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  • Making Real Progress by Tristan Rentos 2010

    Before I started at Super English, I remember asking myself if this will be a real job where I can actually help Thai students get ahead in the world, or will I just be going through the motions for a paycheck and the chance to do more traveling? Now that my time at Super English is almost at an end, I can say with complete confidence that you can really help these kids get ahead.

    Working at Super English (the language school) has many benefits compared to working at Thidamaepra, Suratpittaya or even Noonoy. These are the Thai schools that we work at during the day, and it is impossible to be 100% effective simply because there are 55 students in each class, and you are bound to have a few kids who are there because mum and dad put them there. They know that English is a difficult language to learn, and they don’t want to put the effort in to learn. Even in the IEP classes (we teach the same classes everyday) only the really interested kids show any real improvement, and these are the kids that more than likely go to a language school (such as SE) in the evening. Noonoy is a bit different because class sizes are smaller, but since a Super teacher only goes to Noonoy twice a week they miss out on a lot of face time with a native speaker. This just leaves the language school…..

    My experience teaching at SE has been different, for one main reason. I have never changed my class. For two years, I have taught the same kids. Monday through Friday. And no, I am not exaggerating in the slightest. I have had kids come and drop out (some quite quickly) but the core group of eight students has always remained the same. And this has been where real progress has been made.

    Firstly, some background information. Aged between 8 and 14, when I first inherited these kids in May 2009 they were already quite good for Thai ESL students, but due to their age they were limited to what I call ‘one question, one answer English’. In other words - “Gab, what is your favorite sport?” Gab would then reply “My favorite sport is football” and that would be the end of it. They could only answer if the question (or parameters) were exactly what had been drilled into their heads by their English teachers at Thidamaepra school. The good news was that thanks to the sterling efforts of Peter and their previous teachers at SE, their fundamentals were sound and I had an excellent base to build on. I knew that with a bit of time and effort I could do something with this class if I could win their confidence and encourage them to stick with it.

    In the early days, the most difficult thing was getting the kids to open up and try new things. Generally speaking, Thai people do not like to speak English if they can help it. Spoken English is a lot more difficult than spoken Thai, because of English verb tenses and articles (Thai language does not have articles and only has one verb tense, Thai people add words before or after a verb to indicate future/past tense or a participle). English also has more difficult grammar rules than Thai. Keep in mind that as with all Asian cultures, the concept of ‘saving face’ is of paramount importance to Thai people, and if they start speaking English and make a mistake then they believe that they will ‘lose face’ and embarrass themselves.

    The first year that I taught my class (May 2009 – March 2010), I taught using targets that I thought would be relevant to turn them into more than just Q & A students. I focused on three main things:

    1.        Grammar rules
    2.        Verb tenses
    3.        Using better adjectives

    This was tough going for a while, because these concepts (especially verb tenses combined with grammar rules) are tough to learn. As the months went on, I could see these lessons starting to work. No longer were the kids just using one verb tense, they were starting to think about past or future tense. It went from “Woody say Thai” to “Tristan, Woody is speaking Thai” or “Tristan, Woody spoke Thai”. It was this progress that prompted me to stay a second year and see if I could get the kids to the next level, which in my mind was focusing the majority of each class on conversation.

    When I started my second year (May 2010 – March 2011) I completely changed the format of the classes. I stopped doing ”one week, one target” lessons and chose topics that I could expand into conversations that would encourage each student to speak. For example, I went from doing Q & A lessons such as “What do you like? I like ____” and started doing “If your parents gave you one million baht, what would you do and why?” This worked really well. Not only did the kids start talking to me, but they started talking to each other – in English. And not just talking. Bickering and insults are common place in my class, and I encourage this (within reason). For example:

    Mulan: Woody is late because he was with his girlfriend.
    Woody: She is lying, I don’t have a girlfriend.
    Mulan: Woody does have a girlfriend, her name is Pink.
    Tristan: Is this true Woody?
    Woody: No, she is lying. Mulan, stop lying!

    The past four months have seen a huge improvement in their ability to speak and comprehend English conversations. No, they are not fluent speakers, but the most important thing to take out of this (in my opinion) is that they now have the ability to speak English with confidence. The barriers have come down, and they no longer care about losing face or making mistakes. I feel that each of these kids could speak English to anyone without fear, and this is what sets them apart from their peers. I know that there are better English students in Surat Thani than my kids, but as a class they are the best, and their confidence is what makes them the best. This is real progress, and this is what SE is all about.

    I like all of my students equally, but I would like to point out one particular student, Nam. Nam is the oldest in the class (aged 16), and her family is quite poor. Because of this and her good attitude towards learning, Peter and his wife Jeab generously allow Nam to study on a scholarship. This generosity has paid dividends and has given Nam a chance to have a brighter future than her family’s financial situation may have otherwise given her. Nam is interested in a career in the tourism sector, and because she can speak English she will have an excellent chance to be accepted into a tourism degree at any given University, and a potential career as a customer relations officer/tour guide at an expensive hotel on Samui or Phuket (a very well paid position for a Thai person). I don’t want this to sound like a World Vision appeal, but the fact is that without SE, Nam would not have a chance at being employed in one of these highly paid positions. She would not be able to speak English, and her career prospects would be highly limited. Now she has every chance of realizing her dream, because when asked “Can you speak English?” Nam will now reply with
    confidence “Yes, I can.” End of story.

  • Back in the Saddle by Mike Bartolomei 2012

    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 days it 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 May I 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 land into 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 half expected 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.          

  • A day in my life…….. By Tristan Rentos 2009

    Teaching in Thailand has been a real experience for me, and every day is filled with something crazy, funny, memorable or really special. This is how a typical Friday goes for me:

    I wake up around 6.30am, so I can have a shower before my housemate Dave gets up (he starts later than I do) and so I have time to have breakfast. After I make myself look as presentable as possible, I leave for Thida around 7.30am.

    It only takes me 5 minutes to get to Thida on my bicycle. I try to get there early so I can find flashcards for the topic I’m teaching and to sort out my paperwork. Thida also has a habit of cancelling/moving classes at the last minute, so I’m always available to sort out any problems.

    Classes start at 8.15am. I have taught the same classes with the same kids at Thida since mid May, so all my grade 3 students know how it works when I walk in. My first class on Friday is IEP (Intensive English Program – means they study English everyday as opposed to once a week) Prathom (grade) 3/8. This class is a joy to teach, and I always have fun with them. They are very well behaved, easy to control and genuinely enjoy participating in class. When I walk in, the kids all run up to me for a high 5, which always makes me smile in the morning.

    The next class is P3/7. This class is an interesting one and always a challenge for me, as it contains the smartest, most advanced students in P3 but also the noisiest and worst behaved. It took me a while, but I have found an excellent way to manage the class and a way to teach them that keeps their attention. I need to act more like a clown in this class than any other; I also need to keep it fast paced, otherwise the clever students get bored and the naughty students start talking.

    My final Thida class on Fridays is P3/6. This class has the friendliest students – when I walk in, 5-6 of them run up, jump on me and try to pull me to the ground. My Thai teacher in this class is very nice and is a great help to me when I need it.

    A number of students in the three classes I teach at Thida also come to Super English after school, which has been great for building up the trust and rapport necessary to be an effective teacher here in Thailand.

    I eat lunch at Thida everyday at around 11.30am (it’s free for teachers – see, there is such a thing as a free lunch!), and then I go home to clean myself up and get my laptop. I don’t have an internet connection at my house so I use the wireless internet at Super English and also at restaurants around town.

