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A Non-Teacher’s Thai Teaching Experience: Week One

I survived my first four days as “teachaaa” in Thailand.

I work in the English Program at Chonradsadornumrung school in Chonburi (nicknamed Chon Chai for obvious reasons). I teach Basic English, Additional English, Advanced English for Communication, an independent study research class and a public speaking elective. I’ve also been recruited to advise the school newspaper and train students for a nationwide speech competition.

The secondary school holds roughly 4,000 students between grades seven and 12 but only about 300 kids are in the English Program. According to the few Western teachers who work in the regular program, the English Program teachers have it pretty rough. However, in exchange for having to plan more complex lessons and coach the school’s top students for the highly valued competition, our classrooms have air conditioning. As someone whose face sweats incessantly in this country, I am pleased with the trade-off.

My students are much more fluent and advanced than I was prepared for. Most of the lessons I had in mind from my TEFL course and OEG classes aren’t challenging enough for them. In fact, my very first lesson took only half of the allotted time, leaving me scrambling for activities to fill the rest of the 50-minute period.

In the classroom, I’ve been trying to figure out how to make noisy boys listen and discipline the troublemakers. My voice isn’t very loud so it’s often difficult to make myself heard over the chatting about… well, I don’t actually know, because they’re speaking in Thai. There are a few students in every class that care about learning (yay!) and they often shhh their peers, which works for about five seconds. One student told me my face isn’t scary enough to make his classmates be quiet. Thank you, sort of.

Other highlights of the week include being asked if I was a hipster in America, based on a slideshow I presented about my life. Apparently it’s a popular style in Thailand right now, and my long bangs, flannel shirts and eyebrow ring fit the mold. A group of boys asked if I was going to teach them how to make bombs because they assumed IS stood for Islamic State, not Independent Study. I let them know I’d actually be instructing them on how to make BOMB research papers. As in great ones.

During last period one day, a student told me he needed to leave early because he had to go to Japan. I assumed he was just trying to fool the new foreign teacher and go home to play video games an hour early. After speaking with a Thai teacher, it turned out he literally had to leave to go to Japan. Yep, Japan, the country. One student approached me to tell me she had her period, one asked me if my dog was going to die soon and another tricked me into calling his classmate by his mother’s name. More antics to follow, I’m sure.

Because Thai names are so long and difficult to say, everyone has a nickname. I’m not sure exactly how or when the students select their monikers but some are absolutely hilarious. A few of my favorites include Boss, Fresh, Arm, Helicopter, Jelly, Zoom, Moment, Chopper and Ice. It’s difficult to address a student as “Poon” without cracking up, but it’s better than attempting to saying "Pitchapornwan" or "Kunanwat" or "Setthawut" in front of 30 giggling and whispering kiddos.

Despite technology struggles, locked classrooms, semi-failed lesson plans and the inability to communicate with most of the teachers outside of the EP, I made it through my first week. After a three-day weekend, thanks to the Buddhist holiday Visakha Bucha, I will return to the 6th floor in Chon Chai’s tallest building, hopefully ready to realize students are actually talking to ME when they say, “Good morning teacha” in the hallway.

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