I'm really grateful to everyone who is still reading this blog. I love looking back over it as a momento of my time in Thailand last summer. As a final post I thought I'd upload a piece I wrote for the British Council on my reflections as a teacher.
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"The children are staring at me more intently than usual. A sudden fascination with their new vocabulary seems highly unlikely on a Friday morning. I’m sticky with sweat and having avoided the fish curry at breakfast I am hungry even though it’s only 11 am. “Teacher! Teacher!” whispers one of the front row pupils, pointing at my hands and then my face. I look down to black and blue stained fingers from battering the vocab off of the white board and realise that the combination of sweat and board-marker means I’ve unintentionally painted my face during the lesson. I look around the class at my student’s small faces, some laughing shyly, most sharing in my embarrassment trying to avoid staring at my striped cheeks. It’s a laugh or cry moment in this humidity and a bit of pen really isn’t worth any tears; you really can only laugh.
With two weeks left at Banklang School, in the Chumphon region, it seems surreal that I can count my remaining school days on two hands. Reading back on my blog posts and scribbled thoughts of the first few days are mostly things that now I rarely notice at all: pictures of the Royal family in every shop, house and school, the street food sellers chopping, rolling, boiling morning, noon and night, the glittering temples glowing from the top of hills and tucked away behind the thick jungle foliage and the obsession with rice for breakfast lunch, dinner and snacks in between.
Mostly what stands out from my writing in those first few days is my nervousness at the prospect of teaching; standing for the first time in front of a class of students, directing them in a foreign tongue and hoping that enough hand gestures and “chai” (yes) and “mai” (no) would get me by. After nine weeks there are still the students who look at me blankly, reply in choppy, slang Thai and giggle through the lesson. Mostly however they just want your attention and your praise; they want to impress you with their English, even if it’s only a shy “hello!”.
Maybe once in a while they’re more attentive because I look like an idiot with pen on their face, but mostly they’re excited to be in your class and so willing to learn. In fact I’ve learnt a lot from my students, my family and the friends I’ve made. Although I came here as a teacher, more often than not it was me learning lessons over the past nine weeks.
From daily Thai phrases to successfully washing my clothes in a bucket, the life lessons I have learnt along the way are too numerous to count, but there are a few main ones that stand out and that I want to share.
- Embrace the land of smiles:
A smile goes a long way even at the end of a hot day. I was on a lone placement at Banklang School and very much the only farang (foreigner) in the community. This can be daunting but learning a few phrases of Thai and smiling through the more confusing moments really helped me to get by and make friends with the teachers, students and locals.
- You can survive nine weeks teaching in rural Thailand:
Thailand can feel very foreign but it’s also a very nurturing country. You will never go hungry. Your headaches and stomach-aches will pass and no the mosquitoes won’t stop biting you, but you learn to cover up in the evenings and to love your insect repellent. There are lonely days, but there are also overwhelmingly social days, packed weekends with other ETAs and internet access pretty much everywhere.
- Some weeks feel longer than others but time does fly:
The days when you have no idea what will be happening at school, when the power cuts out and you can’t print those lifesaving sheets to keep primary 2 quiet, and when the thought of facing another bowl of rice makes you want to through it across the room like a teething toddler. Those days are the long days. The short days are filled with laughter, with the sense of pride that your failing student has answered your question correctly, where your school want to show you off to their guests and parents and where you find yourself in bed on Sunday evening not sure how another week has slipped by so quickly.
- Be patient with your students:
It’s easy to get ahead of yourself, to chat away at the front of the class and leave your students running to catch up. Repetition really is golden and although it can be boring for you, trying to learn Thai has taught me how difficult it can be to remember new vocabulary and learn a completely foreign alphabet. Be patient with your students, they’re trying their best!
- Relish your time:
It can seem stupid to say: live every moment like you’ll only live it once, of course you do, but it is worth remembering. It is only nine weeks. Keep a note of the small things like random visits to a temple or the local market, as well as the big day to day teaching tasks. It’s invaluable when you’re teaching and you’ve forgotten what you’ve covered with which class and when, but it’s also rewarding to look back at where you were at the beginning and see how far you’ve come.