Tag Archives: foreignteacher

TEFL in Thailand- Rants and Realities

 

We are approaching finals week, where each student is to take 3 English exams and 3 Thai exams. I’ve never taught in the States, so I don’t really have anything to compare this to, but my five and six year-old students are taking three 90 point exams which will count toward 50% of their grade. If they do not pass my kindergarten class, they will be taken from the English Program and placed in lower level English classes that aren’t as rigorous. It’s highly frowned upon to fail students in any grade here in Thailand because of the obsession with losing face. I basically have to guarantee that they pass, but then give my recommendation if I think they should be placed in a lower class. If they are doing well in their Thai classes, my recommendation will become void, and they continue along in the English program.

In the school, we have 60 students in KG 1 (for ages 4 & 5), 60 students in KG 2 (ages 5 & 6), and about 120 students in grade 1.  Today I went into the school on a Saturday to help proctor a test for potential new 1st graders. The students were sat down to take a 50 point exam that had questions pulled from our KG 1 & 2 students’ tests. They had to score 50% or above to be considered for the English program. Out of 64 students, 15 scored more than 50%. The whole time I was giving the exam, Thai teachers were poking their heads in to help the kids translate the test. After all was said and done, the director of the English company who runs the program at our school said, “Well, we have room for 50 more students in the English Program, so we will just have to lower the admission standard to 20%.”

All of this makes my head spin.

I could rant and rave about this all day. The truth is, I don’t know much about how this education system works (or any, for that matter), but now I know why the grade 1 teachers are so frustrated. My KG2 students who go into that class can tell me full sentences about how their weekend went. The new students looked at me with a blank stare when I asked them their name. Mixing those students in a classroom and expecting them all to perform up to the standard of the class curriculum is absolutely insane. After I was finished proctoring the test today, my boss told me that the test scores go out the window if a parent makes a generous monetary donation to the school. Working for this school is frustrating as hell.

The school is a government school. The English teachers make almost triple the salary of the Thai teachers, yet we do not have any say in who advances and who stays.We don’t really have a say in anything, actually. I’m quickly realizing that it all comes down to money.

Last month, I posted about a trip to Trang with some students to showcase their English abilities for prospective parents at a school that the English company (the ones in charge of English teachers’ contracts)  was in the process of building. If you haven’t read the post, I basically explain how the company and the principal of my school decided to open a school together, and how it was a huge crock to see the immaculate displays of how wonderful the new school would be, meanwhile my school “can’t afford” soap for the bathrooms. I promise you that all of the run-on sentences are a direct result of my frustration with this system.

I have recently come across an article about the English Proficiency Index  (EPI) in Asia. To sum it up, Thailand’s EPI is ranked 14th out of 18 countries. The country spends 31.3% of its GDP on education, which is well over Asia’s average of 14%. There is a ton of pressure to increase the EPI because tourism funds about 20% of Thailand’s GDP. Here is the full article.

Schools with English programs get a huge increase in their cut of the budget. When the school’s budget goes up, so does the principal’s. The English company in charge of hiring teachers get paid a monthly percentage of the wages of the teachers they contract. And on of it all- English teachers in Thailand are paid well. Extremely well.

I’ll admit, I am guilty of losing sight of what’s going on.   I am paid a salary of $1,100 USD per month in a country whose annual GDP per capita in 2014 was $5,778. I came in with no background of education and I’m making more than 2x the GDP. I don’t even have a work permit yet. Could you imagine if a 25 year old with no experience moved to the United States and started teaching kindergarten for $121,000 per year?

How do you say “white privilege” in Thai?

Yes, I am a native English speaker with a certification to teach English as a foreign language. I love my students, and I want nothing more than for them to have a quality understanding of the English language. The problem is, can I feel okay accepting a salary that high? Can I really be bitching about hand soap when the government’s resources are being poured into paying me the big bucks?

It just doesn’t feel right.

The school year is wrapping up for the kids, and I’ve done some long, hard thinking about the new school year starting up in May. I’ve come to the conclusion that when I envisioned myself living in Thailand, I didn’t picture this. The money here is good, but I didn’t come here to make money.  I like to travel for prolonged periods of time because I love to fully immerse in new cultures. I just don’t have that here.  I’ve gotten sucked into living the lavish lifestyle of the farang (foreigner) in Thailand.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s such an ideal situation to be able to go on an island getaway every weekend.  I have made some wonderful friends from all over the world. I’ve written countless blog posts about how cheap everything is, and how it’s so easy to live here. I’ve seen the stunning geography of Thailand, but I’ve hardly scratched the surface of real Thai culture.  I have been here for nearly 6 months, and I don’t know Thailand.  I’ve completely lost sight of my true passion for travel. The truth is, this situation is just not nourishing my soul.

