held onto two, practically bowed to the ground as I walked out of the store and repeated, over and over again, a bit in awe, “Thank you, Miss, thank you, thank you.”

            As I walked back from dinner last night, a man who sits on the corner in a little brown hut (I believe he is a tailor, because he’s always working on a sewing machine), began speaking to me about the food I’d bought. He gestured to his own dinner—some white rice—and then he said, “I am not rich, like you.”

            “Rich?” I laughed. “Trust me, I’m 23-years-old and I just graduated from college. In America, I am not rich.”

            “In Thailand, you are a teacher. This means you are very, very rich. You make 30,000 baht a month, don’t you?” (Not sure how he knows my salary).

            “Yes…” I said, becoming increasingly uncomfortable with this conversation.

            “Could I… do you think I could possibly borrow 100 baht for dinner? I will pay you back… on Tuesday morning, I will have more money. I will pay you back.”

            (100 baht = 3 dollars).

            “Yes,” I said immediately, reaching into my wallet and feeling embarrassed when I saw he noticed I had 2,000 baht on me. I handed him 100 and said, sincerely, “Really, please. You don’t have to pay me back.”

            Of course, I know, money isn’t everything/can’t buy you happiness, etc., etc. But when you have just graduated college, and you are about to be the lowest on the totem pole at whichever company you go to next, it is a very nice feeling, for a little while, to feel so capable of being able to afford anything (in moderation) and not having to worry about money. I don’t have to worry about my rent or how much dessert costs or whether I can afford the bottle of wine; I don’t have to worry about paying a ridiculous amount of money for two dresses or whether I can afford to fly to Bali for a weekend or get my hair cut in Bangkok, and if this was America, I would absolutely be worried about all of these things as a young 20-something starting out in a city. But here, my salary is incredibly generous and travelling is incredibly affordable. Which leads me to my next point…

2. I’ll miss my location. Of course, I don’t necessarily mean being stuck in the middle-of-nowhere Northeast Thailand, with rice fields on my left and dirt patches on my right and three-bus-rides-two-taxi-rides-one-songtaew-drive away from anything exciting.

            I mean being 40 minutes from Vietnam; 2 hours 40 minutes from Hong Kong; 4 hours from Bali.

            I mean being $50 from India; $100 from Australia; and $200 from Paris (I know—why aren’t I going to Paris, again?).

            Let’s do some quick comparisons here: I could fly to India for the price it costs me to take an uber back home from Boston. I could fly to Australia for the price of my Ray Ban sunglasses. I could head over to Paris for the price I made babysitting one night last summer. This is not crazy or unattainable or ambitious. This is why I will miss my location. It has made the entire world accessible to me. I can travel the world from Sakon Nakhon for the price of an uber or a pair of sunglasses, to places I’d never even had on my radar before now (I thought India would cost thousands!). If nothing else, I wish I could stay longer for this reason.

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3. I will miss my independence. I will miss my routine. As lonely as it sometimes felt, I will miss coming home after school and answering only one question: What do you want to do now? I will miss being able to make the decision to go to the mall and buy iced tea and wander aimlessly around the shops; I will miss heading to the gym and saying hello to my gym friends and taking a work-out class before bringing KFC chicken back to my apartment; I will miss deciding, screw it, and locking myself in my room with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and watching Netflix movies all night because I need a break from the whole world. This is not to say it will not be possible for me to do all these things in America—but the decision will not feel as guilt-free, and as easily my own, when I am considering what my friends or family are doing or whether I owe it to someone to be somewhere else.

4. I will miss (sometimes!) the time difference. This one is especially surprising, even to me. The time difference is a complete pain in the neck. Every time I’m waking up to start my day, everyone in America is headed to bed—or they are tired, and don’t really want to talk or Skype or catch-up; and then when they are awake and want to fill me in on their lives, I am tired at the end of a long day… an endless cycle.

            But it also means, from the hours of about 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., my phone is relatively quiet (apart from the friends I’ve made in Thailand… and my brother Max, who is nocturnal). And it’s a very nice thing. I have found creative ways to keep in touch with people back home (including Facetiming at 8 a.m., during morning assembly, in an empty classroom; writing long catch-up novels via Facebook; or sending good-morning-good-night texts for the other person to respond to the next day). But it’s nice to not feel glued to my phone. It’s become habit for me to put my phone on airplane mode for hours, because why not, and when I get a message from anyone, I don’t mind waiting a few hours to respond—blame it on the time-difference, blame it on a lack of urgency, or blame it simply on this (somewhat forced) living-in-the-moment mentality I have found as a result of the time difference.

