Well I’ve officially survived my first week of teaching kindergarten, and boy was it a crazy week.
Banmaireab school is a government primary school that offers bilingual classes starting at the kindergarten level and going up through 6th grade. I’m not too sure how the structure of it is all setup, but I know that parents can select from three different programs to place their kids in- either 100% of the classes taught in Thai, the majority of the classes taught in Thai with a couple of English classes per week, or 60% of the classes taught in English every day. I know that there is a cost difference between them all, but I was told that our English Programme (yes, it’s spelled correctly) costs the most. It costs about 25% of the cost of sending a child to an international bilingual school. The class size is maxed out at 30 for the kindergarten, but there is a huge waiting list. As a kindergarten teacher, I am teaching three hours of English to the same 30 students every day. The class is Kindergarten 2, so the kids are all either 6 six years old, or 5 turning 6 during the year. There is a Thai teacher in my class who has a desk in the room, and she is available to help me if necessary.
I had been into the school two times before the school started. At the very end of September I was able to sit in on three classes and observe a little bit of the procedures, but it definitely wasn’t enough. October is vacation month for the teachers and students, so I wasn’t able to do anything inside the school as far as planning goes. Before the break I was given a lesson plan for my first week of teaching and a list of my students’ names. That was it. I felt pretty unprepared going into it all, but the best way to learn how to swim is to be pushed into the water, right?
The first day of school was overwhelming, to say the least. It was basically like, “Okay, you have your lesson plan. Have fun!” I didn’t know anything about basic procedures. Even something as small as letting the kids go to the bathroom. They’re 5 and 6 years old. Am I allowed to tell them no? Can they hold it if I tell them no? Are they manipulating me when they all ask to go at the same time?
Same with going to their backpacks. Some of them walked up and got their supplies from their backpacks. Did they all have those supplies? Am I supposed to always let them use their own? Which supplies do we need for this lesson? Where are they? Oh no. That kid is upset because I told him no. Did the last teacher allow him to do that? I don’t want him to hate me.
Also the same with their level of English. That kid is giving me a blank stare. Does he understand me? Am I talking too fast? Did I use the right language? Does he know how to construct a sentence in English? Is he pretending like he doesn’t understand?
I didn’t realize until midway through the class that I was teaching in front of the class with my shoes on. In kindergarten, everyone is supposed to take their shoes off before they enter the classroom. I had so many things going through my mind, and I completely forgot to take them off. I felt embarrassed.
When I was about to finish the first class, I went to get the kids’ attention. I said, “Everybody stop what you’re doing and look at me!” I got nothing in return. Everybody went about their business and was acting like I didn’t even exist. I said, “Okay everyone, it’s time to clean up!” Everyone started cleaning, but nobody really stopped talking to listen to me. I felt disrespected and hopeless. I left the class, and I cried a little bit.
I went back to the teachers’ office, and my supervisor asked me how it went. I was all flustered and was a little teary. It was lunch time, and I needed to go cool off.
My afternoons at the school are free of classes and open for me to do whatever work I need to. I spent a lot of time talking to Bronwyn, my supervisor, and tried to figure out where I went wrong. Bronwyn is teaching the other Kindergarten 2 class, so our class structure and lesson plans are the exact same. She basically told me that I need to show the students that I can be scary. It was the piece of information that turned my class around. I was caught up in my own head with Thai culture and showing anger. It has been instilled in me that it is inappropriate to show anger in public. Bronwyn told me to forget about that, and said it didn’t apply to the school setting. Most of the Thai teachers will scream into the kids’ faces. I didn’t need to scream, but I had to show that I was angry with the students if they were acting up.
For the rest of the week, I did not smile, and I was not silly. I didn’t ask the kids, I told them. I brought in a ton of stickers, which I handed out to reinforce positive behavior. Once I gave out a sticker to one kid for being quiet, the rest of the kids were trying really hard to impress me, and they followed suit. It worked very well to encourage positive behavior, but the kids were testing my limits. On the 2nd day, the kids were trying to see how much talking they could get away with. The first time they did not listen when I asked them to be quiet, I got scary. I was stomping around the classroom and yelling. They all got completely silent. It worked.
