Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I Have a Red Pen

I am now a real live teacher; I have a red pen (and boy, do I use it), and I come home from class covered in chalk because we have good old-fashioned chalkboards in the classrooms. We also have good old-fashioned lack of air conditioning, so I embarassingly sweat all over my students for the first 20 minutes of every class. 

I really enjoy the job, but it is challenging. Getting into the classroom has (predictably) given me loads more respect for every teacher I've ever had - well, at least for how difficult the job is. You are an actor, improv comedian, public, speaker,  educator, editor and sometimes counselor, and that's just for the students. There's the politician side of dealing with administration, but it hasn't been too bad for me so far. 

My job is relatively easy compared to other teaching jobs because the curriculum is already planned for me, but teaching in Thailand is a challenge for western-educated people. You cannot measure your success in the engagement and involvement of your students; they are generally (because they have been taught to be) completely silent in class. They have been taught that asking questions is disrespectful because it implies that the teacher did not teach well. They are rarely required to participate in class (which makes it hard to learn to speak a language); they are passive receptors of information. 

They try hard to adapt to my style, but it takes all my energy to get them to answer questions. They will say it out loud as a group, but I would never hope to have someone volunteer an answer. I am experimenting with different strategies and these days I'm getting a little more out of them (today we sort of had a discussion about drug use in Thailand).

In general my students are quiet, shy, and respectful. When they see my in the hall or walk into class, they wai me (a respectful gesture of placing the hands in prayer position and bowing the head). They pay attention and usually do what I ask. They love it when I act funny and ridiculous, and generally seem to like me (sometimes they bring me gifts of food!) 

The English ability of my students varies widely. I have students that can't understand me when I tell them to open their books, and I have students who have studied abroad in the US for a year -in the same class. In one of my first-year classes, I have a crew of math majors that sit in the back and fall asleep, and then I have a group that gets excited when they see me, sits in the front, chats with me and asks questions about life in the US. 

Most of my best students are young women who want to be flight attendants (so they must be conversational in English - and beautiful, for that matter) for Asian airlines. Stewardess is a very prestigious job here and is a dream job for many of my students. 

All of my students have very long, phonetically complicated (ie. impossible for westerners to pronounce) names like: Khanakorn Rassameearpakorn, Nattayaporn Rattanawijit and Potchanaporn Huabcharoen which are written in English on my roster, but are really pronounced nothing like I might expect. 

Lucky for me, everyone has a nickname that they go by (even for other Thai people). The words are often English words, like Beer, Palm, and Fang, which you would think would make things easier. Unfortunately, they are pronounced bee-ah, paahm and fawn so even if I call on people with their nicknames, they still have no idea who I am talking about. That's okay though because most of them just call me "Teechaaaah" :)


Anonymous said...

most Asian students are taught to behave like that in class - quiet but never passive. you have to devise methods to get them to participate. They are mostly shy especially around foreigners.

catbiddle said...

I'm not sure because it was awhile ago, but I think we met at the very small, intimate PIA orientation the day before you were about to leave for Thailand and two days before I was leaving for India. Anyhow, I just wanted to say I saw your blog on the PIA list and I really liked this post. It's just as true here!

All the best,

Ethan said...

Teechaaah! Haha that's awesome. It reminds me of The Princess Bride, "I am coming for you Vicini!"