I have been a teacher in Thailand for 8 weeks now and I honesty feel I have learned much more than I have taught. My best teachers…my 39 amazing first graders. My little monkeys. My biggest headache and my greatest joy!
I have 39 amazing first graders none of who speak English with any fluency. The only English they know is what is taught to them by the foreign teachers that come through their school and in the context they are learning it in the classroom (math vocab, science vocab, etc), but somehow we understand each other. I have learned in order to reach and teach my 39 first graders I need to break out a brand new language, a language with no cultural barriers. A language that is the same around the world and spoken by millions and millions of people. A language that luckily I have extensive experience speaking and understanding. I have spoken this language as a preschool teacher, a camp director and coordinator of community education. It is complex language with many nuances, but once you know it you can go anywhere in the world and teach. The language is called “kid.”
The basics of the language are easy, but it takes years to fully comprehend. All kids like to dance. All kids like to color. All kids like to run around and play games. All kids like to learn. All kids like laugh and sing. All kids like to know the rules, so they can try to break them. But most importantly all kids like to feel loved and appreciated. All kids want their feeling validated. All kids want to feel safe and protected. You don’t need to speak the same language to be able to do all the aforementioned things. You just need to have a warm heart, a big smile and big actions.
I have worked hard to communicate with my students in both English and “kid” and this week I finally feel that my work has paid off. My kids got their measles shot at school this week and just like in America kids freak out at the site of needles. They hate shots and there are plenty of tears. I was not scheduled to by with my kids 6th period on Friday, but as I was going to the office to hand in my worksheets to be copied I saw a bunch of my kids crying so immediately my motherly nature took over. I went over to my crying kids and hugged them and offered to hold their hands while they got their measles shot. I am sure they didn’t understand all the words I was speaking to them, but they did understand one thing that Teacher Tracy cared about them and would be there if they needed her. I stood in line with my kiddos and each one grabbed on to me and held my hand and squeezed it when it hurt. I spoke their language and they understood.
Since I started speaking the language “kid” everything has seemed to fall in place in the classroom. My students know that I can play and dance and sing with them, but also expect them to sit in their desks and do their work during class time. For the most part they show respect and work hard, but naturally sometimes “kid” takes over and I am left with a tremendous headache at the end of the day, but that is ok, because there is always tomorrow. I could not be more thankful for everything I have learned about teaching here in the last 8 weeks and look forward to growing into a better teacher in the 15 months to come!