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Ajarn Strat. Day II and the rest of the week. Life as an English teacher in Thailand

ESL teacher Thailand Expat

Ajarn Strat. Day II and the rest of the week:

The first lesson of every Wednesday is set aside for discipline. From the open corridors that overlook the central courtyard I could see the Discipline Masters checking the student's uniform, checking for head-lice, neatness of shoes and length of hair. Along one side of the court yard I could see 20 girls, standing in a line in front of a female teacher. They had been singled out for having hair that was too long. As each student stepped forward the Thai teacher unceremoniously cut their hair. I immediately thought of the confrontations and accusations of infringements of human rights if that scene happened in an English school. Strangely, I also saw that there wasn't any tantrums, quite the contrary, as the girls took their turn having their hair 'corrected', they smiled politely and gave the teacher the traditional Wai.

Students in this school and I believe in many schools in Bangkok, are taught all their lessons in the same room, the teacher moves from class to class rather than the students. As I walked to my first class of the day I was resolved that if it was a performance that they wanted, then a performance was what they were going to get.

"Good morning teacher" said the students chorally.
"No, No, No" I said, pretending to sob with disappointment. "Again. GOOD MORNING TEACHER! Clearly. Loudly!"
"Good Morning Teacher" said the students a little clearer
"Better, but some of you are still asleep" I said throwing myself on a desk and feigning sleep. "again"

Finally, I thought, I might have their attention. I spent the next 50 minutes running round a winter hot classroom, working towards an understanding of the word 'Imagination'. I showed them that I was imagining I was riding a bike, and received applause when I started doing wheelies and skids on my imaginary bike. More applause when I imagined that a pen on a desk was too heavy for me to pick up. At the end of that lesson and the end of every lesson I have left the classroom with my shirt soaked with sweat to the point that you could literally wring it out.

The next lesson was how I imagined Thai students to be; diligent and hardworking, and it was a pleasure, the pace was a lot slower and, if I'm to be honest I didn't have to work as hard. Having nearly done a full week I would guess I have a mix of 60/40 of students who want to learn English and those who just want to play computer games and get out of school as soon as possible. This is a government school.
However much an improvement the rest of the week was to the first day, there is no denying the difference between the classes taken by Farrang and those taken by Thai teachers. The students are without question scared of their Thai teachers but also have a lot of respect for them. Whilst in their Thai teacher's classes the students know that if they mess about they will be punished either by strong words or violence. Classes taken by farrang are a little less orderly. But consider this - most farrang teachers cannot speak their language, and are transient. A lot, but by no means all, of farrang teachers are sexpats and have little experience or interest in teaching. I would assume there are a few negative stereotypes of farrang that have to be overcome. And of course some of the students just don't want to learn English.

I was sceptical of the 'performance' technique to teaching Thai children, but it does seem to work, by the end of the week as I walked along the corridors I was greeted by smiles and Wais.
I'll give it another week.
Published: 2007-05-01
Author: Stratford Blyth

About the author or the publisher
Travel writer. Living in Asia. Writing stories about life as an English Teacher in Thailand, Korea and China. Travel stories include travelling to these countries and others

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