If you are from America and you ever need a confidence boost, stepping into a Thai classroom will do the trick instantly. These are only some of the compliments I have received so far:
- Teacher, you are so beautiful!
- You look like Scarlett Johansson!
- Teacher, your eyes so pretty!
- Teacher, you have beautiful smile!
My students call me Teacher Sam and most of them have already stolen my heart.
Lomkaophittayakhom School, like many of the other public schools in Thailand with limited funds, is extremely unorganized. I am over a week into teaching and I still have yet to receive any attendance sheets with the lists of my students names. Which makes things even more confusing than they already are.
The concept of a “last name” is relatively new in Thailand. New, meaning the past two hundred years or so. Because of that, Thai people are very descriptive, to the point that the word “fat” is not supposed to be offensive, but merely descriptive. Needless to say, I’m thankful I am not overweight. Thai people have traditionally had very long first names and now they have very long last names to add on to it. These complicated names are luckily only used in formal settings, like in the workplace and for legal documents. The rest of the time, Thai people are called by a nickname. These tend to be simple words, usually shorter than five or six letters, and many of these words are stolen from the English language. The funny thing is: Thai people are commonly given nicknames by their parents that their parents thought sounded nice or were easy to say, but that they do not understand the English definition of. Here are some examples of nicknames my students have:
I could go on, considering I have upwards of 700 students. The situation at Lomkaophittayakhom School this semester is not the best. Typically, this foreign language program requires 6 foreign teachers to support the number of students who need to learn English. Unfortunately, some of the teachers who signed a year contract last year broke their contract without notice, so there are only three teachers this semester: myself, Jenn, and an American teacher named John. John has been a HUGE help to Jenn and I in terms of getting settled and finding our way around here.
I have an absurd number of students. Every week, I have twenty different classes. Yes, you read that right. I see each student once a week, and every single class session is a group of different students.
The Thai education system is a funky one, and at times it can be depressing. Students attend Prathom (Primary school) from grades P1-P6. (Equivalent to Kindergarten through 6th grade). Then, they move to Mattayhom (Secondary school) for grades M1-M6 (Equivalent to 7th grade through 12th). Lomkao is a Mattayhom school and I am specifically teaching M3 and M5 (9th and 11th grades).
Additionally, each grade is separated into ten different behavior/proficiency levels. 1 is considered the best, while 10 is considered the worst. So far, there has been no clear criteria explained to me as to how students are placed in these levels. In Bangkok, I heard gossip that students are often prioritized by how much their family financially supports the school, but I have not confirmed that.
The reason why this is depressing? Lomkao is an agricultural town. When I say rural, picture your idea of rural, and then multiply it by ten. It takes me thirty minutes to get to a store. So, if students are placed in level 6 or above, it is almost always automatically assumed that that student will be destined to work on the farm with their parents. Though unspoken, it is apparent that teachers spend less time working with these students, as they feel the 1-5 level students need more time and attention to prepare for prestigious careers or colleges. This leaves the 6-10 students feeling unmotivated and not cared for. Of course, it is not as black and white as this seems, but you get an idea.
That combined with the fact that students cannot fail in the Thai education system is a perfect recipe for rambunctious, unmotivated students in levels 6 or above.
Typically, I would only manage one grade at a time, but because the teaching staff is short by half, we are each teaching two grades at one time. I teach M3 (1-10) and M5 (1-10), which is why I have 20 different sections.
As of this afternoon, I have taught a full week of classes, and have just now met all of my students. The other reason why this system is sad? Some of my higher level classes (6 and above) have been my favorite so far. Some of these students have paid me the utmost respect, while a class of 3’s that I had ignored me for an hour straight. I left that class of 3’s feeling like I needed a cough drop from yelling. It’s very hard not to get frustrated and feel that the 1-3’s are spoiled.
For example, the 1’s get to study in air conditioned classrooms, while the rest of the school learns in the heat. The 1’s also get additional classes after school to help them prepare for their exams. Every Tuesday I will be teaching a class after school to the 3.1’s to make sure they are fully prepared for their end of the semester English course exams.
But, as they told us in orientation: “You are here to teach. Not to advocate for education reform.”
Luckily, the universe blessed me with a class of 5.1’s that I absolutely adore. They made my heart swell so large that I felt like the Grinch in the scene where his heart grows – falling on the ground and all. They sang for me, they were attentive and curious. They looked at me with bright, grateful eyes.
So, I guess I’ll have to hush that humanitarian side of myself. (Not exactly easy to do if you know me at all….) It gets easier if I focus on how cute the kids are. And cute as hell they are!