    My next class is very rewarding and one that I really enjoy teaching. Three times a week, I give free English lessons to a local girl who, well, let’s just say that her life has not been as privileged as mine has. I meet her at 1pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; the change in her English speaking ability has been remarkable since I started teaching her and I hope to continue doing so for some time yet. I believe that education should be available to those who want it, not just those who can afford it, so this private class is a chance for her to get ahead and learn some English, and a chance for me to become a better teacher.

    I get to Super English around 2pm everyday. After a bit of chit chat with Wen and the Thai staff, I set up my laptop and start emailing. Everyone here seems to have a laptop now so like office geeks we all sit around using the internet and not talking (then again, working with young children all day is so crazy that you do need a bit of quiet time). I do my Super lessons plans just before class so I can maximise my ideas and put the most into each lesson.

    Super classes start at 4.20pm. My first class is level 7A, which is at a lower intermediate level. The age range of the students is 9 to 14, so it makes teaching this class challenging.  It means keeping both an M3 (Mattyom – means high school) student and a P3 student happy when teaching then same topic. This class also has a couple of boys who are often very naughty but the most fun to teach. Mook, who is one of my students from my P3/8 Thida class also comes to this class at Super, which is great for me as I can spend more time to help her get ahead. I have only been teaching these students for 6 weeks, but I am already building up an excellent rapport with all of them.

    My final class at Super and for the day is my 9A class, which is at a low advanced level. I have been teaching this class since I started in mid May, and the same core group of students have been coming week in, week out. This class will most probably end up being my finest achievement in my time here at Super (as well as Dylan, who taught them at Thida), as the students are just that good – they are some of the best in their class and year level. Even though these kids are only P4-P5 (grade 4 and 5), their English is so good that they do understand most concepts taught to M1 (year 7) students without that much difficultly. This class also has an excellent dynamic and the work really well as a team. I always look forward to this class and enjoy having fun with these kids.

    After I finished work for the day, it is 6.30pm so dinner becomes priority 1. The cheapest, fastest and best way to get dinner is at the night market, which is just around the corner from Super. My favourites are gwey tiao gai tod and muu deng (noodle soup with fried chicken or red pork), muu tod or muu yang (fried pork bits or pork on a stick), bop bia tod (fried spring rolls) and pad thai goong (Thai style stir-fried noodles with shrimp and egg). Food at the night market is so cheap that you can have a substantial three course meal for 90 baht ($3), so I have no problems eating well every night.

    When I get home, I catch up with Dave and Sarah to compare days. They work in different places on different schedules to me, so I don’t get to see them during the day. After dinner I watch a bit of TV, review my Thida lesson plan for the next day and get to bed around 10.30pm. Teaching young kids in Thailand is fun but also really tiring!

  • My Favorite Class by Chris Ansell 2010

    A month into the first school term and most teachers will already know which are their favourite classes and which classes they can perfect their discipline techniques in. The class I have most fun with and who are thus my favourite is over at Noo Noy school. I get to see the kids every Tuesday for half an hour. The class is the top level 3 of Anuban (kindergarten) and is made up of about 25 tiny bodies that range anywhere between my knee and waist in height.

    When I walked into their classroom for the first time four weeks ago I saw for the most a lot of nervous and very anxious little faces staring up at me. One little girl burst into tears after a few seconds before I'd had a chance to even say hello, which in turn set one of her friends off. Not a perfect start. The big scary man would have to show a softer side, more than just a smile, to win the trust of these kids. I suddenly noticed in the corner of the room sitting on a shelf a few cuddly toys and quickly made their acquaintances. Pooh Bear said “hello” and when asked how he was replied “I am HAPPY!”. Laughter is key in Anuban classes and this instigated the first of it. After talking to a few of Pooh's friends I tried my luck with one of the more confident looking kids and got the first words. I was in. Ten minutes later the students had morphed into parrots and were repeating various colours that I was holding up at the top of their voices (which can be deafening!).

    All anuban classes are half an hour long. I tend to split them up into three ten minute sections. In the first section I always teach greetings such as “Good Morning” and the follow up question “How are you?” For the Level 1 anuban's, I try to get them to simply understand the concept of “happy” and “sad”. My favourite Level 3 class are extremely clever though and in addition to “hot”, “cold” and “sleepy”, some of the top kids such as Aomsin, Phon and Wave know “hungry”! In the last lesson I drew a big snake on the board and taught them “I am scared” by screaming every time we walked passed it.

    The main topics for anuban classes, in addition to the basic greetings, are numbers, colours, food and body parts. It is easy to have a lot of fun with any of these. For the colours I have a bag of coloured rags. One game I like to play is to get the students to show me sleepy, and then to hide the coloured rags around the room. I will then get two students and ask them to find “Yellow!” for example. When the kid holding the rag comes scampering back to give it to me it can be really fun to act like I can't see them because they are too short and have them desperately trying to get my attention.

    I devised a fun game recently where I wrote about seven or eight target numbers on the board in various sizes and again would ask the students to show me sleepy. I then discreetly placed the board eraser in front of one of the students and ask them to “Open your eyes!” I would then say one of the target numbers and the student with the eraser would have five seconds to run and erase the number before I turned into a zombie and came to eat them. It was funny writing some of the number high up just out of reach so the student didn't know whether to look at the number they were trying to erase or the big scary teacher zombie heading towards them!

    This particular class is fun both because of a few individual students who are particular characters and the Thai teachers who are just as into the games and songs as the kids! One of the students who is about twice the size of the rest of his friends is known (and respected) as King Kong and every time I ask Guitar to do or say anything we all get our air guitars out which is funny.

    It was a great feeling to gain the trust of these little children who must only be four or five years old. What matters most is that the kids leave the classroom with a big smile on their face and if they have picked up a bit more English then all the better. They seem to know their pinks from their purples now and certainly leave laughing so it's fun all around. Good times.

  • A Work in Progress by Mitchell Burbick 2011

    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.

  • Using A Ball In The Classroom by Mitch Burbick 2011

    When I first started teaching in Thailand a fellow teacher tossed me a few lifelines to use when I eventually ran out of material and was left in front of a class drowning. “Hangman, dance competitions, and tossing a ball around will always take care of a few extra minutes,” I was told. Words to live by friends, words to live by. A ball has been the most useful object in my teaching arsenal this year for the simple reason of it being so easy to turn any lesson into a game with a ball. That, and it’s just fun to watch them hit each other in the head with it.

      I personally use a sock-ball. Finding myself in a classroom one day with time on the clock and no ball to be found, I was given one of those perfect and quintessential moments of pure genius thought. It was enlightenment ladies and gentlemen. I removed myself from the classroom, took off my shoe, removed my sock, rolled it into a ball and returned triumphant. Far from disgusting, the kids thought it was hilarious and even refused to use a plastic ball I had bought for a replacement later in the semester.

       For uses, the limits really are you imagination. The simplest way to use a ball is for question and answer. Ask a question and toss the ball to the kid who you want to answer it. It keeps them alert and they can either toss it back to you for another round, or you can have them toss it to another student and ask that student the question, kind of making them the teacher. It also helps keep students who don’t usually pay attention alert, because if they’re face down in a book or drawing something while you’re teaching, there’s always the danger they’ll be pegged with a ball.

       Drawing a target on the board with different point sections is a great way to reward them with the correct answer to a question as well. Either divide the class into teams and let them play against each other, or simply give them a point goal to work towards. You can put different sized targets for smaller and larger amounts of points all across the board or just a dartboard style bulls eye works well too. If you’ve played this one a lot and they’re getting bored, no need to worry, simply give them points to start out with and subtract the points they make by throwing the ball until they get to zero. Kind of like cricket.

