Although I’ve been in Thailand for over two weeks now, today marks only my third day in the classroom. On Monday, myself and all the other foreign teachers attended a meeting with the head Thai teachers. There were about a dozen of us introducing ourselves nervously to our new school staff. After the meeting we walked around, looked at our classrooms and met the Thai teachers we would work with. None of us speak Thai and most of the Thai teachers do not speak English so it made for some interesting and confusing exchanges. We were told that we needed to plan a lesson about winter for the kindergarten classes and for our English classes we could, “do whatever you want.”
I wasn’t nervous about teaching until after our Monday meeting. For six months I wondered what grade and subject I would teach. I was always told to go with the flow and wait for the information at the teachers’ meeting and here I was and I didn’t feel in the know at all. Nonetheless I went home and wrote my first actual lesson plan. Of course my apartment didn’t have Internet so I thought of things from teacher training and tried to think about what I would want to learn on my first day of English class.
I wrote up lesson plans about winter and informal introductions for the kindergarten and grade one classes and then I went to bed feeling like I could handle my first day with some ease. I was dead wrong.
I got to school really early on Tuesday waiting for imminent doom and it arrived at about 8:30 a.m. when the Thai teacher said, “Teacher Sarah, sing song.” I looked at her with a blank face, “Any song?” She shook her head yes. My mind was racing. I didn’t plan to teach a morning song, what the hell was I going to say to these kids. Once I stood up before their cute little faces I had a few flashbacks from orientation and a song about the days of the week popped into my head. Ok, this wasn’t too bad. I think they can handle a song that consists of nine words. So I proceeded to teach them a song along with hand motions, “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, NO SCHOOL!” I forget who taught me this at orientation, but I owe you a Leo if we meet up again. The song went well and it relaxed me a little bit to know that I didn’t completely fail when asked to sing on the spot.
Then came my hour-long lesson about winter. An hour never moved so slowly. And the time leading up to my lesson flew by. I taught the kids some winter words and another simple song with hand motions. This one was harder, but at least they were paying attention to me. I hadn’t thought of any fun games to play and saying and spelling the words weren’t taking up much time, so I decided to have them draw snowmen. There was one problem, no paper. The school gives a certain amount of paper to each teacher so teachers aren’t willing to share any. Since it was the first day, I didn’t have my paper allotment yet. If there was one good thing about teacher training it was the free tablet. I hurried over to my backpack and ripped out a sheet for each student. Once they started drawing and coloring I was off the hook. The minutes passed with ease and I was finished with my first kindergarten lesson.
Along with kindergarten I have to teach grade one English and Conversation. I had planned on teaching them introductions and a song, but when I got to school in the morning I was handed three books. One of the teachers told me I should plan on teaching lesson five so during my lunch break I made a new lesson plan. After lunch I headed to my grade one class and to be honest I was extremely nervous. Kindergarteners are easy to entertain, but I wasn’t sure I could do the same with grade one. I asked the kids to open to page 66 and I heard thirty-five little voices say, “Teacher Sarah we did this!” I looked at all their workbooks and sure enough page 66-68 was completely finished. Shit. I wanted to evaporate. The Thai teacher and the Filipino homeroom teacher were both in the room so I knew I couldn’t just play games the entire time. I didn’t want to seem like a joke, like today was my first day of teaching, ever. I started with introductions like I had originally planned, but they new everything I was trying to teach them. Time was going by so slowly. I ended up making them work in pairs and anyone who’s ever had to work in a group knows what that’s like. It usually consists of sitting and chatting and making it seem like you’re busy. All the kids were talking in Thai and that is obviously not what I wanted them to do. So we moved on to a song. They picked it up really quickly so we sang that a bunch of times, but there was still twenty minutes left. My mind was blank. I started pointing around the classroom and asking them, “What color is this?” I wonder if they knew how bad I was freaking out in my head. They seemed to have fun with it, but inside I was breaking down. I just taught the most random and unrelated lesson and worse yet, they already knew everything I was saying, so I guess I didn’t teach them much at all. I was wrapping up the game when the Filipino teacher said, “You still have ten more minutes.” So I tried to explain the concept of ‘I Spy’ but it was really difficult. Instead I started naming colors and they would find something in or on their desk and hold it up. It worked and I was almost done for the day, the only thing left to do was read a story to my kindergarten class. I read, Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? by Bill Martin Jr. The kids loved it. Whew. Done with day one. I went back to my apartment and questioned over and over why I actually signed up for this. I had a few well-paying jobs in Philly and all my friends and family close by.
Jump to today and I’m almost laughing at how worked up I was about my first day teaching. I’m already getting into the swing of things and my lesson plans are much better than day one. I’m making the kids participate more and they’re excited to come up to the board and show me they know what they’re talking about. My kindergarteners are giving me more and more hugs throughout the day and one of them even said to me, “Teacher Sarah, you’re pretty.” Yeah, maybe all five-year-olds think girls with long brown hair are pretty, but it meant a lot to me.
Other than my unmerited anxiety, school is pretty monotonous, but then again this is my first 9-5 (or 7:30-4) job I’ve ever had. I like a lot of things about the Thai school system too. The cafeteria uses bowls and silverware instead of plastic or styrofoam trays and the kids each have their own metal cup in the classroom so there is very little waste. I also help the kids brush their teeth after lunch, which I think is really important because at least it insures it’s being done once a day. Naptime is long, really, really, long. They lie down at 11:30 and don’t get up until 1:45. I wish it were naptime for teachers too. I also get great Internet at school, which is more than I can say for anywhere else in Thailand including my apartment. For how great the school looks and runs there are some downfalls. It is lacking in supplies so I foresee myself spending some baht on paper and craft items, but I’m also getting paid more than I expected so I’m not too worried about it. On the upside, there are real toilets instead of squatters, which are pretty popular in Asia, but that doesn’t mean there is toilet paper, soap or paper towels. You have to bring your own. At first it was a crazy concept, but now it’s the norm.
I’m hopeful that as time moves on lesson planning and teaching will come more naturally. I’m always looking for easy songs, games and crafts that need very little supplies so to all the teachers and educators out there keep me in mind.