by Paul Hoffman, Greenheart Travel Teach Abroad Participant in Thailand

Just when I think everything was going good here at Kachanapise School in Thailand, I have a day like today.  Not a bad day, but not as good as normal.  I realize I’ve only been teaching a short time (about a month) and I don’t have a teaching background, but during the first three and a half weeks of teaching – I felt great!

There was a connection between myself and my students.  They paid attention (for the most part) and I felt like they understood what I was teaching.  They participated!  They spoke English when I asked them to speak.  They had that certain look in their eye that showed that they “got” it!  As a teacher, when they “get it”, it makes you feel good.

Today I’m teaching one of my Matyom 1 (the spelling of this word is up for debate…  as it’s a Thai word, all I can do is hope that this spelling in English is somewhat close) classes.  It’s basically a seventh grade group of students and we are talking about animals.  These kids know their animals.  They can name more animals, in English, then most kids in the U.S.  It’s amazing!

I hand out an exercise sheet that has pictures of animals and they write in the correct name for each picture in English.  (Then we do a series of questions where I ask them if they were to become an animal, what animal would they be and why – etc, etc….)  After they wrote in the answers, we were correcting the worksheet as a group and all the students were saying the name of the animal out loud for each picture.  We go through about half of the 15 pictures and a girl in the second row puts up her hand, so I stop the in-class correction and call on her.  She asks me (in very good English) what sport I like to play.

My eyes blink a few times.  I’m dumbstruck.  I’m baffled.  I’m speechless.  Are we in an episode of Twilight Zone?  Did I just cross into a parallel universe?  This girl and I – are we in separate worlds?

A few silent seconds tick by as I try to make some sort of connection between in class correction of pictures of animals with the names written in and what sport I like to play….

After my brain tries and fails in developing any kind of connection, I tell her it’s a good question and I’ll answer it after we finish today’s lesson on animals.

So, the moral of the story:  Don’t get too complacent.  Don’t think that things are always going smoothly and wonderfully.  Don’t ever assume that each student is “getting” it and they are with you every step of the way.  Don’t let yourself fall into (and stay in) your comfort zone because you may be flung back into reality via the Twilight Zone!

Here are a few more “you know you’re in Thailand when” realizations:

  • You keep right on teaching as a bird or hornet flies around the classroom.  The kids don’t pay attention to it, you don’t pay attention to it, it’s just “normal”.  I was eating lunch the other day with seven other Thai teachers in our little teacher lunchroom area and there’s a bird flying around.  Am I the only one seeing this??!!
  • Every Thai student has perfect English and grammar when it comes to this question:  “Teacher Paul, may I please use the toilet?”  I think it’s the first sentence they learn in Primary school.
  • Microphone or No Microphone?  It’s a question that every English teacher asks themselves at some point.  Thought for the first week:  “I don’t want to use a microphone; I want to be able to walk around the entire classroom.”  Thought for week two:  “My throat is killing me.  I can hardly make any sound when I speak.  Did I really have to raise my voice that much to be heard?  Maybe using a microphone isn’t such a bad idea after all.”
  • Be prepared to be mimicked by Thai people.  They will mimic you.  What you say, how you laugh, how you wave, the look on your face – they will mimic you and then laugh!  It’s all in good fun and they mean no harm, but the first few times sort of shocked me.  Now I just laugh along with them….
  • I never knew a small Nissan truck could haul 58 people in the back.  Lets’ just say the tailgate was pretty low to the ground.

Only in Thailand!