#21: The Teacher Becomes The Student

There are a lot of things happening right now that are making me quite reflective on the past year of teaching. Wow, that feels weird to say. Sometimes, the day feels like a blur of teaching, eating, morning runs and the moment before you fall asleep. Where did the time go? Warning: I’m potentially arming myself with clichés here, but you know, they’re clichés for a reason.

This week was the last of teaching any relatively new material before the final exams of the semester for Assumption’s students. I’ve had most of the same students for the past two semesters of teaching, and it’s taken almost that long to get used to how most of the kids work. I know that sounds stupid, but (cliché alert) every child is different and you have to treat them so. Each class holds around 40-50 students (which sometimes makes teaching feel more like a lecture than a lesson!) and I have 9 classes (plus a “special class” at the end of each day for a little extra dollar). Altogether, there’s about 400 faces I’ll see in a week, and it was soon clear that it’d be the names of the very good and very bad kids I’d remember of the bunch!

I’ve met a few people who’ve had experiences teaching abroad for a couple of months at a time and they’ve found it an enriching experience. Well, I’ll be honest – I found my first month challenging, to say the least – i.e. I genuinely didn’t think I’d be able to stick it for my six month contract. The entire infrastructure of education in Thailand is different to that in the UK, yet the material I was expected to teach was the same as if I were teaching a native English speaking child. The students, however sweet, were also completely baffled by the Northerner trying to explain what the supporting details to the main idea of a text is. Plus, I couldn’t speak ANY Thai apart from “sa was dee kah” and occasionally getting even that mixed up with “showaddywaddy”…

The good news is that it, everything (cliché alert), always gets better. A lot of milestones are overcome as the students get used to you and you get used to the students, as well as the language, the culture and all that it influences on the country’s education. Thai culture is unlike anything else I could have experienced, even though people had given me a bit of forewarning.

On that note, I think it’s fair to say that very little can prepare you. I felt most of what I’d learnt re: teaching styles, motivating students and classroom management had left my brain via the emergency exit. Turns out theory, practice and realisation are veeerrrry different things!

The best (nay, only) way to deal with this is experience. A voice of reason told me how I was feeling at the beginning was normal, and to just stick it out a little longer, and a little longer, and a little longer. A personal turning point was learning to speak Thai past the small talk. Many believe a golden ticket to EFL success is keeping conversation in the classroom to strictly English, but that just isn’t an option when 45 students look at you standing at the front of the class like you’re, funnily enough, speaking a foreign language.

A few months in, and I discovered the abilities of students and realised ways to make the content a wee bit easier to follow. I remember thinking at that point that up until then, I hadn’t really been teaching. Now, I look back on that moment, and say the same thing, compared to what I know I can do now. My experience of teaching is constantly changing and I feel my ability is always evolving.

Thailand uniqueness filtrates into its education and from day two of teaching, where the school hired a giant lake for Loi Krathong, it was obvious that any festival is a chance to have some sort of activity. At least once a month, students get dressed up for a dance in the name of Children’s Day, Teacher’s Day, National Youth Day, ACN Night… the list goes on until it unfold onto the floor. Although the days give a bit of entertainment and a break from the “Eat Sleep Teach. Repeat” cycle, notice is usually given on the same day when you’re just about to walk out the office with all your prepped materials!

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One thing I stick by is to never stop learning. Teaching English here always gives me time to reflect on what works, and what I can do better. Assumption always takes the time to celebrate Thailand’s many festival and special days, which makes me feel like I can learn so much more than any website or book could tell me. In many ways, (slight cliché alert) I’m also a student.

This week has seen National Youth Day and a mass Making Merit. National Youth Day is celebrated largely because of the amount of children who are born in September. Some danced in a traditional Thai style, while other dances did admittedly make me feel like covering the Primary 1 kids’ eyes!

Making merit occurs in timing with the position of the moon in each lunar month, and usually involves students at the school giving dry food to monks. This week, the usual ceremony was a little more special, combining with a devotional prayer to the princess. Monks are very humble, and in some ways are a little inspiring. With time, I’m hoping to learn a little more about the wonder of these fellows. What better two events in one week to showcase Thailand’s culture in a lumpy nutshell?

Joob joob, ta-ra for now.

Oh – p.s., I’m running a half-marathon at 5am tomorrow. Wish me luck.

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