Wednesday, October 20, 2010
The Discovery of Thai Time
So early this morning we brushed our teeth, combed our hair, shined our shoes, checked our teaching supplies one last time for the markers and alphabet cutouts and posters and stickers, snapped a few "first day of school" photos and packed into a van, anxious for our first "live" teaching experience. We were ready to TEACH gosh dang it! As a way of breaking us in, the local schools arrange for a free "English Camp" and though it is mid-vacation, some kids are so eager to learn English they show up for extra school. We are working in teams of three for six days, primary grades in the morning and high school in the afternoon. We actually teach one at a time, an hour at a time, while the other two film and critique the performance. It is a sound method for easing in those on our team who have never taught or trained as teachers in undergraduate school. I am teamed up with Kerry, an effervescent young woman straight out of her elementary training- a terrific match for someone like me who last worked with first and second graders in graduate school 16 years ago- and Sarah, the youngest member of our team, just 21 and fresh out of University of Texas at Austin. I will do an entry on several of these remarkable young people at some point. If you knew them, you would truly feel hopeful about the future and proud of the land that formed them. But back to teaching. As I said, this experience is all to bolster us and scaffold our future teaching; to ensure that we will have the best chance possible of a safe take-off from such a short runway. Next Thursday, when we leave for our actual assignments, we will be completely on our own, most of us many miles from another native speaker of English. In my small house I will be about 20 minutes by bike from Ben, about 35 minutes from Zach, and 20 minutes by commuter truck (saawng tao) from Rita. After that I am about 30 minutes in the other direction from the relatively large city of Nakhon Phanom where there are 3 other volunteers, each about 10 to 15 minutes from each other. The other volunteers are loosely clustered further south, and about 45 minutes from me by car. Though World Teach requires a Thai teacher be present in any kindergarten classes with us, most of the school day we will be alone with our kids, one hour at a time. Some volunteers have a separate classroom and some visit various homerooms to teach various grades. will teach 2 and a half days at Thai Samakee and 2 and a half days at Nong ya sai and I have classes with every grade k-6. In both buildings I have my own space the kids come to. I will of course blog all of this once I get going. Some schools have an "English" teacher, but usually this is not a teacher who has studied the subject, and in no school (other than the one in which we are currently staying) is that teacher fluent in English. Most of them speak at best in limited and broken phrases, which is why you see shirts like these for sale at the local night market:
Believe me, I know my Thai designed t-shirts would be far worse. So that is our challenge- to teach and make progress without any real understanding of the native language. Yet it is possible, and we have already begun to pick up lots of Thai phrases and words. We are obviously better than the alternative of nothing at all. There were far more schools who wanted a WT volunteer than were available. At one point last year there were 25 people signed up for the program, but that number dropped by 10 when the rioting broke out in Bangkok. I say good riddance to total wussies. And yet, gentle reader, I digress from my story of the day, the first day of Thai children in the classroom. It is easy to do as there is always far more I have to tell you than there is time or the means to write it.