I have made it through my first two weeks of teaching and this will definitely go down for the record books.
My first four weeks in Thailand I spent in the TESOL program in Chiang Mai getting my certificate to teach abroad. We learned in depth how to plan speaking, listening and reading lessons for the children to expose them to as much English as you can in one hour a day, one day a week. When I left Chiang Mai I felt prepared. If I could say so myself, my speaking lessons were spot on. Wonderfully engaging, solid dialogue, relative information. Great warmers to get the kids interested and fun coolers to make them want more long after class had ended. Well, after two weeks in Thailand that has all gone out the window!
Within minutes of being at the school I got my teaching assignment for the semester. I was going to be teaching 14 kindergartners English five days a week in an intensive English program AND teaching not just English (the one subject that TESOL prepared us for), but also teaching math, science, health and phy ed to a group of 39 1st graders. Yes, 39 first graders none of which English is their first language. 39 rambunctious six and seven year olds so eager to learn, but lacking the ability to communicate fully with “Teacher Tracy.” 39 students that follow me around the moment I walk into school and yell for me to “teach them!” 39 students that all want my attention at the same time. TESOL did not prepare me for this!
I have learned a lot in these two weeks. I have learned that communication with these kiddos is definitely a two way street. As much as they want me to understand them when they point to a kid crying in the corner, so much do I want them to understand me when I say “stand in a circle” or “get in two lines.” The first week I wanted to pull my hair out as it literally took my class 20 minutes to form a circle for a good old song I like to call “the hokey pokey.” I was finding myself raising my voice and practically shouting “just form a circle” and they were all staring back at me following me in a line smiling. It was almost humorous. They just could not comprehend what I was trying to get them to do and it was not their fault. They simply did not have the words “make a circle” in their vocabulary quite yet, so I had to teach them. On Wednesday it only took 15 minutes to form a circle and I rejoiced! I have learned to embrace the small achievements! I can only hope that by the end of the month we can get in a circle in under 5 minutes!
Every day is a trying day, but little by little it is starting to get better. We are learning to communicate with each other through more than just words. Big gestures, laughing and smiling go a lot further in Thailand then raising your voice. It doesn’t matter how loud I talk if they are not following what I am saying they are not going to respond the way I would like them to. I need to do a better job slowing down and relaxing. Searching for new ways to communicate if what I am doing is not working. I just need to take the time to laugh at the situation.
It truly is an impossible feat to teach 39 ESL students to the level of expectations that they hold for teachers in America. That is when I have to sit back and remember “This is Thailand!” The expectations are different here. My job is to expose these children to as much English as I possibly can when they are with me, so they can make their way out of the bottom class and become someone in Thailand. They are not going to be fluent, English is always going to be their second language, but as long as they are using English words in context while speaking with me and eventually outside the classroom, I am doing my job. The students will learn in time and I will continue to learn every day.
Mai Pen Rai as they say in Thailand (its ok, have no worries).