       A good review game is Jeopardy. Draw a grid on the board, put topics up at the top, and then write point values in all the squares. You can do it like the TV show and make them ascending in order or just mix them up for fun. Again, you can divide the students into teams, or have them play as one big team working towards a goal. A child can stand up, go to wherever you want them to throw the ball from, and toss it against the board. Mark the square wherever the ball lands and then ask a question relating to the designated topic. Harder questions can be asked for more points, easier for less, etc…

       If there is no dice and you’re playing a game where the teams or the class has to move squares,kind of like a board game, you can use a ball too. Just draw a circle or a square on the board, divide itup into sections and give each section a number of spaces the kid can move if they hit that with the ball. Snakes and ladders is a fun one to do this with.

       The last one I play a bit is “Hide the Sockball.” I bet you can guess what it is. A student that answers a question right comes up and closes their eyes. Another student hides the ball somewhere in the classroom. The entire class shouts hot, warm, or cold at the student when he opens his eyes and has to find the hidden ball. When he finds it, the student that hid it asks a question and he must  
    answer.

        I’m convinced there are at least a thousand ways to use a ball as a teaching tool in the classroom. I’ve only scraped the surface. Any way that you can involve them throwing a ball through a hoop made of arms, a trash can, a kid running back and forth… Anything at all that lets them get up and have some fun will make teaching the material for you, and learning the material for them, thatmuch easier.
     
     

  • Dealing with 55 Students by Chris MacInnes 2010

        Fifty-five faces.  Fifty-five youthful, judgmental brains picking you apart.  One hundred and ten eyes staring at you from the second you officially begin your job.   As if moving to another country where customs differ dramatically from your own wasn’t stressful enough; now you’re faced with this trial by fire to greet you as you start your new career.  Walking into that classroom may be the bravest thing you’ll ever feel you have to do.  In reality, things are not as they seem.  That is, as long as you have the right attitude. Fifty-five is a scary number.  Back home, fifty-five in a classroom only happens during very successful Parent/Teacher interview days.  Fifty-five students back home is an anomaly, a fluke usually reserved for a combination of lack of facilities, lack of teachers, and lack of luck.  In Thailand it’s the average or normal amount of kids in a regular classroom.
        
    I’ve had the privilege of teaching three Prathom 2 classes (The equivalent of North American Grade 2) five days a week for the past three months.  All three have at least 54 students.  All three are different handfuls of English ability, maturity level and attitude, and must be treated accordingly.  But that’s no different from any other class.  They were very scary at first, but I came to love teaching those classes very shortly after starting here.  This article is written to try to prepare a new teacher for this experience as best as can be before actually seeing the class full of students.
       
     It’s easy to be intimidated by this.  I know when I first heard of the class size, I felt like it was an understated problem to say the least.  But there are a few things that I didn’t realize before I walked in.  First, the attitude of Thai students toward a new teacher is vastly different from the Western perspective.  I expected to be treated as substitute teachers are back home: Hassled, teased, taken advantage of, and mostly useless.  On the contrary, Western English teachers are respected, listened to and enjoyed by the Thai audience.  The attitude children have with us is shocking if one has spent any time with Western children.  Thai students have respect compared to back on the mainland.

        The main thing that works in our favour is that we are farang, the foreigners in a very local city.  You’ll be constantly reminded of this as you travel anywhere, and are greeted by the locals shouting “Hello!” at you, as you are a somewhat rare sight to see.  Businesses will flock to have you as a paying customer.  People will want to hang out with you, sometimes for the sole basis of being seen with you.  And students will fight each other off to give you a high-five.  Being the only one in the classroom with Western features makes you the celebrity.  This advantage is easy to use.  If your attitude is at all enjoyable, the class is yours.Beyond that, I can’t sugarcoat that fifty-five is a big number.  They take up the vast majority of the space, so you feel like part stand-up comedian and part teacher most of the time.  Their desks are touching, one against the other, from left to right, making a little impenetrable fortress of the middle students, so access to them is always nigh impossible. And if they feel like taking a classroom over from you in a verbally violent coup, they can, and will.  Save for your secret weapon…

        The Thai teachers.  Each class is supplied with one, and sometimes has two Thai teachers, who are in charge of the class when you’re not teaching them.  They know the kids better than you do, and they can keep the classes in check much better than a first year teacher can.  Although many speak very little English themselves, they have a lot of knowledge on class management, and it always helps to befriend them to get the little details of the class that you may miss.  Just a warning however: Keeping an unruly mob of fifty-five sometimes calls for some drastic actions, and don’t be surprised if you witness a hand slapped by a ruler, or other like events.  All you can do in this case is to keep moving on with the class.  It seems heartless to some, but it is the way of Thai teaching.  Just think that only one or two generations ago, it was also commonplace in Western schools as well.  It’s just another moment of cultural adjustment.  And, as much as you hate to admit it, it keeps the students behaved.

        Fifty-five limits the activities you can do with the children.  Team games where everyone plays an integral part become near impossible due to sheer numbers and lack of space.  Getting everyone to answer a question would take up too much time, and so only a quarter of the class can be confirmed as getting a certain lesson.  In these conditions, with these huge numbers and only an hour to work with, it’s difficult to keep everyone’s attention, and teach everyone the lesson without leaving one or two quiet ones behind.  There are some strategies to help achieve the maximum learning potential from each class, however.  First and foremost, don’t take yourself too seriously in there.  You must be fun, active and energetic.  Super English puts these on the top of its job requirements list for a reason.  Going into a class with your hands in your pockets would get you shunned before your first piece of chalk screeches across the blackboard.  A big smile, arms moving like a game of charades, a loud and goofy voice, and an air or unpredictability will get you through these classes almost better than the lesson itself.  “Mock” the students’ hand-waving gestures in the name of good fun.  Slide across the floor if your shoes allow you to do so.  Walk like you’ve got something sharp in your underwear.  Make faces.  I once asked Peter what to do during the inevitable moments of silence where I’m out of ideas, and don’t know what to do next.  He replied “When in doubt, dance.”  That strategy has yet to let me
    down.  That’s the type of job this is.
     
      Secondly: Do your best to learn a little bit about every student.  Due to the numbers, even someone who is good with names will only be comfortable with them all after months of practice.  Personally, I’m horrible with names, and can only name a few off the top of my head for any given class.  But I have learned the personalities.  Learn which students are good for what, and exploit them accordingly.  This is nicer than it seems.  Should the students have trouble following the class, invite the student you know has the lesson in their back pocket to the front of the class.  Have them act out a goofy skit involving the lesson’s vocabulary.  Then, get the goofballs of the class to come up and do an even goofier version.  Once you have everyone’s attention, many times, everyone will be interested in continuing this game, and will learn subconsciously through the trickery of entertainment.  It’s at this time you’ll be able to call upon those who won’t do anything in the class otherwise.
     
      Thirdly, use randomness.  It’s easy for a child to drift through the year without even having to answer one question in a group like this.  Usually, you’ll have a decent amount of whiz kids who won’t actually put their hands down all day, and that only masks the shadows in the class further.  So, make sure that you use random choosing strategies to keep the rest of the students on their toes.  It’s also easy for a teacher to play to the best students, who know the answers, and forget that there are some kids who haven’t learned a thing.  Try to get those kids interested, or at least scared into learning in case they get asked.  Otherwise, they’ll float into the next grade knowing just as much English as they did two years before.

        You should always try to keep the class entertained, regardless what lesson you’re teaching, and games will become an integral part of your itinerary.  Make the games short, involving two to eight students to play at a time.  Try to get the children who know the lesson well go up first, to make sure the game in understood in practice.  If they pull it off without a hitch, then most of the class will hopefully learn by example.  If they don’t get it, then you may have to try looking at another explanation, or even another game.  After they finish their go-through of the game, and if the class seems eager, then have as many short games involving as many different people as you can.  Always try to involve as many kids as you can, but don’t forcefully make everyone go if they don’t want to.
       
