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Published: October 16th 2011
The Orphanage and the Juvenile Detention Center: Student Teaching Days 1 & 2
On our first day of ATI training we were given unexpected news. Our final week of training would consist of five days of student teaching in Thai schools. Then a second surprise: because of scheduling issues our first two days of student teaching would be Thursday and Friday of week two. Then a final surprise: because Thai students are on mid-semester break, we would be teaching in some non-traditional settings. My first two teaching practices in front of Thai students would be in some non-traditional venues: a Thai orphanage and a juvenile detention center.
On day one of teaching practice I headed to a Thai orphanage named Ban Sosa. The orphanage had been established by a Hungarian doctor in the late 1970s as part of a charitable endeavor. There are several other branches around Thailand. As our group loaded onto the bus we had no idea of what to expect. After a 45-minute bus ride we entered the gates to Ban Sosa. The grounds were large, well kept, and surrounded by lush vegetation. There were ten modern and well maintained ranch style houses with a large
View from James Bond Island
If you have seen james Bond, The Man with the Golden Gun, you have witnessed this scene. If you google Thailand you have witnessed this scene. If only our photos could make the view from the beach at James Bond island half as beautiful as it truly is.
open air school building in the center. There were soccer fields and volleyball courts, paved walkways, fountains and large gardens where the students grew much of the produce used in their meals.
We were taken on a tour of the grounds and learned more about the lives of the students there. Many of these students lost their parents in the Tsunami that devastated Phuket and much of mainland Thailand in 2004. We were advised that we should avoid speaking about things one would do with their families in our lessons. What we found, however, was what seemed at least to an outsider to be large and very close-knit families. Each house had a large common area and kitchen, with two main bedrooms shared by five children each. Each house had a full time “mother” for the ten children. Though technically an employee of the facility, the mothers live on the grounds twenty four hours a day, seven days a week year round. Each group of children stays in the same house with the same mother, brothers and sisters until they were old enough to move out on their own. As we visited the homes and interacted with the children,
The Giant Buddha
This giant sitting Buddha is the largest of its type in Thailand. It is made of many little tiles, one of which was donated by Tara and I. Our tile and this wish we wrote inside will soon be a part of this statue. It can be seen from about half of the island hanging like a star in the night sky, glowing a deep gold. It is truly a magical part of the island.
it was simply not possible to tell that these were not traditional families. The group of kids in the home we visited ranged from a three year old boy who eyed us inquisitively, to his twelve year old “sister” who held him in her lap.
The student group I taught at the orphanage was a mix between the ages of ten and twelve years old. There were eight boys who were all very friendly, and three girls who were generally more shy – though they were also the best students. There was also one boy who sat with the girls. By all indications, he is likely in the process of becoming a Thai “lady-boy.” Without going into too much detail, in Thailand, there are a large group of boys known as lady boys who basically live their lives as women. In schools, they are often the brightest and most outgoing, and are usually very funny, charming and leaders in the classes. Unlike in most cultures, lady-boys are a very large and completely accepted group, fully welcomed and integrated into Thai society. In general, it is nearly impossible to tell a lady-boy and a woman apart.
When class began
The Island Cruise
This shot was taken from a canoe during our boating trip to the islands off the coast of Thailand. There are literally hundreds of these islands shooting out of the water.
the student leader (in this case the lady-boy to be) directed the class to stand up. Together in unison the class recited the line “good morning teacher” and remained standing until I asked them to please sit down. Thai students are extremely fun-loving, innocent and care-free children. I found it nearly impossible to imagine the terrible personal tragedies these students had survived. There seems to be almost no ridicule, isolation or sarcasm within the Thai classroom. I could not imagine the expressions of joy on these children’s faces to be anything but genuine. Thai children do seem to be bored easily by tedious lessons, but with engaging and fun activities the students really seem to love to be there. In general, their English language speaking and listening skills are far below their reading and writing skills. The writing task I gave the students was done in a few minutes, and the students would enthusiastically throw up their hands and say “teacher, teacher” to show they were done. Soon after, they would call me back over to show they had written their “nickname” in English. All Thai students have English nicknames they come up with. Some nicknames from this group included
Tara and Dan 2
At the Italian Restaurant which sits on the edge of a hill over Naiharn Beach. The ocean breeze on the open air porch is remarkable.
“Golf,” “Beer,” “Goku” and “Dear.” At the end of the lesson the students once again stood up to say “thank you teacher.”
Like the orphanage, the juvenile detention center was also a pleasant surprise. One of our observers Tim told the group “you need to be careful in the juvenile center, it’s a lot worse than your ATI trainers have let on.” He went on to add that we should “make sure to bring markers, because pencils are too sharp and you could get hurt.” He let the ruse go on for several minutes before telling the group that the kids are actually very nice and most of them are only there because they did something out of necessity. It is still a sad fact of life here that while the country is rapidly moving towards modernity with generally strong social safety nets in place, it is still a developing country with huge swaths of poverty. Many of these children end up in these centers because they were pressured to do something illegal by their family, or because it may have meant eating or not eating that week.
Much like the orphanage, the children here were polite, orderly
The Lake from the Reggae Bar
For three weeks, this is our neighborhood. This scene is of the lake which flows into the ocean, taken from the Reggae Bar at sunset.
and in general a very fun loving group of kids. I know that if kids in America were able to walk into class each morning with the enthusiastic, positive, fun-loving attitude that Thai students live by, overall feelings of joy, confidence and self-worth would rise dramatically. It truly is saddening to reflect back on how so many kids in America who I care about so much hate school, or hate their teachers, or hate their peers (and this of course applies to many of us adults as well). Despite our Nations level of development and modernity, there is still much we could learn from more simple, carefree and spiritually developed cultures. Looking at how a community of orphaned children, or school of children confined to a juvenile offenders center can approach life in such a kind-hearted, warm and playful manner, I certainly feel ridiculous thinking about some of the things I get so worked up over. In this sense, for many of the western teachers here in Thailand it seems that our students are also very much our teachers.
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