Just a warning:
This isn’t going to be a happy sunshine, puppies and unicorns post about how much I love teaching already and how amazing and welcoming all my coworkers. Nope. It’s going to be about my utter frustration with not knowing what is going on, and the expectations my school has of me that I never signed up for. If you’re looking for sunshine, puppies and unicorns then this is not the place, my friend.
Also, there are no pictures.
My first day of teaching in Rayong proved to be stressful and frustrating, like a lot of teacher’s first days, I presume! The English Department director, who picked me up at the mall the previous day, introduced me to a bunch of people in the head office that I probably will not ever see again, and their names are all just a blur now. I think that because I arrived during Sports Week, and about two weeks into the school semester, there was some urgency to pass me along to my Thai co-teacher.
The morning of my first day, I was dragged onto the schools main field, with loud dance music blaring in the background and quickly introduced to a Thai teacher and a Filipino teacher. It was so loud with the kids practicing their Sports Week dance, that I honestly couldn’t understand a word of what was quickly said to me about teaching. The Thais sometimes lack in their ability to be descriptive. So, there I was, standing in the hot sun, basically following this co-teacher around…not really knowing at this point if I would be teaching one class or rotating around to classes to teach English (like I expected). I was so confused and frustrated because I felt like I was basically dropped on a different planet, where I’d be working for the next 6 months, having no idea what the heck was going on.
After the Sports Week practice was over, we made our way to the Kindergarten/Primary campus, and at some point in the day, I realized that this was not going to be the teach abroad experience I thought I was going to have. Instead of being a rotating teacher, I was handed the job of team-teaching a class of 30 6 year olds. In addition to teaching English for about half of the class period, I would stay with these kids all day, discipline them, serve them lunch, teach PE, watch them while they napped, and play with them. A full-time Kindergarten teacher, only, the kids all speak Thai and the teachers don’t speak English. So you can understand why someone who doesn’t really know how to handle small kids started to freak out. I’m not a hand-holder, a coddler, I can’t hold a smile all the time, I hate germs and runny noses…these are the exact reasons I didn’t want to teach Kindergarten. And now, it’s not just going to be teaching; I’ll have to be a caregiver. The Thai teacher told the Filipino teacher that I needed to discipline the kids more, but I simply don’t know how to do that. I am not here to mold them into perfect citizens, I’m just here to teach English. I’m not going to have my own office like so many of my teacher friends had, nor am I going to get break/planning periods.
I also learned that these kids are in a special program where they have both Thai and English lessons everyday. They’ve been in this program for over a year and a half now, and I’ve learned that their teachers are all hardcore, career teachers. Just looking at some of the lesson plans that were left from the previous teacher made me nervous. The Filipino teacher who holds my exact position in the classroom next to me has been teaching at the school for 9 years. These are career teachers…they probably hate that some American with no teaching degree can come in and work their exact job…I mean, I’d be upset too.
To top it all off, I had no idea what the class schedule was going to be like. When was I supposed to teach? What was I supposed to teach? When does the Thai teacher teach? What is this “special class” that happens every afternoon? Do I have to stay with the kids during their music/computer/dance classes? All simple questions, but in Thailand, impossible to get answers too.
So it took about 3 days to figure out when I would be teaching. And I’m still not completely sure because Sports Week activities messed threw off the normal schedule. I guess I’ll make lesson plans and when my Thai co-teacher says “teacher teach”, then I’ll get up and teach. Also, about a week into teaching, I learned that the 2:30 pm – 3:30 pm “special class” that I teach is actually a block where I help the students with their “homework” and conversation, and in return, the parents pay tuition. It’s not much, but it’s extra income in addition to my monthly salary.
This first week of teaching has also been rough because I’ve come down with a nasty cold/sinus infection/Thailand plague that has left me drained. I literally go home at the end of the day and nap for an hour. If you know me, I don’t deal well with getting sick. And I just got over a two week long sinus infection before coming here. I guess it was inevitable with the lack of hand-washing here; for reals, I haven’t seem a soap dispenser anywhere on the school campus. Kids and teachers just rinse their hands in water and I’m over here like, drenching my hands in hand sanitizer. Maybe I’ll start a hand-washing campaign. Almost all the kids in my class have runny noses and croupy coughs. I do get sick days, but wanted to tough it out because I just got here. And apparently there’s a bug going around too that causes flu-like symptoms too…two of the teachers in my apartment complex have caught it. Welcome to real world Thailand, people.
So here’s where the bit of positivity and happiness comes in: It’s been a week into teaching, and to be honest, I have actually started to get the hang of it and enjoy the teaching part of the day. Even though the kids give me blank stares a lot of the time, I feel like I’m sharing something, however small it may be with them. Even when they turn into wild banshees about twenty minutes into the lesson, and run around the room yelling and I can’t, for the life of me, get them to quiet down or even sit down, I am semi-content because at least we got through half of the lesson. I’m not thrilled with the other duties like serving lunch or lining the kids up. I also don’t like the corporal punishment that the Thai teachers give out. I will never put my hands on a student, I refuse to be more disciplinarian than I already am…that not me and it’s not the way I was brought up. Thailand, you wanted an American, and you got her.
But I hear these experiences are very typical for your first week in a Thai school. And as much as I wanted to run to the bathroom crying, I didn’t. The tears welled up a few times, but I didn’t let them out. It’s really faux pas to cry in Thailand, by the way. I teach 6 year olds and they never whine or cry. It’s insane. That is just a value they teach their children. But, I’ve got to look at the positives too. I’m kind of fortunate to be in a school with air conditioning, in a decent-sized town, friends with other Westerners, and in an amazing apartment. I know one girl from my group who got to her placement and was told she would be teaching completely different subjects that English. At least I’m teaching English.
Anyways, once I kick this nasty virus I think I’ll be ready to show these kids what I’m made of. I’m going to respond to this adversity by going with the flow a little more and take things as they come my way. Not expecting things to be a certain way, but adjusting to the way that they are. I’ve learned to be prepared for the unexpected when it comes to school; for example, creating lesson plans that you might never use, just in case you have to teach on a day you didn’t think you would. Or, instead of thinking about how frustrated you are, joke around with the kids, because when they look at you like you’re “so cool” it will make you feel like a million bucks. I’ve also come to discover that you really can’t take things too personally or be too hard on yourself. Life is a learning experience. We don’t always know what to do in certain situations, and often times, the best solution is to take a deep breath and stay calm.