For the last few days, I’ve been thinking about the atmosphere in the classroom while teaching here in Thailand. By atmosphere I mean the dynamic or the environment or the feeling in the classroom. Since I haven’t taught English in other countries (yet) I’m not sure what the classroom atmosphere is like elsewhere, but I do know what it’s like in America because I went to school there. Even though it’s been a few years since I was in Junior High and High School, and my memory seems to fade with each passing day, I still remember my 7th Grade and 10th Grade years.
During that time, I was a ‘little terror’ in class. Yes, I was the class clown and class court jester and class comedian. I was the one who got sent on ‘long errands’ that usually ended up in the Principals’ office. I was the one who always had to sit up front – usually close to the teachers’ desk or right in front of the teachers’ podium. I was the one who talked a bit – ok, maybe that’s an understatement – I was the one who talked a LOT! Holding back my thoughts and opinions never crossed my mind – I just rattled on and on…. I certainly wasn’t the teachers’ pet, but on the other hand, I wasn’t the teachers’ worst nightmare. I was just a hyper kid who liked to have fun and had trouble closing his mouth when it should have been closed.
Now, I’m the teacher. Now, I’m the one looking out at the classroom with 45 students. Now, I’m trying to control a bunch of students who are just like me when I was their age! What comes around goes around. I guess it’s Karma. The shoe’s on the other foot. A taste of my own medicine. Life comes full circle. The universe strikes back. (Ok, enough with the cliches, I’m sure you get it – ha!) Before I came to Thailand to teach, I had a vision in my head of what the class would be like: All the students sitting quietly, looking at the teacher, listening attentively, participating in class, raising their hand and waiting to be called on before speaking, etc, etc. Well, the reality of the Thailand classroom is a bit different from my vision. The reality is much closer to what it was like in my 7th Grade classroom in America – controlled chaos!
I’m not a big, tough, mean disciplinarian. I’m not the type of teacher who carries a ruler and slaps the wrist of an unruly student. There are different ways to get the students to quite down to a dull roar and participate in class, and I’m the type of teacher who looks for those creative ways to control the class and stay positive at the same time.
The first thing I do is try to keep the in-class topic, and the way that topic / lesson is presented, very interesting and entertaining. I realize my job is to teach English and that is first and foremost. I’m not here as a paid comedian, but if I can keep the students interested and involved – they talk less and are less disruptive. So, I make class fun, I act foolish sometimes, I make jokes, I look silly or act silly, and the kids laugh. But, they also pay attention and that’s the point. The second thing I do is try to keep it all in perspective. Number one, I was major talker in class at their age, so I understand why some kids go nuts sometimes. Number two, I’m trying to teach them a language that is not their first language and they don’t always understand what I’m talking about or what I’m saying. They just don’t know all of the words yet – they don’t have a complete grasp on the English vocabulary like I do. Since they sometimes don’t know what I’m saying, they may become disruptive since they are ‘lost’ in class at that point. So, I try to keep things simple and I try to get clarification that the students understand what I’m saying before I continue.
While I was in the OEG Orientation back in May of this year, there were times set aside for all of us new teachers to learn the Thai language. I will never forget the feeling during those Thai lessons. I was completely lost at times. I had no idea what was being said or how to say the words I was supposed to say. When the Thai teacher called on me to speak in Thai, I was terrified! Most of the time, I was lost during those sessions. So, I remember that and I realize that at times my students must feel the EXACT same way now that I was feeling back then. They are trying to learn English just as I was trying to learn Thai.
Now it’s time for more “So You Know You’re In Thailand” moments:
*What is the deal with Thai people holding what looks like a tube of Chap Stick to their nose as they walk around?? It used to make me stop and wonder, now it’s just part of life. (I think it’s some sort of menthol or eucalyptus smelling stick that helps cover up some of the other wonderful odors that circulate around Thailand!)
*Bare feet are ok here. In fact, I think some people never wear shoes! Their soles must be tough! Sometimes bare feet are a must – like in a Wat or Temple or certain shops. Just be sure not to use your feet to ‘point’ at anything or use your feet to hold open a door.
*Every little mirror is used as a personal tweezing device!! This is bizarre! There is plucking and tweezing and primping and tweaking that happens in public all the time. I bet you thought those little mirrors on a scooter were for looking behind you – no – they are used for tweezing! The other day, I saw a woman using a mirror to pluck the hairs in her armpit while she was on the sidewalk in front of her food shop; I just glanced once and kept on walking. Only in Thailand….
*If there is the slightest excuse for a holiday or a party – there will be one!!! Sanuk!
*Rubber bands – the “duct tape” of Thailand!
*It finally hit me last week… why does every building, house, apartment, shop, store, restaurant, and indoor area seem different here?? No carpeting!! It’s true!! The floors are all tile or cement or wood! No wonder you always hear the clack clack clack or slap slap slap of flip flops or bare feet in the hall.
*New record: I was in a 14 person van from Ayutthaya to Suphanburi yesterday. There were 31 people in the van at one point. I kid you not! Of course, most of them were Thai college students who are about the size of a pencil.