It’s now the end of my 2nd week working at Wat Wetawan school, and I’ve done something different everyday. Meaning, my fellow volunteer Allie and I have been thrown into a confusing new situation each day. Which is decidedly better than monotony, but decoding the students’ and teachers’ English abilities (or, more like disabilities) daily when we arrive at school at 8 am leaves little room for lesson plans or prepared materials.
For example, when we showed up in Pitsuda’s office (Pitsuda is the school nurse/ volunteer liaison. Wears Hello Kitty slippers in her office and is drenched in sparkles everyday; she’s fabulous.) on our first day, she says, “Okay, now we go lead activities!” Not so hard, sounds fun? Except we were handed a microphone and expected to organize 200 kindergartners into some sort of “activity,” which started as the Hokey Pokey and ended as a dance-off. Fun, but lots of confused stares, too. Then, Allie and I were shuttled into separate classrooms, and told, “You teach now!” The teacher then left the room and proceeded to text message/chat on her cell phone for the next 3 hours, while I struggled to translate something productive. Colors, the rainbow, animals, numbers, and the alphabet were taught via pictures, coloring, and lots of pointing and repetition. For 5 year olds, just the exposure to English sounds and letters is overwhelming (hence their 2 hour nap in the middle of the day). I’ve noticed that the teachers in Thailand seem to be passive authority figures, in the sense that they sit in a chair while teaching and do not usually participate interactively with the students while they do activities. This became apparent to me in my first ten minutes at school, when I entered the play room and promptly sat on the floor and started toppling blocks and throwing balls at kids. I was having fun, but eliciting questioning stares from a teacher, who insisted I sit in a chair and watch. No, thanks, I like to color with crayons on the floor. So, the little kiddies are adorable, and most are eager to learn. Or maybe they’re just fascinated by the funny looking farang.
Allie and I have had a more structured, directed teaching experience now that we are working with the special education class in the mornings and the upper classes in the afternoons (4th-6th grades; each class receives 1 hr of English 3 times/wk), where their teachers speak excellent English and can help us translate instructions to the students. Even some of the students speak far better English than their teachers, and we can communicate well enough to hang out and learn about each other.
Each time we enter a class, the students are instructed to stand up and robotically recite “Good morning, teacher. How are you?” To which we reply, “I am fine, thank you, and you?” “I am fine, thank you teacher.” Which, typed, doesn’t impart the hilarity of 40 kids chanting in unison with huge tone swings in the words like Thai language has (5 tones= different meanings). So, I’m teeecheR AHHHbEEEE. One thing all Thai kids love, other than their daily kilo of sugar, is games. Everything competitive= fun, so we play bingo, hangman, charades, and a Jeopardy game we made. As long as there’s a winner, a loser, and a prize, English is fun!