How to Teach, What to Wear, Teacher Tributes, and Teacher Journals

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  • A Tribute to Ms. Anneliese Charek by Jessica Gallant 2010

    This is not the greatest song in the world, this is just a tribute. To a beautiful ballerina named Anneliese Charek. I arrived in Surat Thani the day after Anneliese in October of 2010. It’s almost October of 2011, and I cannot imagine my year here without her. Before I get into the bromance stuff, however, let me talk about her first as the Queen of Productivity.

    I have only known a few people like her in my entire life. This woman can, and does, do everything. She works more than anyone else at Super English, and this is not abnormal for her. She’s the type of person who had three jobs at once in the United States, worked seven days a week, and put herself through college. Not only that, she was in a dance company that toured and she still had time to sew some awesome clothes. When she was working in Prague last year, she found time to go to film school. She doesn’t waste time talking about what she’s going to do—she just does it. I wish I could manage my time like she can. Even here she works seven days a week. She works at Thida, she used to do college classes five nights a week, she does a preschool class, and she teaches ballet to little monsters on the weekend. Whenever there’s work to be had, Anneliese takes it and does a killer job.

    In addition to being employee of the millennium, Anneliese is a really creative, unique person. She is so artistic and can find and make beauty in everything. It’s incredible. She’s one of those people who can effortlessly dress herself into a beautiful, classy lady, while girls like me can’t even figure out how to put on eyeliner. That’s okay though, because whenever an occasion warrants getting fancy, she jumps at the chance to make me and the other Super ladies beautiful. She dresses us and does our makeup. I wish she could be my personal stylist full time.

    Her artistic creativity greatly benefits her students. She makes the coolest games for her classes, and they always look so adorable and professional—which is a hard combination to pull off. She can draw, she can dance, she can make clothes, she can take beautiful photographs, and she can have beautiful photographs taken of her. She is so beautiful that Thai people often stop her and ask her if they can take a photo. This is such a regular occurrence that one day when a woman asked her, she didn’t think anything of it. Until she ended up on a huge billboard at the corner of Chalokratt and Amphur Roads. For real, the girl got a billboard.

    But anyway, that’s all surface beauty. She’s got it on the inside too, big time. I know this because she not only put up with me as a roommate for a year, but also on extensive vacations to Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Cambodia. She’s an awesome person to travel with. I say this because she is the same kind of traveler I am. She plans, plans, plans before a trip. And once there, she wants to go to museums and cultural events. When we were in Vietnam we saw both the body of Ho Chi Minh and a traditional water puppet theater performance. In Cambodia we went to the National Museum of Art and saw a traditional Khmer Dance show. She was everything I could have hoped for in a travelling buddy.

    Maybe the coolest thing about her is that her journey of international domination does not end here in Thailand. She plans on living abroad for many years, teaching ESL, and seeing the world. She is the friend who I will be living vicariously through as I sit at my desk at work or in my apartment in the US. She was there for me when I was sad, she hugged me when I cried, and she listened when I needed her too. She is an excellent teacher, a beautiful woman, and a good friend. I feel lucky to have spent this year with her. I will miss her so much, and I know everyone else here in Surat will as well. Much love, Anneliese!

  • A Tribute to Johnet By Blake Schlaich 2011

    First, there was Bennifer. Then, there was Brangelina. But never in the history of name smashing has there ever been a power couple like Johnet. Brad Pitt, dreamy… John Phelps, dreamier. Angelina Jolie, humanitarian… Janet Phelps, humanitarian… er. I don’t know how they do it. Somehow John and Janet are the raddest people around… maybe even in the whole town.

    No lie. Right now, as I write this epic saga/ website article, John and Janet have just walked through the front door of my house. Did they knock? Nope. Were they even invited? Not by me. But it’s okay, because in usual Johnet fashion they stroll in with smiles on their faces, a radiant glow following them, and… wait for it… ROOT BEER MF’N FLOATS! What can I say? This is just what John and Janet do. Magical things. Side note: Did I mention that instead of motorbikes, they have matching purple unicorns?

    But seriously, they’re always thinking of other people, without ever expecting anything in return. For the Super English team, John and Janet are both are bosses and our friends. I don’t know how they balance the two so perfectly. Without the two of them, Super English would probably be more like a rusty old push bike than the well-oiled machine that it is. Somehow, through incredible time management and amazing organization, they pull of the strenuous tasks of helping Peter run Super English, managing all 12 Super teachers, teaching a full schedule themselves, and still having time to be the leaders of the pack when it comes to socializing in Surat.