I have given my notice at the school. My KG2 students are moving up to 1st grade, and a new batch of students will be ready for the new teacher at the start of the school year in May. My students’ last day of school is March 11th. I am going to help teach a 3 week orientation for the incoming KG1 students, and then I’m leaving.

Sheesh. This post has gotten deep. Oops.

Anyhow… I can’t leave SE Asia having only visited Malaysia and Thailand, so I’ll be doing a little country-hopping before I leave. I’ll be reducing my belonging to all that can fit into a 40L backpack, and I’m going to do a little 5 week tour.

The plan is:

Phuket > Bangkok > Siem Reap > Bangkok * > Ho Chi Minh City > Hanoi > Bali >Kuala Lumpur > U. S. of A.

*I got a sweet deal on flights, but it meant a 3 day stopover in Bangkok. Without even realizing it, I will be in Bangkok from April 12th-15th. April 13th is the national holiday Songkran, which is celebrated with nation-wide water fights. I wasn’t even thinking about it, but I am so happy it panned out the way it did!

I will be heading back to the States on May 6th.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for tolerating my  rants and realizations. I can’t promise any exciting blog posts in the next few weeks, but I will try my best. 🙂

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Some General Updates…

I can’t overstate how fast time has been flying. I cannot believe I have been in Thailand for 3 and 1/2 months already.

I haven’t learned much Thai yet. It’s especially hard to learn because I am not allowed to even attempt to speak Thai with my students at school. My friends outside of school don’t speak Thai either, so that doesn’t help. I’ve been making strides in my Thai lessons, but it’s only reading and writing. After about 7 lessons, I’ve learned to write 30 consonants and 15 vowels. There are 5 different tones that I am familiar with, but it’s still so hard. Lately I haven’t had a lot of drive to study in my free time. My Thai tutor is getting a little frustrated with me because we’re not really progressing. In hindsight, I wish I would’ve chosen a tutor that would teach me how to speak first and write later. It’s not very useful to be able to read Thai when you have no idea what you’re saying.

I’ve been trying to force myself to learn a few new words in Thai per day, just by using Google and whatnot. I have been choosing words that relate to food, as ordering food is really the only chance I get to practice (which sounds pretty pathetic, haha). I learned how to say “delicious,” “I can eat spicy,” “I like spicy,” and “very very spicy.”

Before I learned these words, I was being served food that had a little bit of a kick to it, but was pretty tame. I was starting to think that either “Thai hot” was a myth, or that I had just eaten so much spicy food that I wasn’t able to taste it anymore. All of that changed once I learned how to order spicy food in Thai.

The first time I ordered in Thai, I was a little nervous that I was going to say the wrong tone and everyone was going to laugh at me.  I was given a polite smile, a huge discount, and some seriously spicy food. I ordered a  spicy papaya salad that was so hot it turned my lips dark red/purplish. It was so ridiculously hot that about 30 minutes after eating it, I felt the same burn going on in my stomach. I have officially experienced “Thai hot.”

Another word that I learned in Thai that I probably should’ve learned earlier is the word for teacher. In Phuket especially, it is important to establish yourself as an expat and not a tourist. It comes with a larger amount of respect, and seriously cheaper prices.

For example, last weekend I wanted to check out a place called “Paradise Beach.” It’s a private stretch of beach that charges an entry fee to let people access the beach, beach chairs/umbrellas, snorkeling gear, kayaks, stand up paddle boards, and beach volleyball. The standard entry fee is 500 baht (~$15USD) to enter. I smiled politely at the woman at the counter, and told her I was a teacher. One of the employees at the beach has a student at my school, and they immediately treated me like royalty. They let me in for free! I’m not usually one to try to use status for extra perks, but in Phuket it’s necessary. Almost all prices are negotiable here, and it’s critical to distinguish that my salary is paid in Thai Baht and not USD.

That was one of three beaches that I went to last weekend. December has been a little crazy with days off and holidays.