     If you’re interested in getting everyone in the class involved in a game, don’t make it an active one.  Make it a chain game, where each kid needs to answer their question, down the line, from their desk seats.  For earlier grades, simple numbers are a good start.  Have the kids say their number in order, going down each row, or in teams, whatever you decide.  The best way is to time them, so that with one team, you can beat your own time for the replay factor, and with two teams, they can play at separate times, and the opposing sides won’t have to scream over each other.  Even the slightest of murmurs in a group this size becomes deafening, so picture what all fifty-five students yelling and screaming can do.
       
     These are a couple of ideas of ways to use the class size to your advantage.  I don’t claim to be the most qualified to tell you about these, but I hope these help you out with starting, or at least quell your fears a little bit about it.  With everything at Super English, your best guide comes in the form of your co-workers.  Within our staff are many different ways of handling each classroom, and many different little hints, tips and pointers that can turn you from a good English teacher to an amazing one.  Should you need help, anyone on staff will be willing to help you.  You will have an amazing supporting cast behind you every step of the way when you are part of the SE team, which I hope will help you achieve my last bit of advice....
       
     DON’T WORRY.  Only a few minutes into your first class, you’ll realize how lucky you are to be in this
    position.  Nothing makes your day like a mob of fifty-five running up to you for high-fives and hugs when you enter a class.  And nothing makes you want to come back for more than seeing your little army of young learners singing, dancing and enjoying themselves while you teach them their daily lesson.  There’s something about it that you’ll cherish, and you’ll wonder why you ever felt you would have trouble dealing with fifty-five.

  • ADVENTURES IN BABY TEACHING by Tristan Rentos 2011

    You might not think so considering the simplicity of the material, but teaching young students can be every bit as challenging as teaching teenagers, even more so. After spending one year teaching grade three and this semester teaching grade one, I am not without my tricks in the classroom. Here’s how I do it:

    1. The Method

    Remember when you were young and your parents tried everything to get you to eat your vegetables, going so far as to ‘disguise’ them with gravy or the like? You have to do a similar thing when teaching 6 year olds English. Think of it this way - you are a foreigner speaking a weird language they can’t understand, and the average 6 year old has the attention span of a mosquito. To make things even more complicated, you have to keep these kids attentive for 1 hour a day (if you are teaching our English Programme classes). The easiest way to keep a young child entertained is to dance around and act up, but you can’t focus too much on the entertainment because your job is to teach and you are expected to keep up with the syllabus. What do you do?

    The best way is to structure your lesson in the most interactive way possible, and believe it or not the best way to do this is with games. If you try the ‘old fashioned’ method of teaching, grade one students will switch off in an instant if you stand in front of them and lecture in English.  You can’t do this, nor
    can you just open a book and start reading to them. When I say games, I don’t mean games such as monkey in the middle or heads down thumbs up – these games have no educational value. The educational games that we use focus on some facet of the English language, usually reading or speaking. My favourite is a game I call flashcard retrieval, which involves the students collecting flashcards from around the room, reading what’s on the cards and the placing the cards within sentences I have written on the board. The students must then read the complete sentences and tell me if they are correct. This game does have educational value because it contains reading, speaking, and sentence structure comprehension.

    The kids love these sort of games because it gives them a break from how they’re normally taught (Thai teachers conduct their lessons the ‘old-fashioned’ way, as I described earlier). These games should not take up the entire lesson, maybe 10 or 15 minutes at most, but are invaluable when you need to get the kids to participate. This is how I structure a typical lesson:

    1. First 2 minutes: Do something funny to get the kids laughing and relaxed.
    2. 5 minutes: Review yesterday’s lesson (very important for young kids). I always ask many questions to
    keep everyone on their toes.
    3. 10 minutes: New vocab target. Explain very slowly and as simply as possible. Ask Thai teacher for
    assistance to enforce target. Demonstrate physically if possible. Total time spent speaking at the kids:
    15 minutes.
    4. 10-15 minutes: Educational game
    5. 10 minutes: Book target (from textbook)
    6. 15 minutes: Writing task for the day.
    Total lesson duration: 1 hour

    One very important thing to remember is not to go too fast. I spend 2 weeks on any given target, I start out very simply then increase the difficulty when they are ready. For example, I would start with ‘Do you like _____?’, an easy question with a yes or no answer, and work my way up to ‘What/Who do you like?’, a more complex question with varying answers.

    2. Interacting with the kids

    It is important to find a balance between being a fun, caring person and an educator who is in charge of the classroom (it is your classroom - the Thai teachers are there to assist you, not the other way around). For new teachers, Peter will teach you the techniques we use to keep the students under control and focused when you are training. I try to be as fun as possible in my classes, because I have developed an excellent rapport with most of my students and I know what works and what doesn’t. Each class is as different as the person who teaches it, but your students need to know that you always have their best interests at heart, especially the young ones.

    One crucial thing to remember is that under no circumstances should you ever lose your temper in class, for two main reasons. Firstly, if you show anger then you will lose face, which is a big deal in Thai culture – you may lose the respect of your Thai teacher. Secondly, your kids will get scared and they will not contribute anything to the class. If you students do act up it isn’t because they don’t like you, it’s because their other classes are so strict and rigid that they see their English class as their fun time away from the ‘iron fist’. Also, these students are too young to understand why English is so crucial to
    their future, and they don’t care that much about school results.

    The bottom line…..

    If you can teach young students without them realising they’re being taught, you are most definitely a
    Super Teacher!
    ADVENTURES IN BABY TEACHING
    by Tristan Rentos

  • A day in the life of five IEP classes by Anneliese Charek 2010

      Five days a week, I walk from my home to old Thida - a fact that I am very happy with.  I enjoy that I am in one school for all of my classes.  Those of you who have ever had to travel all around a city to teach different students understand why this is a blessing.  I also enjoy this fact because I genuinely like the people that I work with and the little people that I teach.

    My day starts out with those fellow teachers in the ‘teacher’s lounge’.  Each morning we wade through a sea of small uniformed students to get to our teacher’s oasis.  I usually arrive about a half hour before my 8:20 class.  It’s not really necessary, as I do my lesson planning at night, but I like to have some time to get things together and drink the instant coffee that the magic Thida elves stock the lounge with.

        When I deem myself sufficiently caffeinated and my things are in order, I head upstairs to my first P3 class.  I have three, count em, three, IEP third grade classes pretty much in a row.  Upon hearing that information one may think to oneself, ‘Wow.  Three classes of +50 third graders first thing in the morning? Yowza!  But let me tell you, I love these three classes of third graders in a row.  They make me so happy.

    So, I am going upstairs to meet my first class of third graders.  Some classes are usually still having their morning prayer/assembly.  My class is waiting for me in their room.  They see me coming, and start calling my name ‘ANNELIESE!’.  The Thai teacher finishes up what she’s doing and I go in to start my class.  Almost immediately one to two students comes up to the board to show me a Doramon notebook or Ben Ten eraser that they have.  I don’t know exactly why they want to show me, or what they want me to say.  Possibly they just want validation that they are in fact owners of something cool.  I happily give them that validation.  ‘A DORAMON NOTEBOOK! WOW!’.  I pretty much just say what the thing is in an excited voice, they smile and sit down.  

    If I come in carrying anything, a few students will jump up and take it from me, and carry it to my desk.  Then another will prompt the others to say the daily greeting with a ‘Stand up please!’.  Followed by, in unison (students) ‘Goood Mooorning teeeaaacchhhh-eeerrr!   How are you?’.  (me) ‘I am fine students, how are you?’ (students)  I am EXXXXCITED (pause) YEAHHHHHH!). Now tell me if that is not the best way to start of a class?  Sometimes my ears hurt from the sound of enthusiasm eminating from each and every student.