    Be it for work related or for personal reasons, if I ever need anything I know that Johnet will always be there to talk to. Anytime I’m having problems with a class or need help planning a lesson Johnet has the answer. If I need to vent about all the Thai women blowing up my phone, Johnet has an ice cold Leo waiting for me on their porch.

    They do everything 100%. I’ve seen both of them teach and its incredible how much they put into it. The amount of energy and enthusiasm that they bring to every class is second only to the amount of hard work and care they put into their teaching. Watching them work, you can see that they really do want the students to have fun, but also to learn and succeed in language.

    On the flip side, they are two of my best friends here and whenever I’m looking for fun I know they are in. Whether it’s driving out to the waterfall for a jungle adventure (ask John about the leeches) or heading out to the clubs in Surat (don’t ask Janet for dance advice), Johnet will be always down for
    whateva.

    I honestly cannot imagine Surat Thani, or Thailand for that matter, without the Phelps. Oh Janet, your insistence for karaoke has created a soundtrack for so many fuzzy memories of mine. Your homemade tortillas remind me of the summer I spent as a farmhand in Baja California. Oh John, your constant Johnisms don’t get the respect they deserve. And of course those awesome banana and chocolate chip pancakes accompanied by French pressed coffee that saved me so many mornings. Finally… those damn cats (sneeze sneeze itch scratch gasp for air). It’s been an epic first year in Surat and thanks to Johnet; I know the next six months will only be better.

  • A Tribute to Mitch by Janet 2011

    From Janet's brain:

    It might seem mean, but I kind of decided not to be friends with Mitch when he first moved here. Mitch and his long-time girlfriend were in the midst of a messy break-up when they first moved to Surat Thani, so to avoid “compulsively making things worse” (which — No shit — my fortune cookie told me to stop doing), I decided to cement my blossoming friendship with Girl- who-no-longer-is-friend and leave mopey Mitch behind.

    But Mitch was just so damn sweet he won me over.

    It started with our trip to Cambodia together. “Together” meaning we ran into each other at the border and ended up sticking together for the entire time. He was so easy-going. He let John and Girl and me make the decisions about where to eat, where to go. He never complained or whined about anything. He was accommodating and kind.

    So in the end, when the chips fell and Girl left, I felt like we got stuck with the very lucky half of that pairing.

    He's kind of changed a lot this year— he's been through a lot of ups and downs —but he's always been kind and luxuriously generous with his time and energy. He's always willing to do you a favor, share a drink, take a trip, pick you up, take you around, go out, stay in, watch TV, share a book, drink coffee — or anything else —with you.

    When I lit into him with a stream of angry cursing after a housemate-related incident one time, he just looked at me all laid-back and said, “I'm sorry, man.” Just like that. Not defensive or anything. Just simple and real.

    And that's kind of how he is about everything. He never complains* about stuff, even when things suck really bad. Like, he never complains about the mess around the house or about how he always has to pick up the cat poop or anything.

    When John and I decided to move out of our SE housing and needed a housemate to share rent with, Mitch agreed. When we wanted to adopt a cat, Mitch got excited about it. When we needed our space, Mitch disappeared. When we needed a friend, he showed up! Like magic.


    And then there's the work stuff. I was living with Mitch when I took over as head teacher and had to train and orientate the first group of new teachers. As I made dinner for everyone, Mitch cleaned the house. And then, while I sat in the living room and talked about lesson plans, Mitch made coffee. And washed dishes. And then later he called those new teachers to make sure they were doing OK, and he showed them where to get drunk and get coffee. He never got any credit for it, but he was such a vital part of how well everyone did this semester. And all of that is really, really important when you've got a close-knit small group of teachers like we do. That's, like, what he does all the time.

    I love him. But more importantly, Juicebox** loves him. And that's what really counts.

    *He does whine a lot though when it comes to dancing. I've never known anyone as whiney about dancing as Mitch. That said, he's come with me enough times to Pool Bar to reach sainthood for someone who whines about it as much as he does.

    **Juicebox is a cat. Mitch named her. She's brought a new meaning to all of our lives. “Holla, JB.”

  • John Phelps Is Awesome by Mitch Burbick 2010

    Let’s be frank. Super English is full of awesome teachers. It’s part of what makes working here so great, everyone’s general level of awesomeness is off the charts. However, there is one man that stands alone, at the head of this crowded grouping of awesome, and his name is John Phelps. He is all at once the man, the machine, the legend. His teaching skills are the things of epic book length poems, and if this were the middle ages, bards would be singing his adventures
    across the plague ridden English country. He is almost everything all young boys want to be and more than everything mothers hope their daughters will one day have luck and looks enough to catch. John Phelps, this one’s for you.