5. I will miss every weekend being an adventure. I hope I find motivation to make my way to the bus station in America (do we even have one…?), to look at a sign, point, and say, “Okay, how about we try there?” I hope I hold onto this curiosity for my surroundings, but I know it is not the same. Part of the adventure, part of the spontaneity, comes from me simply not knowing any better. I point to a sign here in Sakon Nakhon Bus Terminal and say, “Let’s try there,” because it makes no difference to me, and because it’s in a different language, and because it usually doesn’t cost more than $5 to drive on a bus for hours. And I know it will not be the same, to show up at a Boston bus station and point and say, “Let’s try there,” because 1. It will probably end up shipping me off to some place like Lowell or Chelsea, and I’ll think, Okay, this was probably a waste of time and money; and 2. Travelling in America, to anywhere, takes more preparation. I cannot find novelty anywhere. I cannot just take a bus to Lowell and think, Wow, this place is so cool and different and look at that temple! But here, I can. I can literally take a bus 7 minutes or 7 hours away and it makes (almost) no difference to me—it is always exciting, it is always new and novel and interesting, because it is never familiar.

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6. I will miss the people. I’ve said it before, so I’ll try to be brief: I will miss their kindness. I will miss their inclusivity. I will miss 21-year-old girls driving me to their hometown, even though I am a stranger to them, because they are “headed there anyway.” I will miss teacher Ying, who invited me to camp for an entire weekend with her and her friend because, “You should have the opportunity to see Phetchabun Mountain while you are here.”

            I will miss Fluke pointing to the word “Perfect” on a Present Perfect Quiz and whispering to me, “Teacher, why does it say my name?” Or Oom looking over, from the seat beside him, and saying, “I do not know where you are getting this confidence from.”

            I will miss students literally chasing after me to lean over the railing to shout goodbye at the end of the day. I will miss Googling what the sheep look like in New Zealand with Oom (and, then, of course… what the boys look like). I will miss Top always saying good night when I walk into the classroom, and how he is always prepared to sing song lyrics in response to anything I say (Me: “I will always…” Top: “…love you?…” Me: “It’s not too late…” Top: “…To say sorry…?”). I will miss Noon always giving me some of her breakfast and Mew always grabbing my wrist as I walk by to tell me how beautiful I am and Jom telling me before anyone else about going to Wisconsin and Benz saying, “We have to be on our best behavior in class today; we have someone coming to observe,” and me saying, “What, you don’t have to be on your best behavior when it’s just me?” And all the kids laughing… Actually, just in general, I will miss all the kids laughing. They make me feel like the funniest person on the planet… Which leads to my last point…

7. I will miss who I am as their teacher. When I stand in front of them, I can be silly and funny and ridiculous and witty and confident. And these are not compliments—I am not saying I am any of these things. I am saying these are things I have become because of my students—they make me this way. They allow for it. They encourage it and inspire it. I wouldn’t say I am a different person in front of them. Because I act the same way around my closest friends. But this is the first time I have seen myself act this way out in the world, with (essentially) strangers—or, at least, not my best friends. They have given me the confidence to say things spontaneously, and to embarrass myself, and to show my foolish or naïve side, because they have never judged me or shown me anything but admiration. If, in my next job, I am surrounded by people who make me even half as confident, I will be happy.

            Next Thursday, I head to Bangkok at 10 a.m. I will have packed up my entire apartment and I will be taking it all with me. I will store it in Bangkok for a month, and then (finally) I will begin my travels. I can’t express how excited I am for these travels. March 11, I fly to Chiang Mai. I will take a bath with elephants and feed them food; I will take a cooking class; I will explore the Grand Canyon and try new foods and venture to waterfalls.

            I will head from there to Pai, a gorgeous little town, which I’ve heard also has great waterfalls and Grand Canyons and tea plantations. From there, I will go to Chiang Rai to see temples and museums and then back to Chiang Mai.

            On March 24, I will fly back to Bangkok and, from there, I will fly to Hanoi, Vietnam. After a few days there, we will head to Sa Pa to see beautiful fields and waterfalls (Google it—I can’t quite explain it, since I haven’t been there, but it looks breathtakingly beautiful).