Last week I had a 5 day weekend due to the visa run and the extra day off for Father’s Day on the 7th. Father’s Day in Thailand is set on the king’s birthday, and Mother’s Day is on the queen’s. Everyone wears yellow on Father’s Day because it is the king’s color. Typically at school, we wear yellow on Mondays to honor the king. This year, there was a decree sent out that all government employees must wear yellow the entire month of December. I was a little upset when I got the news, but only because I look horrible in the color yellow!

Anyhow.

Teaching has been going great. My students have really started to grow on me. It is amazing how much psychology goes into teaching. I’m finally getting behavior management under control, but it’s taken a lot of mind games. All of my actions have to be really dramatic- super enthusiastic if I’m teaching a new subject, very serious if I’m trying to be strict. There’s a lot of acting involved.  I love kids so much and it hurts my heart to have to yell at them.

We have one more full week of school, and then the holiday schedule is pretty up in the air.  The Thai teachers are going on a retreat from Dec 21-24, so we will cover their classes, and then they will cover our classes for Christmas Day. After that, the school still hasn’t decided whether or not they’re going to let the English teachers have off the 28th-30th for covering the Thai teachers. the 31st and 1st are public holidays. As it stands right now, I could potentially have off the 25th-3rd, but the school hasn’t decided. It’s so frustrating! I’m trying not to get my hopes up.

Well, that’s the broad scope of updates for now. I heard that Colorado got a lot of snow today, and it’s hard to not get homesick at that! Being away from home over the holidays is definitely tough, but I know that I’ll never regret being where I am for them this year.

OH MY GOODNESS!! I ALMOST FORGOT.

I. FOUND. BAGELS. IN. THAILAND.
Click here! to check out the video I made of my experience. I had to upload it on Facebook instead of Youtube because they got cranky with the copyright issues of the song choices.

Enjoy 🙂

 

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Loy Krathong in Phuket

I won’t lie, the holidays are hitting me right in the feels, and I am homesick. Luckily, the Loy Krathong Festival happened to be the day before Thanksgiving this year, so I was given a nice distraction from being far away from my family.

I had read up on a few holidays before coming to Thailand, and Loy Krathong was one I had flagged as  “not to miss.” I saw pictures on Google and in guide books that showed thousands of paper lanterns floating up into the night sky. That was basically my idea of what it was supposed to be.  You would think I’d know by now that I need to stop drawing expectations from what I see online. The total number of lanterns I saw? One.

Loy Krathong (important note here that the “h” is silent) is an annual tradition of creating floating vessels (krathongs) and sending them off into a body of water to send away the bad energy, wish for good luck, and pay respect to the water gods. It is also a bit of a romantic holiday. I’ve read so many different interpretations of the holiday, so any information I’m going to provide here is based solely off of observation and imageinformation from my coworkers.

On Wednesday morning, my Thai teacher insisted I be in her classroom at
1pm. It’s normally my planning period, but she told me she wanted my help with making krathongs with the students. I was excited about the opportunity, because I didn’t really know what they were traditionally made from, let alone how to make one. Making krathongs with the kids ended up being a blast, as I think they helped me more than I helped them.

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This is Silmee! (Pronounced “Simee”)

The base is traditionally made from a stump of a banana tree. It is wrapped with banana leaves that are pinned into place with little metal pins. It is decorated with flowers (and lettuce, and whatever else you can find), and 3 incense sticks and a candle for good luck. Something that really caught my attention was everyone’s willingness to share materials. Each kid brought in their own grocery bag full of tree stumps, banana leaves, flowers, and pins. I was amazed to see kids walk over to each other and reach into their classmate’s bag to find a flower they needed, and nobody cared. I don’t think I’ve seen children interact in such a collective manner. Since I didn’t have any materials  to make my krathong, they insisted I use theirs. Some of the kids’ krathongs came out much better than mine, but I think it was okay for my first try!

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This is Nudee- probably my most artistically inclined student.

After the sun sets, the krathongs are taken to a body of water, where the candles and incense are lit and the little boats are floated away. Some of the teachers invited me to go with them to Saphan Hin- a park in Phuket Town with the biggest celebration of Loy Krathong on the island. The park is on the eastern coast with ocean access, and also has a lake in the middle. The water in the ocean was choppy, so everyone was floating them in the lake. At first I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t release mine into the ocean, and then I realized that in the excitement of the holiday, I hadn’t realized how horrible the festival is for the environment.

