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Published: December 26th 2011
In honor of teacher's day, for which we have off of school, I am providing a small update to this blog. When it was published it appeared all the way at the bottom of the page, so I updated it in hopes it would move to the top, so people could see that it was on here. Other than that, the content is the same. Enjoy!
For those of you who don't know, but care to, I teach at Satri Nakhon Sawan School in Nakhon Sawan, Thailand. Satri is a Thai word for female students, as Satri used to be a school for girls only, but over the years has admitted enough boys to the point where the population of both sexes is roughly equal. There are somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 students at the school, and class sizes can reach as high as sixty students. For more on what it is like to teach in a program with class sizes like that you can read Tara's blog. As for me, I teach in the Global English Program (GEP), where student's parents pay extra for air conditioned classrooms, smaller class sizes and multiple classes including math and science taught in
english, in addition to the strictly english language classes which I teach.
While I enjoy air conditioned classrooms, projectors and class sizes that range from 8 - 30 students in my program, it is also very demanding. I teach 18 fifty-minute lessons per week and need to have a new lesson plan for each class each day, meaning a total of 18 preps / week. Add to that the fact that we now teach on Saturdays, and I am currently preparing more than twenty different lessons per week. I am also teaching subjects which I have to teach myself, for example topics include the zero conditional, the past perfect progressive tense, and non-defining relative clauses, etc. They are all things I understand well, if I were to, say, sit down and take a test on them, but teaching them to students who really do not speak and understand a tremendous amount of english is a daunting task. Furthermore, the textbooks we use are about fifteen-years old, so the celebrities they use to try to "relate to today's students" are people like Woody Allen and Tina Turner. The textbooks also do something which I absolutely can't stand...they try to act
like they are really hip and totally in with the kids and their interests. It is so superficial and such a joke. I swear the people who write these things have never spent a day with kids, a criticism which I would readily extend to textbooks in the United States as well. The textbook makers simply need to admit, "yes we are lame, no we know nothing of kids and their interests, and so were going to give you a text-book that you could give a s* about" and I think the kids would appreciate their honesty.
All griping aside, the average school day at Satri can be draining, but there is a very unique, very Thai vibe that permeates throughout. I arrive by motorbike at about 7:40 am and we need to be down in the courtyard at 7:50 am for the flag raising ceremonies. Gary, the other english language teacher in the GEP program, and I walk down, shake hands with our good friends David, Ryan, Laura and Riley who also work at the school, and then standby for the ceremonies. All 4,000 students stand in perfect lines as the Thai national anthem plays and the flag
is raised. Next comes a Buddhist prayer, followed by the King's anthem, and finally the school's anthem. At this point we wish the other foreign teachers a pleasant day and head back up to the GEP building. Classes begin at about 8:30 am, though many times the ceremony runs long for some reason or another, and part of first period is lost. No one seems to notice.
Do not let the very formal nature of the opening ceremony deceive you. Although the appearance of organization and order are extremely important, as with all of Thai society, just below the surface is a very loosely structured atmosphere that most certainly favors a balance of fun and leaisure to counteract the more negative aspects of education which seem to give students in the West such a bad attitude. A point I think it is safe to say is that Thai students enjoy coming to school, and with good reason. Classes are randomly cancelled because the Monks are at the school, or the students are at the temple, or the students are at scout camp, or the students have the week off to prepare for a test, or it's room decoration week
to prepare for the Christmas party, or there are two weeks basically off for sports week... I think you get the point. Last Thursday there were no classes because of the room decoration contest was being judged and students were preparing their skits for the Christmas party - then Friday was our GEP Christmas party (more on that below). This Friday there are no classes because the students are having a New Years party. See what I mean?
While this type of education system and lack of structure would probably drive many career / progress oriented people in the states up a wall, it really seems to create a psychologically nurturing environment for the students (they like it so much they often come to school on the weekends and hang-out together!) All of the students wear uniforms to school (scout uniforms on some days, nurse uniforms on other days, military uniforms for the boys on military training days, etc, etc) so the students definitly do not segregate themselves based on dress. Beyond this, however, no one seems to single each other out about much of anything. Everyone seems to get along with everyone. There is also a very pronounced
innocence and love of life among the Thai children. I think just looking at the pictures you can really get a sense of what it is like to be a kid here. Thai students love everything, and they are loud, and boisterous, and have notoriously short attention spans, but it seems to be because they just love everything so much. In some of the classes the students still partake in the very traditional ritual of standing up and saying "good morning teacher," remaining standing until I ask them to be seated, whereby they respond "thank you teacher." But even the classes who no longer partake in such traditions, you can tell are happy to see you. They smile, they laugh, they tell you silly stories, they dance around, they let you know that you are welcome.
Ahh, yes, and I cannot forget about lunch. Nothing against the lunches at schools in America which I have never had a major gripe with, outside of the total lack of nutritional value - but lunch in Thailand is absolutly amazing. Gary and I have settled into a routine which usually includes a bowl (or two) of the ubiquitous Thai noodle soup. It
is a rich broth made with pork and duck bones to which you add a blend of fish sauce, chillis, ground peanuts and sugar at the table to customize however you see fit. There are four choices in noodle, some made from rice and some made from flour. The soup then has some greens, usually chinese kale and mung bean sprouts, and includes pork meatballs, and three other delicious types of sliced pork. It is not an overwhelming amount of meat, just enough to give it a great flavor. A large bowl costs less than one American dollar. I then go to the fresh fruit stand and buy a half-pineapple and a gwava fruit. They are chopped up, and put into a bag with a large wooden toothpick to grab them with. The cost, about fifty-cents each for a grand total of one American dollar. On other days I get Som Tom, a green papaya salad with chillis, garlic, lime juice, fish sauce and sugar which is absolutly delicious, and Kao Mun Gai, sliced chicken on top of rice which has been rendered in chicken stock, served with a bowl of chicken stock and a phenomenal garlic, ginger, chilli sauce.
The cost of a Som Tom and Kao Mun Gai is about one dollar and sixty cents. If I am looking to eat cheap, the cafeteria has fifteen different vendors with about ten different dishes each, all for about 60 cents per dish. Needless to say, lunch in Thailand is amazing.
I will close this entry by telling you a bit about our GEP Christmas party since this is where most of the pictures with this entry are from. The first thing I want to make known is that I did not take any of these pictures and do not take credit for any of them. They are the hard work of others. Anyways, we each took charge of one of the grade levels and helped them prepare an english-language skit and also decorate their classrooms for the competition. We also did a gift exchange, a delicious lunch, and a special guest performance by the teachers. We did the YMCA, followed by the female teachers doing the Macarena, and closed with the Dougie. We all dressed up in costume, and as you can see mine was a sort of American wana-be gangster which I thought the kids would get
a kick out of, and indeed they did. They thought it was the coolest thing they had ever seen. I think I posed for around 100 pictures in that ridiculous outfit, but it was a lot of fun. The kids loved the whole thing so much and it made it all seem worth it.
So, to sum it all up, despite all the hardships that come with living in a new and foreign culture, combined with a very heavy workload and six-day workweek, the Thai students, food, my co-workers, friends, and Thailand in general make it all worthwhile. I know I will never forget any of these kids, and I even find myself at times trying to unlearn some of the negative social habits I learned growing up immersed in American high-school culture in an attempt to rehabilitate myself. It is as much a learning process as anything for me, and I wouldn't want it any other way.
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