My first 48 hours in Surat Thani, Thailand ended more than seven months ago. I know how to get around town. I own a beat-up scooter. I know where to eat and where not to. Surat is my home, but for the past few
daysit has felt brand new.
Last semester I was a teacher at a different language school in town. When an opportunity came up to work for Super English I jumped at the chance because I knew through friends that they offered the most flexibility and the least amount of administrative work. I knew going in that moving to a different school meant a bombardment of new; new students, new teaching philosophies, new co-workers, new housing, new roommates, new, new, new. I wasn’t apprehensive about the change, I was excited. My home was being renovated and plans looked amazing.
For all of April and most of
MayI traveled around Southeast Asia burning through the previous semester bonus. I went to Northern Thailand for the Thai New Year, took a slow boat down the Mekong River into Laos, went over landinto Vietnam, rode halfway down the peninsula on a broken down Russian motorcycle and eventually ended up in Saigon two days before New Teacher Training at Super English was scheduled to begin. Teaching abroad gives you the time and means to see the world. That is why we take the leap others are afraid to. But, all that globe trekking can be exhausting. By the time I hit Saigon I was pooped, spent, knackered. I was ready to see my renovated home and start my renovated life.
After a seemingly endless stream of slow boats and sleeper buses flying home was an absolute joy. I flew Air Asia which is cheap and no frills but I
halfexpected to be handed a glass of champagne because I felt just that spoiled. After two months of traveling I couldn’t wait to eat Thai food again, so when I landed at the Bangkok airport I did the only logical thing, I headed straight to McDonalds and ordered a Big Mac meal. Logical? Well, yes, the food in Surat is phenomenal and cheap. The Bangkok airport has cheap imitations at exorbitant prices. A Big Mac is a Big Mac.
When my connecting flight landed in Surat I was greeted by Wen, the true Super Star of Super English. Wen is Thai and the head administrator at Super. She does it all and if you decide to move here you’ll love her. Wen dropped me off at Super English where I met the other new teachers. I was dirty and disheveled and tired enough to sleep standing up, but everyone seemed nice. I could see future friends even through blurry sleep deprived eyes. An hour or so later I got dropped off at my place of residence, a house affectionately known as the RAT House. I took the only room left, a room not so affectionately known at The Dungeon. The Dungeon-Rat combo was a temporary thing. Right down the street surrounded by scaffolding and painters was our pretty new house almost ready to occupy. The prospect of sleeping off my travels on a funk nasty mattress that felt like a sheet pulled over springs was daunting, but to borrow a word from a former Super English teacher I was nonplussed. It was a “This is Thailand” moment. “This is Thailand” is a favorite Farang phrase. Its official translation is, “You Sir/Madam sought out an adventure and every adventure comes with its trials. Forget the 1st world. Embrace the challenge!” The condensed translation is of course, “Deal.”
My trusty scooter was stranded on Koh Samui so I had to take a Tuk Tuk to pick up my belongings from a friend’s house. I am not a pack rat, but I have a thing about getting rid of books…I can’t do it. I wish I could because my backpack weighed about 80 pounds. (No I don’t know how many kilo or stone that is but trust me it’s really heavy.) I should have paid the Tuk Tuk driver for a round-trip ride. Unfortunately, that bit of brilliance didn’t hit me until I had walked for 20 minutes laden with an 80-pound backpack and a giant green fan. By the time I snagged a Tuk Tuk I was a sweaty, bagging eyed, stanky mess of a Farang. Those poor kids sharing a ride with me, little did they know that the monster before them was an Ajarn. I trudged through the entrance of the Rat House, dropped my things on the floor of The Dungeon, plugged in my giant green fan and slept on springs for 10 hours straight.