Floating away the bad energy in the ocean seems so mystical, but in reality it’s kind of a mess. My krathong was made from banana leaves and imageflowers, but it also had a ton of metal pins in it. Other peoples’ boats were made with plastic, or sugary cake. Some of them were made out of fish food, which is something I can get behind, but for the most part, they were not really good for fish. I figured that releasing it into the lake had better odds of it being disposed of properly.

It is good luck to send off the krathongs with a lock of hair and money tucked into them.  I couldn’t believe that some people were swimming in the lake and picking through the krathongs to find the money in them! Nobody said anything about it. I took a picture of some of the krathongs in the water, and then a little boy popped up out of nowhere and counted the money he had found.

imageAfter about an hour of watching the festivities, I asked a coworker about the paper lanterns I’d seen in pictures on Google. I had previously seen in the news that they were banned from Phuket, but I thought it was for environmental reasons. She told me that they were banned because they were flying high enough to potentially be sucked into the engine of an airplane. Not for environmental reasons.

Loy Krathong is definitely magical, but after all is said and done, I feel bad for the environmental cost of having such a holiday. The following day, I read in the news that a mass cleanup of the park generated 14 tons of trash. WHAT!! That’s insane. For a holiday meant to give thanks to the water gods, and water as a resource, it’s pretty crazy to celebrate by polluting the waterways. Even so, the krathongs that were made from organic material are going to be sitting in a landfill and not biodegrading. It’s a pretty crazy palm-to-face realization that the celebration is magical and whatnot, but it’s coming at the cost of the environment.

At any rate, I hope you enjoy the cutesy pictures of us trashing the environment. *sigh*

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Koh Yao Noi

Despite having going to Koh Yao Noi the night before I had written my last post, I thought that the island experience deserved a story to itself. As promised, here it is:

With the chaos of school last week, I had decided that my weekend was going to be spent on a peaceful island. Instead of searching the web for the “best getaways near Phuket,” I decided to ask around to some of the teachers at my school to see what their opinion was on the best place to go. My only request was that it was a relatively short ferry ride.

I thought about going back to Phi Phi, since it’s absolutely beautiful, but I wanted to experience a new place. I love going to Phi Phi, but the ferry takes about an hour and a half. It’s also packed with tourists, advertising, and overpriced meals. Oh, that reminds me. It has been brought to my attention to note that the correct way to pronounce “Phi Phi” is “pee pee.” I’ve gotten so used to saying it that the silly factor doesn’t phase me anymore. Same with Phuket. It is pronounced “poo ket,” but it’s still a little bit funny to say it the way it looks like it should sound.

Talk about a tangent.

My teacher friends recommended I go to the island of Koh Yao Noi, as it’s a short trip away from the Phuket mainland, and is a laid back place to relax for a weekend. I didn’t fully comit to the mini-trip until it was Saturday morning. My body’s alarm clock has been set at 6:00am since I’ve been waking up for school, and doesn’t turn off for Saturdays. I took advantage of it and decided to head out early.

The best pier to leave for the island is in the north of Phuket, and it’s called Bangrong Pier. A friend had told me that you can catch certain longtail boats that will allow you to bring your motorbike with you. I found a schedule online and saw that the first longtail left at 9:15, so I set out at 8:30 to make it on time. It’s normally a 30 minute trip.

imageThe pier itself was nothing like I had expected. I have previously left for trips on Rassada Pier, which is a highly commercialized port for ferries. Bangrong Pier is a completely different story. It’s a pier in a rural northern Muslim community, with its main traffic being fishing boats. I was expecting it to be a tourist extravaganza, so of course I stood out, as I was wearing a tank top and jean shorts with flip flops. Everyone was extremely friendly though.

Traffic ended up being horrible, and I didn’t make it to the pier until 9:20. I had missed the boat that would allow me to take my bike with me, and the next one wasn’t leaving until 12:30. There was a speed boat leaving at 9:50, so I decided to leave my bike behind. Luckily there was a house with a garage nearby advertising bike security for 20TBH ($0.56 USD)/day. I dropped off the bike and got onto the speed boat.

The speed boat ride was choppy, and a little scary at that. Each wave that we hit rattled the boat and made an unsettling sound. After we had been imagegoing for about 15 minutes, we heard the captain yell something and he stopped the boat. There was a little bit of panic within the passengers on the boat (there were maybe 10 of us), and we were all looking around to see what happened. We eventually saw another boat pull up beside us, and an old man got off the front of the boat and onto ours. Everyone laughed a little bit after we saw it.