    After the greeting, it’s time to pick teams.  The desks already naturally separate the class into thirds, so the BIG task is deciding team names.  And this is not a task taken lightly.  I ask what they want to be named, and after much deliberation, they come up with some form of the following ‘Team Super Princess Model, Team Ben Ten, Team America ) really, Team we love teacher Anneliese (for which I give an automatic 5 points).  Having the teams, and giving out points throughout the class is amazingly helpful in keeping control of the class.  There isn’t even a prize at the end.  Just the satisfaction of knowing that they are part of the team that acquired more points than the other team.  They are serious about points.

    When every team has decided on the perfect name, we start class.  On of my favorite things to do in the beginning of class is a game of good old fashioned pictionary.  But I call it ‘Who can tell me-WHAT IS THIS?’.  I write ‘What is this? on the board, and start to introduce the vocabulary for the following few lessons.  It’s so simple, but it gets EVERY kid engaged.  They all want to guess the right answer.  They love guessing, and I love honing my animal drawing skills.  If it’s something I know they haven’t heard of, I incorporate hangman, and have them guess letters to get the word correct.  Hangman is a game that also is very useful, as it will get even the most quiet student to participate.

    After building up some vocabulary, we usually move on to our game.  The most beloved section of class.  A big hit has been a game I call ‘Hide the owl’.  Which takes on other forms such as ‘Hide the robot’ and’Hide the contents of the teachers’s bag’.  I’ll use the owl version to explain.  I bring in a ceramic owl, ‘owl’ being a word I pre-taught in the pictionary part of class.  One of the goals of the class has been describing places in a classroom, and the use of words ‘under, near, next to in, on’.  They are all familiar with this concept, so we put it to use in the owl game.  I call up two students.  One gets the owl, the other gets blindfolded.  The one with the owl, has to hide the owl, something that the whole class ends up partaking in.  The blindfolded contestant is then told they have 60 seconds to find the owl.  They go nuts.  Everyone cheers hem on as they race around the classroom.  When they do find it, I ask “Where is the owl?’”, they respond, “The owl is under the desk/in the bookcase/in the box/etc”. 

    The rest of the class includes using their textbook, doing writing assignments, and assigning homework.  These classes usually go rather smoothly.  It’s lovely how willing the students are to participate.  There are the occasional difficulties though.  The girls who chat and the boys who never want to sit in their seat.  When 55 kids decide they want to talk and walk around the class- it can be mayhem.  Luckily they are all good kids, and all they need is a simple countdown, “5, 4, 3, 2, 1 ZERO!” to get the point.  At the end of class, they all stand up ‘Thankkk youuu teaachhherrr  AAAnnnneeelliese!’.  They are the greatest. 

     I have my block of P3 classes then a lunch break.  If it’s long enough, I take this time to either; grade notebooks, fill out lesson plans, write monthly reports, or plan some of tomorrow’s lesson.  That is the other good thing about being at Thida.  Luckily there is not too much paper work that needs to be done.  But as with every school, there is some.  If you stay on top of it, you can get it all done in a reasonable amount of time.  I also spend this break time mentally preparing for the next task at hand- the Matthayoms.

    So, something happens to kids somewhere between the Prathyom and Matthayom levels. Along with the baby fat, the sweetness melts away, and is replaced by a thick layer of sass.  There is a little less high-fiving and hugging the teacher.  Entering some of the Matthayom classes is like entering another world.  A world where the games and drawings that the 3rd graders love so much have no place.  For these two classes of all teenage girls-I need to change gears.  

     I start with the M2’s.  Classes are structure the same way, I pre-teach and introduce the material, play some sort of game, use the text book and do writing and homework in every class.  But here needs to be different-much different.  The M2’s don’t really want to leave their seats.  So games involving people coming up to the board or running around the classroom usually don’t work.  But they do love- HANGMAN.  For some reason, this and pictionary still gets everyone’s attention. Anything I can do to spark their interest will help in this lessons.  Because of this fact the name ‘Justin Beiber‘ often comes up.  When working on adjectives to describe a person-‘What does Justin Beiber’s hair look like: brown? short? cute?’.

    The M3’s are similar to the M2’s as far as what kind of subject matter is important to them.  The best lessons we have had are the one’s that incorporate girl talk.  Besides the Beib, Beyonce and Lady Gaga are often used as examples in class-and it works.  They suddenly want to pay attention when they can relate via MTV icons.  The M3’s are a good class, and there are many girls in there who are extremely attentive.  They also have great vocabularies, and are always anxious to learn even more.
        
    The M2 and M3 classes are at the end of my day.  I either finish at 2:40 or 3:30.  After all of this I once more go to the teacher’s lounge, work on paperwork or lesson plan, then head home, and get ready for my next day of IEP classes.

  • A day in the life of regular Thida classes by Mike Rogers 2013

    I am not a morning person. When my alarm clock goes off at 7 my first thought is inevitably of the snooze button.

    This gives me 5 more minutes until the clock rudely interrupt whatever path of thoughts I have gone down, which most of the time is figuring out exactly when the next time I can get back to bed for a longer sleep is. In the states what got me out of bed was the knowledge that a hot cup of coffee and a shower were only a few minutes away. Here those to things have been unceremoniously replaced with a bucket shower, and iced coffee which is approximately one half instant coffee, a quarter creamer, and a quarter sugar (This actually isn’t so bad, bucket showers are surprisingly refreshing and more effective than I would have expected). The alarm clock time is the darkest part of my day. I tell you this, not to scare away other morning people, but rather because from this point on the day tends to improve pretty consistently.

    My day begins at New Thida, the home for Anubans (kindergarten), and Ps 1 and 2. The students range from age 5 to 7, this means that these kids represent some of the highest concentration of cute in the world. I usually roll into the parking lot around 8:00 with some breakfast in hand (usually sticky rice with sweet shredded pork on it from a roadside stand on my street) and the fore mentioned iced coffee. I settle in to my seat, take a breath and begin to eat and drink, only to have my revelry disturbed when Tristan, the highly experienced teacher across from me, abruptly stands up at attention. The King’s song has begun playing. I leap out of my chair and spin into position facing the flag and the hundreds of children gathered in the center of the school. The song itself was written by the King (or so I am told. Apparently he is an extremely talented jazz musician), and is a catchy, short song that all of the children sing in that spectacularly off key way that only a few hundred 5-7 year old children can achieve. It is endearing to say the least. The flag is raised during this, and if you are particularly lucky, than it is Exercise Wednesday, and once the song has been sung upbeat music is played and the Thai teachers lead the children in a bizarre calisthenics routine. Many of teachers are about as involved as a high school senior a week after they have been accepted into college, half raising their arms, and looking as though they are mentally closer to my home than the school. A few though are really into it, pumping their arms exaggerating their leg kicks and generally rocking out in a way that seems to elevate the involvement of the children around them. This makes for quite a spectacle, and usually does an excellent job of driving away the last remnants of the alarm clock hangover. Soon the calm down music is played and the kids line up and find their way to their respective classrooms, which means I need to finish eating and get myself to class.