            Then we will do a cruise on Halong Bay. We will fly to Hoi An from there, and then Saigon, and then we will fly to the south of Cambodia. We will spend a few days on an island there—I’ve heard the beaches are incredible: white sand, clear turquoise water. From there, we will end up in Angkor Wat.

            On April 14, I will head back to Bangkok to grab my suitcase. Then I will fly to Dubai to spend 5 days there with another CIEE friend. And then, on April 20th, I will journey home.

            I am beyond excited. I know it will go fast, but I will do my best to take plenty of pictures and write (in my phone Notes section) all about my travels, so that when I am home (I am leaving my laptop in Bangkok, so I cannot blog before then), I can update you all on my experiences exploring this little piece of the world. But even if I manage to blog again for CIEE, this is the last one I will write from Sakon Nakhon, and probably the last one I will write until April 20th. So thank you all for reading about my Sakon Nakhon adventures—updates to come! 


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How to Know You're Making a Difference (2/3)

“Calm Across Cultures”

This one is a bit more subjective because it doesn't directly pertain to teaching. Anyone who knows me well knows that I love Jack Johnson. My students, naturally, like when I play music - especially when they’re writing an essay in class. One day, my M.6 (grade 12) students wanted calm music [I have three playlists that I let them choose from: calm, popular music, and fun, older music]. The calm playlist is like 1/3rd Jack Johnson, and it was the first time they chose this playlist. I started with “Better Together” by Jack Johnson. Within 30 seconds, one of the students asked “Teacher, what is this song? It’s so, so… *waves arm gently* nice. His voice and the melody are so relaxing.” I cannot articulate how excited I was. Right after that, another student said “I have heard this song, but I thought it was by [names some group that’s not Jack Johnson].” I explained that this was the original, and what she heard was a cover.

What’s sweet about this anecdote is that I didn’t tell them how much I love Jack Johnson. I certainly didn’t tell them that they had to like his music. This verbal snapshot of teaching shows how much people can learn through exposure. These students found some authentic English material that they truly like. I can only hope that they pursue it - to expose themselves to similar things on their own time - to gain intrinsic motivation for learning about language through English-speaking culture. Also, I'm just proud that I have good taste in music... ;)

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Thai ceremony for my soon-to-be graduates!

It's the little things...

Comment with questions or suggestions for a post!

Thai Teaching Tips

Since my Bachelor’s degree is in psychology and not education, I knew there would be a lot of room for growth with my teaching. And I was right. The first semester of teaching abroad feels like you’re running your first marathon, without understanding how long a marathon is and what kind of stress your body will be under, and that’s just to get by. Then, when you think you’ve actually worked ahead, it turns out there are other things you have to do or should have already done. Maybe some of this is specific to my school, but I know that a lot of how I’ve felt this semester is due to my lack of experience while being in a new country with a different education system. 

You can’t apply the knowledge you have of school systems in America [or your home country] directly to the schools in Thailand. I can’t stress this enough: it is a different place — a different culture. The best thing you can do is to use any knowledge you have to ask questions about your job, your work, and the school’s expectations. Use your intuition and humble yourself to check in regularly. Never EVER assume; you have to go in and ask. You have to be direct without being rude or inconsiderate. This is an art that you will learn if you haven’t already. 

To the future teachers, my advice is to never credit your mistakes to the “lack of communication” in Thai culture. Perhaps you’ll get the momentary impulse to push the blame somewhere else in the eyes of self-preservation, but don’t. This will fester in you like a poison and ruin, not only your experience, but your perspective of Thailand… and people here will notice your negativity. Aggravation and stress are stark in the “Land of Smiles.” When it consumes you, it shows inevitably. It is always a two way street. Just as they could’ve told more, you could’ve asked more. While it’s ridiculous to expect one side to do all of the work, it’s rarely just one party’s fault.

By moving to Thailand, you have to humble yourself. Know that you’re challenging yourself. The head of the English department at my school [an American expat himself] told me that moving to a developing country to teach is harder than a Master’s program. This was a complete shock to me. I came here to take a break before grad school — to gain world experience and grow as a person — while trying to make a difference. I knew moving here would bring its own challenges, but I didn’t suspect it would be harder than what I was putting off. I certainly got what I came here for, with even a little bit more.

“You never lose; you either win, or you learn.” When you’re lucky, you get both.

Comment with questions or suggestions for a post!

-G

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