I know it’s been quite a while since my last post, but I suppose that’s a pretty good reflection of what my life has been like the past month. Being a teacher in Uthai Thani province has been everything and nothing like I imagined. It’s busy, stressful, rewarding, frustrating, wonderful, and forcing me to the VERY edge of my comfort zone. I’ve had so many experiences in my new town that I hardly know where to begin. Let me start with my school, Uthaiwittaykhom.
Right, so that’s Ooh- Thai-wit-tea-ah-comb. It took me a solid 2 weeks to get the pronunciation down, but now it rolls off my tongue as though I’ve been saying it for years. A sprawling campus, UTW is the largest high school in the Uthai Thani province. It has 3000 students, several deputy directors, and more teachers than I’ll ever be able to meet. On Mondays and Fridays, I sit at my very own desk in the English staff room. The ladies in this department are incredible women who inspire me, help me whenever I even LOOK like I might need it, stuff me with delicious Thai food, and put a huge smile on my face every day. One woman in particular, P’A, has truly been my saving grace at UTW- always quick with a bit of advice or information and a smile to go along with it.
On the other 3 days of the week, I sit at another desk of my very own in the science staff room. As you might expect, there is significantly less English spoken in this department, so when I am in the office there is significantly more miming, looking up words in a dictionary, and pointing. There is also a lot of laughing. They love to share food with me and watch my reaction (this is when a lot of the laughing happens). Three of my science colleagues co-teach with me, which means they give me guidance as to which topics to teach and translate in Thai if the students don’t understand the directions I give them. But mostly, they keep the kids from losing their shit. These co-teachers are SO unbelievably kind to me and I truthfully would be lost in these big science classes without them.
Then of course, there are the students. Here again, I’m at a loss as to how to even begin describing these wonderful, rambunctious, terrible kids. Overall, they are curious, respectful, and have pretty decent English skills. Don’t get me wrong, they ARE still teenagers and sometimes they can be real shits. But for the most part, they are well-behaved and want to learn. Some of the kids in my favorite older classes put more energy into classwork then the college students I’ve taught back home in the States.
My day starts at about 7 am, when I wake up and peddle my two-seater beach cruiser bike through town to the school. At 8, the campus is full of people rooted to their spots for the Thai national anthem. We unfreeze about a moment later and the school assembly starts. I honestly have no idea what happens for the next 30 minutes, as the entire thing is in Thai- but it seems important. At 8:40, classes start. I teach 3 different subjects- science, English, and health- to 5 different grades for a total of 18 class periods a week. Whenever I’m not teaching, I’m making lesson plans. I peddle home around 4:30, collapse in the AC for a bit, and then continue to make lesson plans until I pass out on my books. Truthfully, it’s exhausting. For the first several weeks, I constantly felt unprepared and behind in lessons. But finally, this week I was able to catch up, plan ahead, and feel comfortable in my classrooms.
It’s still freaking exhausting though.
But as you might expect, it’s all so worth it in the end. The moments when I see a student actually learn something, or when they ask me how to say something in English “just because”- those are the moments that make all the run-around worthwhile.
I want to finish off this post by describing my favorite and most exhausting class that has really defined my experience as an ESL teacher so far. M1/1 is the youngest and most inexperienced bunch in the school. Thirteen and wild, they have big smiles and short attention spans. Surprisingly, their English is better than some of the older students I have, and most of them genuinely like learning. I have them for english, health, and a double period of science every week, so I’m really starting to learn their names and all their different little personalities. At times I feel almost motherly toward them- wanting to hug awkward little June when the cooler girls are teasing her, or make faces at Seven when he’s being silly and fabulous. Other times, I want to throttle them all for playing too much and listening too little. We get through the vocabulary and learning part of class only if I’m as crazy and rowdy as they are, and we spend the rest of the hour playing games and running around. Sometimes I wonder if this is what being a parent feels like. And then I decide to never have children.
…Until one of them runs up to me in the hall yelling “Hello teachaaah! I love you!” and melts my heart.