    I am the Clark Kent of super teachers, I teach the “regular” classes, meaning that rather than seeing kids on a daily basis, I see my classes once a week for one hour. At fifty kids a class and twenty classes a week I see roughly a thousand children every week. No two days of the week are the same, I have mix of grades that I see, and a definitely a mix of kids. It’s a great way of being kept on your toes, walking to every class you are trying to remember whether this is the class where by minute 40 only one kid is paying attention (the same kid every week) or whether it’s the one where the Thai teacher has managed to corral them sufficiently that you can actually accomplish a full lesson plan. Lesson planning is easier as a regular teacher, I have wide spread of classes, P1, P2, P3, P5 and P6, but really I only need one lesson plan for each of these levels. There a couple classes that have distinguished themselves as either spectacular and needing a more challenging plan, or, shall we say, less advanced and in need of a more basic plan. But for the most part, only one plan is needed for each grade level.

     Entering the class room is bizarre experience, about half way between the door and the desk on the far side of the classroom the kids will notice you have arrived and one small voice will belt out, “SA-TAND UUUP, PLEEEASE” and the entire class stands, “Gooood morning, TEAAcher”, to which the proper reply is, “Good morning class, how are you?”, and they will say “We are HAPPY, YAAAY, and you?” and you tell them you are fine and that they may sit down. If you “forget” to tell them to sit and just start teaching than in a few minutes you will be surprised to find them all still on their feet. Whoops. A fifty minute class is short enough so that you only need 2-3 sections, less if there are extended games, so planning for the classes does not present any significant challenge. The difficulty comes in holding their attention for more than 5 minutes at a time. This challenge varies significantly based on two factors, the class, and the Thai teacher. A good class can be good independent of the teacher, but these are exceedingly rare. A good Thai teacher means that the class will at the very least be minimally disruptive if not focused. I have some teachers whose presence is enough to silence the most rambunctious classes, and others that actually contribute to the problem by plopping down in the back of the class and either doing their own work or even actually talking to kids while you try to teach. Sometimes all you can do is find the 5 kids who are interested and teach to them.

    After two classes there is a half hour break which is usually spent in half dazed conversation with a couple other teachers as you try to regain some of the energy that it takes to engage fifty, 7 year olds. The good news at this point is that there is only one more class before lunch. Lunch is free, and
    varies in quality, but usually provides something that is at least edible, if not enjoyable. This is a fun time of day, because many of the super teachers have this same time off for lunch, and all congregate at one table. It is time for a word about the structure of New Thida. It was built much like a Mario Kart64 battle stage, the so called “Donut”. On this stage there was a circular track on the outside where the players were safe, except from each other, but in the middle is a pit filled with lava. New Thida has 5 floors, each shaped much like this stage, a path surrounding the center of school, which is a vast open space. It is so vast and open that walking across it seems to initiate some long buried evolutionary instinct that makes you a little nervous. Its like you are at the bottom of a ravine with no hiding spaces for you, but plenty for your predators. During class it is like a ravine, after lunch, it is much more like the lava pit. The children are loose and going crazy from an influx of sugar and you are faced with a choice, the relative safety of the outer path, or the most direct route of walking  straight across and being pinched, poked, high fived, aggressively hugged and pulled in every direction by hundreds of children ravenous for your attention. Personally, when the pit is filled I enjoy walking through it, it provides quick but fun interactions with many of the kids, and it’s relatively rare that one of them will either straight up kick you, or grab your butt. But make no mistake; the post lunch pit is no place for the meek.

    For the lucky few that have no class in the next block they get to drift across the street and get an iced coffee or tea (for 15 baht, it is probably the best iced coffee bang for your baht in town). It’s a pleasant break from being in the schools and is generally very relaxing. Also, if you couldn’t eat the school lunch for some reason than they serve an excellent fried rice here as well. Typically there is at least some free time after lunch, whether you have a class or not, and at this time I am typically either scrambling to fix lesson plans that clearly weren’t working earlier in the day, or if I am lucky relaxing and checking the various sports scores that were happened while I was teaching that morning. The break inevitably ends, and my next class is at Old Thida. If New Thida is like the “Donut” level of Mario Kart, than Old Thida is more comparable to the “Block World” one, where there are 4 different large platforms, each with three levels, and small tracks connecting them at the top. Each grade has its own hallway, and each hallway has its own floor, and each floor has at least 16 stair cases that, much like Hogwarts, take you to a completely different part of the school than you started in. Ok, maybe the stairways are exaggeration, but when you aren’t used to the school, or are going to a classroom you have never been to before than the layout seems like it was designed to keep grave robbers away from the Pharaoh’s tomb. All of the class rooms are very open on two sides; one wall is windows, and the opposite wall is fully open to the hallway. I’m told this design element is featured because of the crazy hot weather which happens most of the year, though it serves a duel purpose of allowing as much noise to enter the classroom as possible. In the worst situations the windows are facing the street and the doors the center of the school, so that many days you have traffic noise flowing in from one side, and the pleasant sounds of a school assembly, or a raucous gym class on the other. This leads to you have to speak at your loudest, or, if you will, scream in order to be heard. Classrooms like this, however, are the minority, even if they are the very loud minority. Most of them have reasonable acoustics and don’t leave you hoarse and tired.

    Old Thida is also host to a very different age group, P3 all the way to M6’s, the seniors of the Thai school world. Thus it requires a very different kind of energy than New Thida. With these kids it helps to occasionally walk out into the rows of desks and put kids on the spot, with simple questions about what you were just going over. This has two benefits, first it gives you a decent idea of howmany kids are actually understanding/ paying attention, and second nothing really pulls the focus ofthe rest of the class quite like the possibility that they could be called on next. Inevitably, about 10 minutes into any class the students will start raising their hands to say, or perhaps just shouting out,“Teacher, play game, play game!” To which I usually respond by having them repeat it, “Teacher, may we play a game please?” than considering it for a brief second before either saying, “no”, or telling them if they do well in class than we can play at the end. Their favorite game, by far, is 7-up;  a game that I honestly believe they could play for a full school day with out getting bored. At the end of class it is often important to have them do some writing that deals with the lesson rather than having them play a game since they will not being seeing me, or likely thinking about what we learned that day for seven more days having it in their own writing is a good way to cement it in their heads.

    By the time the last class ends, 3:30 at the latest, I am usually quite ready to dash for my bike and start pedaling. Most days I swing buy a stand on the way home where a very nice and sociable Thai woman named Nok makes various drinks, the best of which is a mixed fruit shake. No matter how stressful, frustrating, or delightful and surprising the classes were that day there is nothing quite like a fresh fruit smoothie for 60 cents to remind me of some of the most basic charms of living in Surat Thani.

  • A Day in the Life by David Modini

      It’s about 7am and my alarm starts buzzing.  Too bad I’m already awake thanks to the undetermined amount of roosters near my house.  The only thing between me and a stringy, handmade, rooster stew (other than my aversion to killing with my bare hands) is the fact that when I really stop to consider it, I would much rather be woken up by these noisy birds than by my lifeless alarm clock.

    Stumbling out of bed provokes the first instance of sweating I will experience today.  Immediately I’m confronted with a crucial decision.  Should I use the nearby upstairs bathroom or the downstairs one?  The upstairs one has the luxury of a proper sit-down toilet, but the downstairs one will welcome me with a warm shower.  Yes, the prospect of a warm shower easily outweighs the minor discomfort of using a squat toilet.  With that dilemma resolved, I continue my waking-up process.  After the warm shower and a not entirely un-western breakfast, I go upstairs to get dressed. What day is it today?  Oh yes, it’s Monday, which means I’ll wear my yellow polo shirt to work.  And this is the blessing of an unofficial national uniform.Forty-five minutes after my alarm buzzes (and about eighty after I woke up), I strap my helmet on and head down on the motorbike to the end of the soi with Sarah.  One of the most exciting parts of the day is riding my motorbike against traffic for about 50 yards so I can take advantage of a shorter route to school. Not that it feels dangerous at all, it’s just that it’s the first time I get on my motorbike today.  Also, even though it’s routine for the Thais to cut corners on road rules, it’s still a novelty to me.

