A Teaching Tale of Two Halves
So I’ve actually started teaching, as in properly, every day, timetable and the whole shebang. The results of this have been pretty split down the middle so I’ll tell you both sides.
My first day of teaching I wouldn’t say was a total train wreck but there was definitely leaves and corpses and telegraph wires and all sorts of issues all over the line. I had planned my lessons around lots of chanting and song-singing but the children just stared at me dumb-founded. All the gesturing in the world didn’t seem to make any difference, I could get them to mimic the actions to songs but I couldn’t for the life of me get them to actually open their mouths unless it was to giggle shyly. Which, let’s be honest, is a bit essential when you’re learning a language and you can’t yet read or write. Both lessons on my first day felt long and awkward and both were cut short by the teacher saying ‘mai pen lai (no worries), bad day.’ After my lessons I felt flat and worried, could I really take a whole 6 months of doing that every day? I told myself that it’s only a few hours in the morning of actual teaching and that it was paying for me to be in Thailand so yes, I could. I was dreading going back into the classroom the next day more than a trip to the colonoscopist though and it was with great reluctance that I did.
This brings me to the second part of my tale; as bad as day one was, day two was awesome. I totally re-jigged my lesson plan, cut out the stuff that hadn’t worked and tried a new approach (which was more or less singing every word). I was left to my own devices with just the classroom assistants the next day which immediately made me feel more relaxed and able to fool about and most significantly this day’s classes had no tables, which meant that I could easily move among my four year olds and have them dancing and doing heads, shoulders, knees and toes like seasoned pros. From now on the first thing I do is get them away from the tables; they’re more free to play and I’m less of a big scary falang at the front of the class if I’m sitting on the floor with them. I also invented a genius method of crowd control. To teach the children good night and good morning I have them all say ‘good night’ and lie down on the floor pretending to be asleep. Then, at my command, they will all wake up and say ‘good morning.’ Throughout the lesson when the 40 kids are getting out of hand and have ceased to pay any attention to me I just clap my hands and shout ‘good night’ and they hit the deck and ‘sleep’ until I tell them otherwise – genius. Teaching them to do this was even more fun as everything has to be demonstrated since it can’t be explained; I walked into the middle of the room, waved at the children and then lay down on the floor, said ‘good night’ and began to snore like a drunken sailor. The kids were beside themselves with hysterics and clambered all over me trying to wake me up until I (mimicked my Dad) and woke up with a jump and a roar, then chased them round the classroom (Dad doesn’t do the latter part of that). Ever since I got the knack of 4 year olds, and lost any sense of dignity, I have loved teaching. I basically spend most of my days strutting round a classroom pretending to be a chicken followed by lots of little chicks screeching ‘chick-chick-chick-chick-chickeeennNN’ at the top of their lungs. For some reason one class is obsessed with chickens and whatever subject I choose to teach they will always have at least five minutes of being chickens. My lead chicken is a beautiful little girl who I have nick-named chick-chick. It’s understood that we will not know the children’s names; they don’t even try and tell us, but the vast majority of Thai children, whether they have English teachers or not, go by nick-names (some of which are pretty weird). So far I have met Sauce, Glass, Breeze, Flower, L, Earth and Ming Ming. I have started to name some of mine unofficially just so I can sort them out in my head. There’s Chick-Chick of course, Daddy (because he looks weirdly like a Thai version of my dad at 4 years old), Porcelain (because he looks like a little doll), Smiles, Pete and Little Bear. Pete and Smiles are probably my favourites, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Smiles walk; he skips, hops, runs, spins, dances – never walks. Even before we were introduced he would run up to me, his little fists balled under his chin with nervous energy and squeak ‘good morning!’ with an irresistible impish grin and skip off. He reminds me a lot of my brother when we were children. He’s such a little comedian that he can never really get in trouble because he’ll just make you laugh. Pete is a girl and I’m not sure what her real name is but when I tried to ask her the only word I could extract from the 4 sentence response was ‘Pete’, so Pete she is. She’s basically a girl version of Smiles except naughtier and without question the prettiest child I’ve ever seen. I’ll try and get you a photo. She is also a bit of a floozy, she never does what she’s told unless you chase her round the classroom and tickle her feet, and the rest of the time she’s generally sprawled over one of the boy’s laps.
Little Bear makes me sad, I need to do a few disclaimers on points I made in earlier posts. I mentioned before that surprisingly there are just as many fat kids in Thailand as there are in Britain but what I didn’t mention was that the ones which are skinny can be really skinny. Little Bear is 4 and he is so undernourished that he is hardly bigger than a baby, to the extent that it looks surprising when he stands up and walks. His neck is narrower than my ankle, his wrists hardly wider than my big toes and he still has the tiny rosebud hands of a newborn. Where the other children have podgy thighs and chubby cheeks he is lean and angular; his cheekbones rigid underneath his eyes which seem enormous. The first few days he cried desperate fat tears, conspicuous amongst the other immaculate children for his tiny frame and obviously inherited, dirty, stained school uniform with pen scribbles on the back. Now he seems much more well-adjusted. He has made friends and charges about the classroom with the rest of them. Every morning he has his free school milk and then his school lunch and he can keep going back as much as he wants. I really hope that I will see Little Bear transform by the time I leave.
The other minor disclaimer I need to make is regarding a comment I made about some lady-boys being sex trafficked from Cambodia as pretty children and then groomed to feed the lady-boy tourist trade. This is true but it is also true that Thailand really does just have a relaxed attitude to gender. In Katie’s class there is a little girl and one day this little girl pulled her skirt up (as 5 year olds are wont to do) and underneath this skirt there was a pair of pink knickers and a full set of male appendages. The child wanted to be a girl so was allowed to be a girl. Happy days. I suppose if you’re Buddhist you could say that perhaps she was a girl in her previous life and hasn’t adjusted well to being a boy. Mai Pen Lai.
The last update is that on Monday I downloaded the Babylon Thai translation service and translated two sentences into Thai script. The first said ‘I like spicy Thai food.’ I showed it to MyPad who gave me a condescending smile as if to say ‘sure you do you falang fuss-arse.’ Then I showed her the second sentence which said ‘but I only eat vegetarian food.’ Her eyes widened; ‘ooohhh,’ she said with the expression of a woman for whom a whole bag of pennies has just dropped. Since then every day I get deep-fried eggs with hot runny yolks, omelettes, extra rice and chilli sauce, cake, vines of lychees and one teacher every day brings me a bowl of som tam so hot it can make your eyes water from 10 feet away. They think it’s hilarious that I eat this up without complaint as they generally believe that we westerners eat nothing but boiled potato. I do feel a little like I have a point to prove now they know why I wasn’t eating what they gave me before. Hooray!
Off to Hua Hin for the long weekend now and some r & r again. I’m gettin’ me a massage on the beach.