Ajarn Sandra Lays Down the Law

Every teacher wants to be liked.  They want their students to have fun in their class and want to actually be there.  In Thailand, or at least in Suansriwittaya school, this is especially important.  Students cannot fail in Thailand and this adds a lack of motivation factor to my students.  Also, at my school, the students actually have a say in whether a teacher can continue teaching or not.  They write an evaluation at the end of each school year and can make or break a teacher’s teaching career.  I always thought this was a bit ludicrous, but hey, what isn’t in Thailand.

Thus, teachers, at least the three English teachers at Suansriwittaya, are contestants in a popularity contest.  We do what we can to make our students happy, giving them free time when they “really need it” or conceding to letting them watch Mr. Bean once their work is finished.  We may come off as pushovers, but hey as long as the students are learning some English and are able to listen to us speak, then we’re doing our job.   It hasn’t been a difficult task to keep the students smiling, but thats speaking for the students that actually care and want to be there.

My M1 double lesson class is a different story.

The “double lesson” consists of   M1-3-M1-7.  These are the “special” children and thus know maybe one word of English.  And it’s hard to even tell what that one word is.  I asked one of my students “How are you” yesterday, trust me, as slow as I possibly could, and she couldn’t answer.  She started nervously looking to her friends for the answer.  And this was my smartest girl in the class who always answers questions and finishes worksheets first.  Really?!  How are you?!

Anyways, starting a class out on that foot doomed me for the two hours that loomed ahead of me.  We were discussing family and were going over grandfather, and mother, and uncle, ok you get the point.  They weren’t doing too badly, although great grandfather seemed to baffle them beyond their limits.  I had a wordsearch and a crossword that I wanted them to do and after ten minutes or so they had finished.  With my other Ms, M1 and M2, I had them write two sentences about their mother and two sentences about their father.  I knew two sentences would be a little much for these students, so I asked them to write ONE sentence about their mother or father.  One sentence thats all I ask.  Pretty simple request right.  Definitely not.

After five minutes or so of “working” I noticed that none of them had a single word written.  This wasn’t going to fly with me.  I know they’re a little on the slower side, but I know they’re not that dense.  As easy as it would have been to just let them go about their business, I decided to forego my standing stigma of a pushover and pull out some punishment.

Because the class is almost two hours long, I usually give them a 15-minute break in the middle.  This break is not only for them but it’s really a break from the headache that these little terrors give me.  I threatened that they would not get their break if they did not write their sentence (this gave me a little panic attack inside because that meant that I would have to figure out what I would do with them during that time), and I was going to stand by that.  It took them a few minutes to comprehend this notion, but it finally clicked and they started furiously writing.

Except the four troublemakers in the back.

These four boys never do their work.  I mean never.  Barely even a scrawl on their paper.  When I passed by them I noticed a long scribble on one of their papers.  I asked him where his sentence was and he pointed to his scribble.  He was dead serious.  I looked at him and asked him to read it.  Once again, blank stare.  I had to bite my lip to avoid laughing or screaming, I’m not sure which one.

After I had the rest of the students read their sentences outloud, I returned back to the boys and once again, no sentences.  I gave them a sly smile and turned back to the rest of the class and announced break time.  As the four boys started to get up, I whipped around and told them, to sit.  The confused looks on their faces were hilarious.   As the rest of the class filed out of the classro to gossip, get a drink or play ping-pong for their fifteen minutes, the four boys were glued to their chairs completely and utterly confused.

The four of them sat with their eyes glued on me as I played Spider Solitare.  I didn’t even look at them.  I was proud.  Probably a little too proud, but I was so incredibly proud that I had finally laid down the law!  The rest of the class the boys diligently did their work, and I mean they actually did it.  They didn’t goof around and they stayed in their seats for once.

The next class, everyone did their work.

And everyone got their 15 minute break.


Dodging the Dog

On my five minute bike ride to school, I don’t think about anything too important.  Sometimes I think about the lessons for the day, sometimes I imagine myself still sleeping (I am not a morning person), sometimes I just revel in awe that I’m in Thailand (I do this at least once daily), but every morning, every time I ride that bumpy road to Suansri, I think about a dog.  But not just any dog.  It’s the dog that “lives” at the school.  The viciously annoying, seemingly racist dog that prowls the school yard. 

Alan, James, and I all ride bikes to school, and every morning, we are seen as some sort of threat to this dog.  Sometimes the dog is sleeping and we can sneak by.  Sometimes the dog just barks from its seat on the table and is too lazy to actually chase us.  But most mornings, the sounds of the dog’s growls signify a cause to pedal faster. 