    It’s 7:55am and I’ve carefully navigated the traffic of parents in cars, SUVs, motorbikes, and feet to pull into New Thida early - just how I like it.  I park the motorbike where it’s sunny now, but will be covered with shade when I leave later on in the day.  Now Sarah and I will weave through more walking traffic to stand in front of our teachers’ office.  Just enough time to drop off my bag and helmet and find my place outside the office when the national anthem begins playing.  Everyone stands still, except for maybe the odd 4 year old running bewildered across the main indoor courtyard.  The rather short national anthem ends and the Lord’s Prayer in Thai begins.  After that, the children sing along to the school anthem.  I sit back down in the office while other teachers trickle in before 8:30.  Actually, maybe I’ll say hi to Nom first.  He’s the father of one of my students who studied at university in Kansas and Texas.  Emily and I make sure to be in class right by 8:30am.  Did I mention our three daily classes at New Thida are air-conditioned?  It makes me the envy of every other English teacher in Surat.

    The first class of the day is the Prathom 1/1 class, which means they’re six to seven years old.  I see them everyday, but they still look at me like I am the most exciting thing in the world.   Emily and I head into class and we hear a singular student cry out with carefully parroted inflection, “Stand up, please!”  The other students stand up and yell out, “Good morning, teacher!”  Emily and I respond simultaneously, and as always, “Good morning, class!  How are you?”  With all their stored up energy, they all shout together - “I am happy!,” building to a crescendo where they demonstrate “happy” by jumping and throwing their hands up in the air while screaming “Yay!”  At this point, half of the class knows what’s coming and are sitting at the end of their seats when Emily  calls for her group to line upat the front of the class.  Once they’ve left for an empty classroom down the hall, I make sure my half of the class is consolidated and that the troublemakers are not sitting next to each other.  I use the term “troublemaker” loosely because, come on, how bad can a six year old be?  This is one of the many times during the course of the day I am glad that I made the minimal effort to learn every single name of the students in my three Prathom 1 classes, including those that go with Emily.This class will be split into two teams, with the children choosing the team names.  Team Doraemon and Team Butterfly are rather predictable team names for today.  Warm up begins, with the students answering questions from anything we’ve gone over recently.  “Who is he?  He is a policeman!”  “What is her name?  Her name is Pearl!”  “Can he fly?  No, he can’t!”  Now they have a visible amount of points which I can manipulate to my own whims.  We begin on the target for today, which is “I like __.”  I ask them to brainstorm some foods, and I break the ice with “ice cream.”  “KFC!  French fries!  Pizza!  Cookies!”  After about a dozen foods are up on the board with the appropriate illustrations, I ask a student from each team to come to the front.  On the board, I write, “What do you like?  I like ___.,” even though today it’s probably unnecessary.  I barely need to instruct Eng-eng and Krit on what to do and they are able to ask each other and answer the question perfectly.  They give me the obligatory high-five and find their way back to their seats.  Ben and Phai handle it well, as expected.  So do Cream and Bell.  Maybe I should ask some other students?  O-Leang and Beam need a little coaxing but in the end, answer it satisfactorily.  Well, they’re starting to act out a bit.  “5, 4, 3, 2, 1, ZERO!” and they are all quiet with their hands folded in front of them.  Very good, class, and a few more points go up for each team.  It’s time for a game now, and the only democratic aspect of class.  What do you want to play? I ask them.  Hearing more suggestions for Snakes and Ladders than not, I draw a numbered grid on the board and fill it with ladders and some pretty ruthless snakes.  Out come the smiley face magnets and whichever team has the most points gets first choice of color.  A student from each team comes up and watches me hold the dice in front of them, while their teammates loudly whisper to them the number that will allow them to climb up that prime ladder.  “Team Doraemon, 1, 2, 3!” I shout, with Team Doraemon confidently asking their representative, “What do you like?”  Ya-moo quietly answers, “I like cake.”  She rolls a 5, which is a plain square this time.  Same process with Cindy, except she rolls a 4.  Team Butterfly erupts in cheers as I move the magnet to square 23.  This drama continues for 4 more rounds.  I see Emily leading her class down the hall and I get prepared for the slightly chaotic reunion.  “Everyone sit down!  Get out your Gogo books!  Page 23!”  Calling students out by name and using the countdown, we manage to get everyone seated with their books out within 30 seconds.  Emily leads the class in reading the dialogue from the book aloud while I carefully write the three questions and answers the children will write into their notebooks.  When the dialogue is finished, I lead them in reading the questions I’ve written, and their ability to fill in the blanks on the fly gives me that warm fuzzy feeling.  There is a soft murmur as the students write, look for their rulers and erasers.  Some of them have a tense, unspoken competition to see who can finish the fastest without having the teachers erase any untidy handwriting.  Immediately I make my way towards the back of the classroom, where I’ve noticed some students like Cream sometimes get distracted easily.  Some simple coaching goes a long way with Cream and soon enough, Mind approaches me with her finished writing.  Other than a missed full-stop which I point out to her, I give her a high-five and wait for the onslaught.  At 9:30am precisely, we say goodbye to the class, with another scripted “Stand up please!”  “See you tomorrow, class!” we say to them as we head out to P. 1/2.

    That’s how the three classes go this Monday, with the brief interlude for a sweet pork donut after the second class.  After the third class, it’s time for lunch.  Oh good, they have those fried pork and vegetable balls with that orange, green bean curry we like!  We love the free lunch at Thida.  Seven of us Super English teachers usually eat lunch together, some of them coming from Old Thida.  I wolf down the first meal and go for seconds as the students trickle down from eating lunch in their classrooms.  After finishing my seconds, I wash my plate and utensils and make the arduous journey through hundreds of curious children towards Old Thida.  About a dozen hangers-on and five dozen high-fives later, we break free of New Thida.  It’s a rather warm day, which makes me really appreciative of the air-conditioning I had in my previous three classes.  Unfortunately, my next class will not be as luxurious.  Sarah and I discuss the Prathom 5 class I will be teaching and I brace myself for a rather different experience…

    There is a big difference between Old Thida and New Thida . New Thida is more comfortable but a little more sterile.  It’s a big, cool, circular building with a lot of natural light tempered by the off-white hues inside.  Old Thida is big, square, concrete, and doesn’t care if you are hot or not.  Even though the students here still seem to be amazed at the sight of a westerner, they are older and have a bit more attitude.  I won’t sugarcoat it - this P5 class is not the same as my first three classes.  I’ve only just begun teaching them, and I only see them once a week.  I know about 4 or 5 names in the class, and all of the students are very rambunctious.  All of my wily tricks I use with the six year olds don’t work on these ten to eleven year olds.  Points?  They don’t care so much.  The countdown gets a very mellow response as well.  Once inside the rather warm classroom, I position myself under one of the fans while the children welcome me much like my P1 classes did.  For a warm up, I ask them, “What did you do this weekend?”  The responses vary from the perfect, “I did homework.” to the not-so-perfect, “I go to swimming.”  A little coaching always guarantees the correct response this time.  I ask them, “What is the weather today?”  “Hot! Cloudy! Warm!”  I write their responses on the crinkly board.  It’s warm, but there’s a nice breeze blowing through the room.  They are noisy but as long as it is below a certain level, I let it slide.  “Let’s play Hangman!”  The one thing to truly capture their attention.  Some of these students would actually do surprisingly well on Wheel of Fortune.  They will need to work on their past tense.  I write the question “What did you do this weekend?” on the board and I bring up two pairs of students to ask and respond to the questions.  There are some troublemakers in this class, but it’s more important right now to keep the ones that are paying attention focused on me.  On the board I write two copies of a column of present verbs.  Each team (this class likes to split up as boys vs. girls) sends up a representative to see who can write the past equivalent of each verb.  My voice is strained a bit more in this class, that’s for sure.  There are a few mistakes, but overall, they do a good job.  Next, we play some run and touch.  I write some past tense verbs on the board and they have to touch the correct one when I say out a present version of the verb.  With about 10 minutes left in the class, I think they’ve earned a bit of writing.  They are more than capable of handling ten sentences.  When they finish, they ask me not just to check it, but to sign off with a red pen.  A little different than my P1’s, but that’s ok.  A girl has finished her writing and is looking at a English/Thai conversation book.  It has definitely been written in Thailand and is filled with errors.  How can I in good conscience let her read it the way it is?  For about sixty seconds I take my red pen to that book.  I only hope that she appreciates what I tried to do and not leave her thinking that sentences like, “I don’t like romance movie” are correct.  I leave that class a little quicker than I leave my P1 classes.  It’s hot and I have an hour before my hospital class, so I spend some of it in the air-conditioned internet café.