At 7:45 the next morning Peter Meltzer, the head man at Super English picked-up all the new teachers for a Welcome Breakfast. The food was traditional and fantastic; rice porridge soup with shrimp, dim sum and because I can’t abandon all Western ways, hot black coffee. Afterwards we took a tour of Thida, the school where I will be teaching this year. The tour was all I needed to get my head around a return to teaching. The kids had started their Thai classes already and were really excited to see us. There is no such thing as a Thai kid without personality. They are turned up to 10 at all times and you are an irresistible toy. You will never get closer to famous than teaching at a Thai school. Calls of “Teacher Teacher” will follow you everywhere. You can’t blend or meld or cling to anonymity. As a Farang teacher you are the show and the Thai kids love it.
Over the next day and a half I got a chance to learn more about Super English, my new co-workers, and the exact brevity of my time in the Dungeon-Rat combo. In that time I got all of my laundry done for 60 baht, ate at a few of my favorite places and drank a few Singha beers with friends I hadn’t seen. Many things were new new. Many things were same same. Surat is a great place to live and it felt great to be home.
I start teaching classes tomorrow. I move into my new house a few days later. The scaffolding is coming down. The dust is being swept away. The renovations on my life in Surat are nearly complete and I cannot wait to settle in.
When I first stepped into the classroom containing, and I say containing in the barely-holding-about-to-burst-at-the-seams-why-isn’t-this-a-cage way, the 55 children making up my Prathom 5/2 class (5th grade), I was shocked, overwhelmed, and just slightly intimidated. Fast forward two months and I no longer spend hours the night before thinking about how to keep them entertained, fret about the time left while I’m teaching a class, and work smoothly through the lessons more often than not.
This class has been challenging from both a teaching and personal growth standpoint. My teaching has improved considerably in the two months since I started seeing them for an hour every day. I have my strong points. I’ve learned that there really is something liberating about acting like a clown (read: dancing for your life) in front of a class packed full of kids that could easily mutiny if they only knew their power. I have begun to remember what it was like to be in fifth grade, how much energy I always had, and how boring class could be.
My perspective of the class has changed from one of apprehension to one of begrudged adoration. Most of the kids are adorable: there are some rotten ones. Their names range from Kong to Jane to Yam to Book, and the longer I teach them, the more I like them. Strange right? Being a class that I see everyday has really allowed me the opportunity to learn almost all of their names and become a semi-regular fixture in their school lives. This has been challenging, but rewarding.
The challenge is to be continually coming up with new ideas for similar material. Thinking of games, exercises, and goofy things to get them into the lessons can be tough. This though, has also changed in the few months that I’ve been teaching. I’ve become semi-pro at turning anything remotely fun into a way to learn English. Here’s a hint - they love battleship. And jeopardy. Thank you Mr. Trebec.
From a personal standpoint, I’ve grown more comfortable with myself. I have always been someone embarrassed easily, someone who doesn’t like to dance, someone who doesn’t really like being around people I don’t know (I sound lame huh?), but with these kids, it’s a whole new side of me coming out that has honestly been very surprising. The children are honest. The children are fun. Learning to become silly with them has made this job go from something that would cause me a bit of anxiety, to something that’s usually pretty fun. I wouldn’t go so far to say that it doesn’t feel like work, but a great thing about the classes is that they require so much energy and attention, that it’s near impossible to not have fun with the students.
The class as a whole is quick with concepts and lessons. Like every class, there are a few students who are very smart and I’ve learned to use the bright and willing as examples first to introduce material to the rest of the class. We do a lot of role playing and acting, games that get them up and running and moving around. Active involvement. Doing this first and then introducing writing or vocabulary words usually works best, letting them get some energy out while hopefully retaining information from the game they’re playing. The class has gotten through the textbook easily and we’ve done occupations, family members, have/has, reoccurring actions, school supplies, age, his/her/we/their and they are surprisingly adept at using the past tense.
With a long time still left in the year, and even semester, there is much left to learn for both the students and myself. My goals for the class are to keep having fun in an educational way, to continue cultivating the relationships with the kids that I’ve started, and to keep them involved. For myself, I hope to become better at checking my frustration when things don’t go so well and to continue becoming more comfortable with myself. They’re kids after all. Go wild. They love it.