Keeping the kids quiet is still a challenge, but it’s a whole lot easier now that I’ve showed them a mean side. I have found that praising good behavior is working better than yelling about bad behavior. Now that I’ve shown them who is in charge, I am more excited about teaching the content. Classroom management is still a huge mind game, though. I feel like I’m trying to train 30 puppies.
Over the past week, I’ve begun to realize that my predecessor left a mess for me to clean up. She had these students for the first half of the year, and she let them get away with a lot more than I will. It’s a big adjustment for myself and the students alike. The teacher, also named Sarah, was a slob. I hate to be so blunt about it, but she was. She left me a mess with the students’ behavior, the classroom itself, and my desk in the teachers’ office. She didn’t bother to decorate the classroom. It was really a halfhearted effort on her part. My desk in the teachers’ office still had leftover food from before the October vacation. She left a stack of paperwork to file, and a mess of junk to sort through. Trying to find a functional marker for the whiteboard in the classroom was even a struggle. She had a pile of 35, THIRTY FIVE, dry markers next to the board. It was pretty clear that I had my work cut out for me. It’s okay though, because I’m a pro at cleaning up messes.
I am extremely fortunate to have a huge availability of resources at the school as far as crafts go. There are cabinets in the teachers’ office that are full of colored paper, glue, markers, glitter, buttons, sequins, etc. If there is a material that I need for a craft, I am able to ask the school to buy it, or I can buy it and they will reimburse me. The possibilities are endless. On Thursday and Friday night I stayed at the school until 8:00pm working on cleaning, organizing, and decorating. I’ve made a little bit of progress, but I have tons of work to do still. Thanks to Pinterest, I have a huge to-do list for my classroom.
The students previously had a system of table teams, where they were rewarded stars (and ultimately a prize) for working together as a team. I wanted to keep the system, but I hated looking at bulletin board that
had the teams on them. I didn’t even use the system for the first week. The teams were monsters, aliens, robots, and dinosaurs. I decided to freshen it up. It took me forever. To give you an idea of where I started, I had to photoshop most of the clip art to make it look like I wanted it to. The deer was originally a quilting pattern, and the owl had a big “O” across one of his feet. I colored everything with colored pencils. I am pretty proud of the transformation! The kids haven’t seen it yet, but I think they’re going to be excited.
The school normally has wifi, but it isn’t working. The school is under construction right
now, and it’s very frustrating. The playground was closed off last year because it was hazardous, and they decided they weren’t going to fix it because they’re going to construct a new one. As construction normally goes, the process keeps getting delayed. Right now the kids only have a field of grass to play in.
There was a swimming pool to use for P.E., but they have ripped it out and we’re awaiting a new one. Nobody is really sure when it’s going to be completed. During class on Tuesday, they were working on a building right outside of my classroom. The banging was so loud that I had to scream to talk to the students. Bronwyn’s class is right next door, and she was blown away at how loud it was. Luckily, she’s a doer, and went straight to the head of the school and complained. It hasn’t happened again, but we’ll see.
I don’t have many pictures of the students yet, because I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to be taking them. I just got word that I am able to take as many pictures as I want, and I can also post them online. I’ll make sure to take a lot! My students are super cute. This is Tin Tin (one of my favorites) with his clay chicken.
I have tons to say, but I won’t bore everyone with all of the details. Here’s a quick little funny story before I go:
On Wednesday, one of my students stood up (when she wasn’t supposed to) and went to her backpack. I sternly said her name, and walked over to find out why. She said, “Teacher. My tooth come out.” and held up a tooth. She asked, “Can I put in my backpack?” I reacted with excitement, and she shrugged her shoulders. It was just another day to her. I just noticed that she is pictured (above) sitting behind Tin Tin. That’s Opor.
When I asked the other teachers about the teeth, they told me that losing teeth isn’t a big deal here. If the tooth comes from the top row, they will go outside and throw it into the air. If it comes from the bottom, they bury it in the ground.
You learn something new every day.
That’s about all I have for now. Here’s a before/after of my classroom progress. There is so much more to come.