    I always get to the hospital about twenty minutes before class starts.  I make my way up to the conference room on the second floor, hoping that it hasn’t been usurped for purposes other than learning English. I always get to the hospital about twenty minutes before class starts.  I make my way up to the conference room on the second floor, hoping that it hasn’t been usurped for purposes other than learning English.  I walkthrough the first room, quietly ducking my head as ten nurses turn to see who has interrupted their Powerpoint presented training session.  Oh good, no one is in the conference room and my favorite dry erase board is there. I erase everything on it and make sure to have everything ready for my hospital English class.  It’s inevitable that the students trickle into class up to 15 minutes after it’s scheduled to begin.  After all, they are busy hospital employees.  There are twelve students, and half of them are nurses that speak pretty good English.  The rest are pharmacists, front desk assistants, customer service representatives, or cashiers.  On a Monday especially I try to have a fun warm-up game.  Today it’s an “odd one out” game.  I write about ten groups of four words on the board.  The fun part about this game is that there is not only one correct answer for each group of words.  “Bird, helicopter, airplane, bus,” has at least two solutions right off the bat, and it is really nice to see some of the reasonings the students come up with.  The nurses tend to dominate the discussion, if only for their superior English skills, but I always try to coax answers out of the more bashful students.  It actually takes a few moments for me to change from teaching younger children to teaching adults.  I find it more comfortable if I see myself more as a facilitator than a teacher.  They are similar to the younger children in the sense that they enjoy games just as much, and they tend to help each other formulate correct answers.  After the game, we dive right into the meat of the lesson - the exciting topic of insurance.

    I always get to the hospital about twenty minutes before class starts.  I make my way up to the conference room on the second floor, hoping that it hasn’t been usurped for purposes other than learning English. I always get to the hospital about twenty minutes before class starts.  I make my way up to the conference room on the second floor, hoping that it hasn’t been usurped for purposes other than learning English.  I walkthrough the first room, quietly ducking my head as ten nurses turn to see who has interrupted their Powerpoint presented training session.  Oh good, no one is in the conference room and my favorite dry erase board is there. I erase everything on it and make sure to have everything ready for my hospital English class.  It’s inevitable that the students trickle into class up to 15 minutes after it’s scheduled to begin.  After all, they are busy hospital employees.  There are twelve students, and half of them are nurses that speak pretty good English.  The rest are pharmacists, front desk assistants, customer service representatives, or cashiers.  On a Monday especially I try to have a fun warm-up game.  Today it’s an “odd one out” game.  I write about ten groups of four words on the board.  The fun part about this game is that there is not only one correct answer for each group of words.  “Bird, helicopter, airplane, bus,” has at least two solutions right off the bat, and it is really nice to see some of the reasonings the students come up with.  The nurses tend to dominate the discussion, if only for their superior English skills, but I always try to coax answers out of the more bashful students.  It actually takes a few moments for me to change from teaching younger children to teaching adults.  I find it more comfortable if I see myself more as a facilitator than a teacher.  They are similar to the younger children in the sense that they enjoy games just as much, and they tend to help each other formulate correct answers.  After the game, we dive right into the meat of the lesson - the exciting topic of insurance.

    The hospital English class is as much a learning experience for me as it is for the students.  After all, they have to explain to me their processes in the first place.  Even though I worked at a hospital for five years prior to coming to Thailand, there is much that I don’t know about how a hospital works.  But what it boils down to, is that the students want to be able to handle the problematic situation in English.  So, when they want to discuss insurance, for example, they want to be able to explain to the foreign patient why they will need to pay up front.  We run through a few scenarios, the ones that concern them the most, and while I try to wrap my head around how they deal with foreign insurance companies, I come up with strategies for answering the issues the foreign patient might have.  For example, if there is a problem obtaining a payment guarantee from the foreign patient’s insurance company, it comes down to one of two possible responses they can give.  The best moments are when you’ve understood the process they explained to you and when you can provide them with a way to respond to a difficult situation.  Some of them will parrot what I write on the board, but as long as they know to apply it in the correct situation, I will have considered it a success.  That’s what makes the hospital English class such a different organism from the younger students’ classes.  It usually feels like there’s not enough time for each hospital class,but I consider that a good thing, because the students there are always filled with questions.

    At 4pm, my Monday is officially finished.  More often than not, I will head to the night market for a delicious takeaway dinner of Soup Lady’s wonton soup and some spring rolls.  Those delicious spring rolls are also a perfect vegan compliment to whatever kind of salad Sarah will make once we get home.  The hot Thailand day demands another shower as soon as we step foot in the door, but not quite yet for me.  I will relax for an hour or so before I head back out on my motorbike to meet up with Alex, the shop owner and friendly neighbor to the Super English house on Chalokrat Rd.  To say Alex is the nicest Thai person I have ever met says more about Alex than it does about the always friendly Thai people.  I could gush about Alex for hours, but suffice to say, I meet up with him to jog.  Around 6pm we head to the stadium, which is a short walk from his shop and house.  “How many laps you do today?” he asks me.  “Two if I’m lucky,” I respond.  Alex is a very healthy 52 year old man that does not look a day over 40.  And he jogs 8km a day easily.  We start off jogging together but after about 50 meters he’s already sped far ahead of me.  I see him pass me a few times while I stumble my way to almost two jogging laps.  By the time we finish, he’s jogged 6km and is sweating much less than I am.  That’s alright, he’s always very supportive.  He offers me a seat at the table outside his shop and gives me a bottle of waterfrom his  stock.  Alex always jokingly threatens bodily harm when I offer to pay him money.  He’ll sit with me as we recover from the jog, talking about everything from his favorite soccer team Liverpool, to teaching me a few new words in Thai, to telling me a little bit about his effectively bigamist neighbor, Bang.  It is not legal to have more than one wife in Thailand but many, many husbands have mistresses they call ‘Giks’. Bang only has one ‘Gik’ and one wife.  Another friend of Alex, Woon, has two ‘giks’ and one wife.  After a sufficient cool down, I get back on the motorbike to enjoy the delicious soup that’s waiting for me at home.  This time, the upstairs bathroom wins the shower sweepstakes.  The cool (not cold) water is very welcome, as well as the western toilet.  While I slurp down the soup, Sarah and I will watch a few episodes of whatever TV show is on my laptop at the moment.  Some days I might be interested in going to Casa or another restaurant for a drink and a chat, but usually not Mondays.  They’re already as full as they can be for me.  At this point, most people would say something like, “One down, four to go,” referencing both their aversion to their job and the anticipation of the weekend.  As for me, that never really crosses my mind.