    John is a great teacher. When I first got to Thailand and was training, I had the pleasure of watching him teach a few classes. I wasn’t experienced at that point and he made everything look so easy and full of energy. Little did I know that having a fun class that’s full of energy at the end of the semester is almost as hard as pulling a rabbit out of a hat. (A live rabbit.)

    John is a never ending source of inspiration for games and teaching gimmicks. The man is a machine in this regard. I’m convinced he goes to sleep not just because his body needs it, but just to recharge his lesson planning abilities. There have been plenty, and by plenty I mean countless, mornings where I’ve come out of the shower shivering and wondering how the heck I’m going to get across to my students what I need to get across to them. Almost without fail John has off the top of his head come up with not just one, but multiple ideas on how to blow my student’s brains wide open. I haven’t had the chance to watch him teach recently, but hearing his stories of limbo competitions, animal dance offs, and general unbelievably imaginative antics, I know his kids are enjoying one of the best teachers Super English has to offer.

    John’s teaching powers are so legendary that he’s been called in as back up muscle for a class that’s been known to chew up and spit out teachers over the past year. What’s been difficult for others hasn’t fazed the man. He’s come in, batted clean up, and stuck with it. Serious praise is deserved for this type of go-get-‘em attitude.

    As a housemate and friend, John has been incredible not just to me, but to everyone lucky enough to be on the Super team. John has always made himself a guy I could always talk to no matter what. Both his wife Janet and himself make themselves available, whenever the time. From welcoming new teachers with banana and chocolate chip pancakes and French press coffee to rallying everyone for a weekend motorbike ride to an out of town waterfall, he’s always thoughtful and inclusive.

    John really is the best that Super English has to offer. A hard working, genuine, adventurous, empathetic and generous person to the core. My time here in Thailand, along with everyone’s that has worked with him, has been greatly bettered by John’s presence. John Phelps, he’s the man.

  • A Tribute to Cool Hand Burbick from The Phelps' 2011

    From John's brain:

    If Steinbeck and Hemingway were read over the ambient beats of Mogwai, you would get the vibe of Mitchell Burbick. What's going on, Mitch? “Nothing” is usually the reply, but as we all know, sometimes “nothing” is a pretty cool hand. I have known Mitch for the entire time he has been here in Surat. We have even shared half-developed chicken fetus landmine eggs in Cambodia. Nothing freaks this guy out. He has a calm that that he carries unflinchingly.

    Traveling to Chiang Mai for Songkran with Mitch was awesome. We walked the streets and talked about his broken heart and post-rock by night. By day we posted up by the canal blasted people with buckets of dirty brown amoeba water. Just as the sun was going down one day, Mitch took a smashing bucket straight to the face and his tortoise shell deluxe vintage limited edition Ray-bans flew into the canal. Did old Cool Hand sit down and cry? Nope. He just jumped into the canal and fished around between the polio, chicken bones, and syphilis until he came up with glasses in hand! I don't even think his skin changed more than two or three tints.

    I once watched Mitch sit with sentinel-style poise as a motorbike crashed into his Suzuki from behind. He went down, but certainly maintaining a Steve McQueen grasp on all things nonplussed. Most people would take the opportunity to fly into an angry fit, but not Mitch. He was gracious about it, even though his body and 'Hello Kitty!' stickers had nearly been destroyed. (For those of you that don't know, this Kitty figure adorns Mitch as well as curry on chicken.)

    When he came over here, all dark and mysterious, I have to admit I had a little bit of a man crush. No, not a bro-mance. I didn't write him any sonnets or anything like that. I just figured we could do things like talk about engines, types of barbed wire, and guns... oh yeah, and sports and stuff. Since I am already married, I asked him if he would like to be our housemate. We had a few good months together, and then he fell hard for our huntress neighbor. He would go visit her for hours at night. He would come home smelling like her. Then, he even began to talk about her everywhere we went. Then he finally took her home. Her hair was everywhere, screaming infidelities. Then she shat on my floor. That feline is a home-wrecker!