The boat ride took a little under 30 minutes, and was beautiful scenery throughout. Once we had arrived on the island, we were surrounded by a few motorbike taxi drivers who were looking for customers. I asked the driver if he knew of any bikes to rent, and he immediately showed me over to one. His price was 300baht (~$8 USD) , which is a little steep by Phuket standards, but I decided it was worth it to explore the island.  He handed over a helmet and the keys, and told me to leave it back where I found it when I was done. I was amazed that he didn’t ask to see my passport or make me sign any paperwork. Later I had explained my surprise to a local, and she said, “It’s a small island. There’s one way in and out is at that pier. He knows you’re not going anywhere.”

The immediate vibe that I got from the island was absolute tranquility. After I had driven off of the pier, I found myself driving through beautiful green shrubs and flowers on my way to my accomodation. There were more butterflies than I’ve ever seen in nature. So many butterflies that the drive through the island left me in some deep contemplation that when you’re on a bike, your face is the windshield. The sheer amount of bugs that get smashed onto the windshield while driving a car, well, that was pretty much the face cover of my bike helmet.

The island has a reputation for preserving its local feel, and frowns upon any sort of commercial development. They are huge proponents of ecological conservation, and there was only one 7-11 on the island. This is quite a feat, as 7-11s in Thailand are normally across the street from one another. The “untouched” feel of the island was a huge breather from the tourist overload of Phuket.

imageBefore I had left Phuket I had found a bungalow online that was close to the beach. I splurged a little (Note: By splurge I mean I spent $28 USD), and went for one with great reviews. I was not disappointed.

The bungalow was an uphill hike away from the main road. It was surrounded by lush jungle, and I felt totally secluded. All I could hear were the sounds of jungle. It was awesome!! There was a hammock on the little balcony, and I spent almost 2 hours just lying there enjoying the peace. It was the definition of tranquility.

The location was also killer. It was only about a 2 minute walk from the beach. The beach had an incredible view of the notorious limestone cliffs of the Andaman Sea. I think there were maybe 4 other people on the beach. I found a deserted hammock in the shade, and did about 2 more hours of relaxing in a hammock.image

The bungalow was on the eastern side of the island, and I wanted to see the sunset, so I drove all the way across to the western side to see the sunset. It took me a whopping 11 minutes. I found a seafood restaurant with a perfect view. I ordered blue crab, and watched as the chef walked down to the dock and pulled the crab out of a net in the ocean. I think it’s safe to say it was the most delicious crab I’ve ever eaten, and one of the most peaceful nights spent watching the sun set.

Although my time in Koh Yao Noi was brief, it was just the type of relaxation I needed after a crazy couple of weeks of teaching kindergarten. I am so incredibly spoiled to have paradise in my backyard.

 

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Week 2 of Kindergarten

I’m starting to get into the swing of things, and  now time is flying by.

Working at the school hardly feels like work. The teachers at the school are all wonderful, and make for great company throughout the day. The English department has teachers from all over- the U.S., South Africa, Scotland, England, Ireland, Australia, and of course Thailand. Everyone brings their own slang and dialects, and I can’t imagine how my vocabulary will change over the next year. So far, I’ve caught myself using the words “mates” “keen” and “proper” in ways that I hadn’t before I had arrived. To my students I am supposed to use the word “trainers” for tennis shoes, but I don’t think that word will stick with me. Same with “jumper” for sweater. I won’t be calling it that when I get home.

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This is Paeng. She is the sweetest little girl in my class. Always well behaved, and she’s crazy smart. She’s a little doll.

The students have really started to adjust to me, and I’m impressed at how quickly they’ve done it. The construction at the school has me shouting out my lessons, but the kids are still managing to pay attention. The construction outside of our classroom is set to last at least another two months, which nobody is too excited about. It is rumored that the whole Kathu District is supposed to be without power for the next 2 weeks. That should be interesting. Hopefully it will give us a break from the construction!

I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before, but our classroom is open-air. So far it hasn’t been too hot, but we’re technically not in the hot season yet. If 87 degrees is not considered the hot season, I’m curious to see what is. I like the open air room, as we have some critters that come and go as they please. These are including, but not limited to: dragonflies, giant bees, birds, lizards, and dogs. It’s hard to keep the kids under control when a critter enters the room. The other day a giant bee flew into the classroom, and my attention span matched that of my students.

The Thai teacher in my classroom, Fee, is awesome and we get along great. She is always willing to step in when I need help, but she keeps her distance otherwise. She is 7 months pregnant, so she’s training a new teacher to take over for when she’s on maternity leave. Here’s the depressing part:

The principle told Fee that she is to keep her pregnancy a secret. She is single, and a Muslim, so the pregnancy is frowned upon. Fee has been wearing giant if dresses, but compared to her small frame you can definitely tell she’s not just gaining weight. I’ve heard that she won’t be on maternity leave for long, because once the baby is born she has to give it to her parents to raise because she doesn’t have a partner.

She is always smiling though. Thai people, I tell you what.

It’s crazy to think that I’ve only been teaching for two weeks, but I’ve been affected as a person. Something about guidingimage 30 five-year-olds makes you feel like you should be a better human being. It’s like having 30 mirrors staring back at me. I so badly want to be a positive role model for them. The picture on the right is from our P.E. class on Wednesday. I HATED P.E. growing up. I’ve always wished I were more enthusiastic about physical activity. I guess now I’m going to have to learn!

On Friday I received the great news that my work permit was finally processed. I  found out a little more about what the holdup was. The school I’m teaching at has a contract with an “English Language Provider” so a company that is paid to help staff teachers at schools around the island. The company is basically HR for the school’s English programs. They are in charge of processing all of my paperwork as it relates to the work permit and teaching license. The school signs a yearly contract with the provider, and usually it is a smooth process. Well, this year the guy at the very top of the organization died. His replacement came in and wanted to review every last detail of the contract with the school. Neither the school nor the company knew with 100% certainty that the contract was going to go through. Apparently the entire English department had their jobs on the line. I was still on vacation when this was going on, so I had no idea.  It usually takes about 1 week to process a work permit, and mine took about 6 weeks. Now I can leave the country and re-enter on a Non-Immigrant B Visa.

I was talking to my supervisor about when I could leave the school to do my visa run. On Friday, December 4th, normal classes are cancelled and the students come to school for Father’s Day activities. I’m not sure if I’ve previously mentioned, but Father’s Day is always on the king’s birthday. I’m under the impression that it’s less about biological fathers and more about the king. There are shirts everywhere that say “I love Dad” and have a picture of the king on them.

Anyhow, the normal classes are cancelled on Friday, and then Monday is the official observance of the holiday, so schools are cancelled. I’ll have to leave Wednesday night in order to have 2 business days to process the paperwork. I am going to get to have a 5 day weekend to leave the country and get everything taken care of. I got really excited, because I heard that the Thai embassy in Singapore is really nice and efficient, and I wanted to go because, well, it’s a weekend trip to Singapore. I started looking into flights ($45 round trip, at that), when one of the teachers told me to make sure the paperwork wasn’t written for a specific embassy. Sure enough, we asked the secretary and she said it’s all addressed to the embassy in Penang, Malaysia. I was a little bummed, but it’s still a new place. I’m going to try to get my paperwork done quickly so then I can hop on a plane to Singapore for the 3 day weekend. Wow, I’m so spoiled. I’m just going to “hop on down to Singapore.”

Speaking of spoiled…

With another long and exhausting week of school finished, I decided to get out of the city and head over to the island of Koh Yao Noi for the weekend. My experience on the island was amazing, and it will definitely require its own blog post (coming soon!)

Here’s a fun fact to leave you with:

My school is a Buddhist school, so the kids say a prayer at assembly every morning. There are 2 kids in my class who aren’t Buddhist, so they just stand with their hands at their sides. Every Thursday, everyone wears white because the school goes vegetarian. Pretty cool!

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Teaching Kindergarten in Thailand- Week 1

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. image

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.

Before

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

After

After

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. image

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.

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Moo 2 Kathu

We’re not in Phuket Town anymore!

Thursday was the final day of our TEFL course. We all went in and did a course evaluation, listened to a final spiel from our instructors, and then received our certificates and took a group photo.  I am classphotopretty relieved that the class is done!

Friday was the day that I moved out of the Phuket Center Apartments. It was actually kind of sad. I lived there for a month, and had gotten to know some of the staff. To anyone looking to travel around Phuket Town, I highly recommend staying there.