    Even though Mitch may give you sarcastic crack and a wry smile sometimes, he has got the listening capacity of a dense forest of sequoia trees. There have been several times where I needed to talk to someone to get the junk out of my head. Mitch has offered his ears freely, without feeling that he had to fill up the conversational space with extra words. The words I leave with Mitch stay there, maybe getting soaked up by his roots and sent skyward to his leaves. This is a rare thing in people, and I enjoy this very much about him.

    My heart is heavy when I think about him leaving us for his next home in Japan. He is now an equipped teacher in addition to being a wise friend and man of solitude. He has cast a broad net in Surat Thani, and pulled many friends close. At the same time, he has kept his quiet life of reflection and poetry steeping and becoming ever stronger to the taste. He will be a gift to all those that receive him.

  • Tribute to Mrs. Janet Phelps by Brittney Johnson 2011

    I have had the great honor of knowing, working and traveling with, and being friends with Janet Phelps, Super English’s Manager. I’d like to take this time to highlight some experiences I have shared with Janet as well as point out some of her unique qualities that make her an outstanding manager and friend.

    First of all, Janet is one of the most upbeat, positive people I know. You will rarely find her sitting absolutely still. She always seems to be moving about doing something productive. I fortunately live three houses down from her, so I have the benefit of being able to see how Janet lives on a day to day basis, not just from a working point of view. Janet’s house always seems to be open to people. It is “the place” people go to; to meet up, eat a shared meal, watch a movie, plan things for school functions, eat weekend breakfasts, porch hang outs, drink a cup of coffee, have a beer, or just drop by to say hi. I truly admire that about Janet. Even after a long days work, she is still available to everyone at Super English. People feel comfortable to come to Janet, however small or big the issue is, whether its work related or a personal matter.

    It must be difficult to be a boss and friend at the same time. Janet does an amazing job of balancing the two. She is able to kick back and have fun with everyone. She is the one to usually plan a social event and to get people excited about it. But on the other hand, she is also able to get serious when it’s necessary. Even though she is a young boss, but that doesn’t stop her from being professional and everyone respects her for that. She does a brilliant job of stepping in when she is needed, but also giving teachers space to be creative and to figure certain things out on their own. She is a very approachable person. I’ve always felt comfortable going to Janet for advice about lesson plan ideas, traveling, teaching, housing, and personal issues.


    On a personal note, Janet is so much fun to be around! I’ve laughed with her more than anyone else in Surat Thani. She has a unique, witty, bubbly and cheerful personality. She always has a way of turning something that may be negative into something that is positive. She is truly encouraging and affirming. I would say she is an optimist. She always has a way of looking at things from a “glass is half full” perspective. And that is contagious. She can turn a sour atmosphere into a light-hearted, cheery environment. And that is so important in a foreign country. People that move to a foreign country to teach English are surrounded by all kinds of unfamiliar things. People can feel uncomfortable not only as first time teachers in the classroom, but also being around new people, not speaking the language, being in a new city, etc. Janet has done an amazing job of making new teachers feel at ease and comfortable in theirnew homes and in Surat Thani.

    I had the opportunity to travel with Janet to beaches, cities and islands with Thailand with Janet. I also went to Indonesia with her during the Christmas break. She is a wonderful travel partner! You get to see a different side of someone when traveling with them. I would travel with Janet again in a heartbeat! I’m thankful to have made some memories with her outside of Thailand.

    Janet is truly an inspiration to me in so many ways. I admire her ambition, thoughtfulness, selflessness, and honesty. If there were more Janet Phelps’ in the world, it would be a better place.

  • From Bro to Bro: A Tribute to Mike By Blake Schlaich 2011

    I have known Mike for almost two years now. I can honestly say that he’s a great co-worker, roommate, and friend. We have had some wild times since we first met and when the going got tough Mike was always there. Together we’ve hopped islands all over the south of Thailand, survived Songkran in Chiang Mai, floated through Laos on the Mekong and in to Vietnam where we traveled from Hanoi to Saigon over the course of a month. In about a month we’ll be leaving for one last adventure (trekking to the Mt. Everest base camp in Nepal) before he gets on a plane for Prague.

    As excited as I am for Mike and for myself, I’ll be sad to see the bromance come to an end. But even if I’m staying in Thailand for little while longer, I’m sure that our paths will cross again.

    Mike’s an interesting dude. He quit a high paying marketing job in Hollywood to move to the other side of the world to teach English. That’s what I respect about Mike; I think we share the same ideas about what’s important in life. It’s more important to be happy and take pleasure in your lifestyle than it is to be working a 65-hour workweek and making good money.