Before I packed up and moved, I went back to the photo shop because I needed pictures taken for my teacher’s license, work permit, and Non Immigrant B Visa. A few posts back I had mentioned that I went to her for a CV photo, and I was pretty impressed with how she could photoshop the sweat from my face in the wrinkles in my shirt. This time I needed 12 photos- six 6×5 cm and six 3x4cm. The guidelines for the photos are pretty strict- hair must be neatly pulled back, no jewelry, no smiling, blue background, and you must wear a collared shirt. I didn’t pack a single collared shirt, but she assured me that she could photoshop one on.image

Whereas last time I waited 5 minutes in the shop, this time the woman told me to come back in about 15 minutes and they’d be ready. I really wish I could’ve stayed and monitored her editing of the photos. When I came back to pick them up, I was trying so hard not to laugh. She could’ve at least asked me which shirt I wanted! Why did she have to make me so pale?! Why is my head so much smaller than my body?!?! I was laughing hysterically inside, but I politely smiled and thanked her. This lovely picture is going on my teacher’s license, work permit, and visa. Fantastic.

Packing and moving was pretty easy. When I left the US, my suitcase only weighed 33lbs. I really haven’t bought much since I’ve gotten here.  I started to neatly fold my clothes and arrange them in my bag, until I realized they were coming right back out in less than 1 hour. I shoved them all into the duffel bag, and sat on it to close it.

The area I moved to is called Kathu (pronounced ka-too).  Neighborhoods or residential zones are called “moo,” and I’m in the 2nd one, so my address is “Moo 2 Kathu,” which I think is hilarious.  Moving into my new place was exciting, as is moving into any new place. I realized pretty quickly that I needed to do some shopping for things like hangers, trash bags, shampoo, etc., so I decided to go to Tesco Lotus, the Walmart of Thailand. The Tesco Lotus here is bigger than any Walmart I’ve ever been into. They have anything you could think of. There is a religious aisle in the store where you can purchase gift baskets for monks.  (Side note: I haven’t learned too much about Buddhist culture yet, but I know that as a lady, I am not supposed to offer a gift directly to a monk).

When I was done shopping, I found a taxi stand out front with set prices on a list. I asked one of the men how much to go to my apartment complex, and he pointed at 300 TBH. I knew it was way overpriced, and so I haggled him down to 150 (which is still overpriced), but I got him down from $8 to $4, and I was ready to get home.  And I had a lot of stuff.

The driver spoke English pretty well, and he talked a lot.  He is a sweet old man who likes to practice his English, and told me that if I ever need a driver, he would come pick me up. He told me to call him Mr.B, and he is quite the character. During the 10 minute ride home, I had learned that he had an English teacher named Sarah who was from Michigan. He recently lost his wife to stomach cancer, and he is always looking for new friends. He told me that he would take me to meet a woman who could teach me how to cook Thai food, and he would translate for me.  He gave me his phone number, and had me call it to make sure it worked. It all sounded like a sweet deal, but I took it with a grain of salt. Unfortunately I probably won’t be taking him up on his offer, because I’m just not sure I can trust him. I saved his number in my phone in case I’m with friends and in need of a ride, though.

imageOnce I got all unpacked into my place, I went down for a swim in my new pool. The pool is huge!!! It isn’t terribly deep, but it’s ideal for swimming laps or relaxing. The trees that line the perimeter of the pool produce a gorgeous white flower.  These flowers are amazing. Here they fall off the trees and float in the pool, and it’s absolutely serene.

These type of flowers remind me so much of a friend that I lost a couple years ago in November. She would always wear one of these flowers behind her ear. The first time I saw them on a tree, I got pretty emotional that I couldn’t write her and tell her that these flowers are everywhere in Thailand. I really miss her.

Anyhow.

Tomorrow I am going into the school to fill out all of my paperwork for the teacher’s license, work permit, and visa. Classes are out until November, but I’m going to be working on redecorating my classroom. The school year is only halfway done for the students, so it’s going to be a big change for them. My boss told me that the children are going to test me, so I have to be incredibly strict. She told me, “no smiles until Christmas.” My property manager told me that Thais love foreign teachers because they won’t hit the students. Corporal punishment is still a thing here, but unfortunately I’m not in any position to say anything about it. I’ll know more about it once I’m actually in the classroom.

That’s about all I’ve got for now. I made a video tour of my apartment for your viewing pleasure. It was awkward for me to talk to myself during the tour, and it’s painfully obvious in my voice. Enjoy!

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