    Enjoying the moment is what life is about and Mike gets that. And don’t think that I’m talking about being lazy. Mike’s no stranger to sweat. He’s one of the hardest workers I know. He puts his all in to everything he does, whether it’s a lesson for his Prathom students or working out to stay in shape. Aside from teaching full time traveling this past year, he wrote a novel. He wrote a friggin’ book! That’s insane!

    He’s also always been there if I’ve ever needed anything. Back in ‘Nam there were some times where Mike really saved the day. And by “back in ‘Nam” I’m not referring about the war, I’m talking about our epic motorcycle journey from Hanoi to Saigon (almost). The bikes we bought were constantly breaking down. One thing after another something went wrong. But no matter what happened Mike always kept cool and collected. Being the Renaissance Man that he is, he had experience with dirt bikes as a kid, and
    usually Mike was able to fix whatever the problem was. Sure, there were times when we had to go to a mechanic (ask Mike about “the motorcycle whisperer”) but more often than not, he had an idea about what to do.

    In the beginning of the term when I started work at Thida, I only had previous experience with Mathayom students. I wasn’t used to teaching P1-P3. I remember the first or second week I was freaking out because I couldn’t figure out a good activity to do with the little P2’s for their animal lesson. “Dude, that’s easy”, Mike said as he gave me the awesome idea to make the students different animals and then walk the remaining students around the class as if they were touring a zoo. It worked to perfection. I didn’t know little kids could have so much fun learning English!

    Anyway, Mike is a good dude and a great friend and I’m excited to see what happens next for him. If nothing else, he’s my excuse to go visit Prague and Eastern Europe! But first thing’s first… let’s tackle Everest!

  • A Tribute To Becky Kavoussi by Shelby Stroud 2011

    The Beckster and I were the only fresh meat to arrive in October. We had emailed a few times, but when I met her, she stampeded through the gate at the big house, threw down her bags, and said, “Oh my God, you’re Shelby. You look just like your pictures!” She swooped in for a hug. Moments later, we were in the car with Michael and Wen—headed to the oh so famous Big C, and I realized Becky was a wild force to be reckoned with when she shamelessly began belting Zombie with Wen.

    Becky is a spitfire, and somehow or another on zero sleep, little caffeine, and a bad day can still be full of positive energy. She’s never met a stranger, which I learned on night one with her at CN Blue. We instantly were handed drinks from the bottles of many locals as Becky made her rounds, speaking zero Thai but wearing a giant smile. Since then, she has made local friends that have taught her to play guitar, given her a few dreads, given her drinks while she chats with them at the 108, and even became a “regular” at a bar where they speak next to zero English but know her well.

    Another example of how positive Becky can be is that when her motorbike, so freshly purchased the bite of the cost hadn’t probably settled in, was stolen. I woke up to Becky and Brittany in a frenzy. They spent a long morning at the police station. I am sure a few frustrated tears were shed, but alas, Becky acknowledged it as being just an odd collaboration of events and that life goes on. After that, she pedaled around town on a bicycle with zero complaint in the bright, blazing, Thai sun.

    Beck-a-leck has a truly selfless heart. There are many times that she shows up to Super English or at The Big House with snacks, coffees, or whatever else that she shares with everyone passing through. Often times at work, I think to myself how I am hungry or need a caffeine buzz, and there she is with a tasty medley of coffee and snack. She never wants to take any Baht for it, but she is more than happy to share. If you are running low on cash at the bar or on a trip, she will be the first to spot you. I have even seen her go as far as to literally offer the shirt off of her back to Amber (okay, not literally, but you get the point), so that she would have a cover up.

    On that note, if you need a class covered, she is always willing and without a word of complaint. Becky has covered people’s classes at Thida, Suratpittiya, and has worked every camp or extra opportunity given to her. She is very mai pen rai about it, and forges her on path in the classroom with that boundless energy—there isn’t a shy bone in the girl’s body.

    She is also always down for anything. If you need someone to fearlessly sit on the back of your motorbike (riding with me is no joy ride) and listen to your mishaps of the day, she’s your girl. If you need someone to grab a drink, coffee, or snack at the night market with you, she’s your girl. Last minute trip? She’s down.

    I traveled some with Becky over the long break, and saw her warmness spread to others, like in Cambodia when she would give her last dollar or last bit of food to the beggars that can be found all over Cambodia. I never worry about knocking on her door and being a bother, and I truly appreciate how selfless, high spirited, and caring she is. Thanks for making it the year with me as the only other newbie!

    Girl—the world is at your feet, and I know you’ll take it.