Dodging the dog as it comes dangerously close to the bike, never quite touching us, was funny at first.  We would enter our classrooms discussing the dog that only seems to chase the white people at school.

 Until the dog started to go after me. 

The first time happened a few weeks ago.  The dog was chasing me as usual, but then in lunged.  It didn’t bite me or anything, but it was a sign that the dog was getting serious.  I reported this back to the others, including the Thai teachers, and I was promised that something would be done about this dog.  Who knows if it has rabies or any other disease that the mangy mutts are caring these days. 

Absolutely nothing was done about the dog.  Shows how on top of things Thai people are.  We kept hearing, “Ah next week we will take care of it.”  Well, next week never came.

The last straw happened one day when I was heading back to school after lunch.  I sped into the main road on school grounds and saw the dog heading for me already.  I turned the corner and instead of just chasing me, the dog barreled right into my bike.  As I started to lose my balance, I also lost my cool and kicked the dog in the face. 

As satisfying as hearing the dog yelp was, I was doomed.  I had lost complete control of my bike and there was no way I could avoid the trench in front of the curb.  My bike was quickly in the ditch and I was soon on the ground and absolutely irate. 

I collected myself and stormed up to one of the head teacher’s and told her if she doesn’t take care of it, then I will. (Probably an empty threat since I couldn’t kill the dumb thing, although Alan tried.  It didn’t learn, it still chases us)

She expressed sympathy, even sent some students to dress my wounds during my next class, but the answer was still “Ah next week we’ll take care of it.”

Only in Thailand.

Note:  I wrote this article a few days ago and since then it seems like “next week” has finally come…but I’m probably jynxing myself here, so I won’t go into details yet.  I was also hoping to get a picture of the dog in action, but of course, when I finally thought about it, no sign of the mutt!

Second Note: I swear I saw the dog today, but never saw it again.  Alan and James don’t believe me.  Maybe it was its ghost…we all have our theories… keep you posted on dog sightings!

Teaching in Lang Suan, Thailand

Teaching is what brought me here to Thailand and I realized that I haven’t written much about it!  I definitely lucked out with my placement in Lang Suan (although I cried for two days straight when I got here).  I only work four days a week (well, actually 3 1/2, but those days are pretty jam packed and exhausting), the school isn’t strict and the classes are small, the teachers are cool, I have good friends, and I get to live in the South.

 I have heard horror stories from other AYC teachers that their students tried to light their butts on fire,  the kids try to pull on their skirts or get naked themselves, the class is jam-packed sometimes with class sizes over 70, or the children are just completely unruly and unmanageable. 

Well, then I really lucked out. 

My M5 girls

My students can sometimes be a little loud and obnoxious, some tend to prefer standing and walking around the class to sitting and learning, and some sit there chanting, “Mr. Bean, Mr. Bean,” the entire class time, but they are all really great kids. 

(One of the first class periods we had them watch Toy Story over the week and one of my M1 classes never got to finish the movie.  Alan had borrowed the movie from Bangkok and had promptly returned it and thus I was stranded with no Toy Story to show them.  They still to this day have not seen the rest of Toy Story and yes, they still remind me about it.)

Of course I have my favorites.  I have students that love to speak English to me (some even try to speak Spanish to me because I made the mistake of telling them that Ispeak it), ones that are actually interested in my life and ask me what America is like and how my family is, students that love to learn and sometimes get upset when we’re playing a game instead of studying, and students that love to push my buttons.  I love all those students, even the troublemakers.  I will get mad at them, steal their chairs (I had a student keep making excruciatingly loud sounds with his chair and I told him I would take it if he did it again.  Of course, he did it again and I took the chair.  He awkwardly stood there for a second and then did a half squat.  It was really hilarious, and yes I ended up giving him his chair back soon afterwards), threaten to punish them or throw them out or try to ignore them, but they are still the students that smile and wave at me outside of class.  They go out of their way to come up to me in the cafeteria and ask me what I’m eating and how I am.

Some of my favorite M1s

So, I love my good students and sometimes I even like my troublemakers more, despite the headaches they give me.  But all in all, I have loved teaching.  But I don’t think it’s the actual teaching that I’ve loved.  The kids are definitely what have made my experience here so great.  I love being able to ride my bike through town and be greeted by a 14 year-old jumping up and down yelling, “Hello Sandra!!   

Their smiles are to die for and their laughs are even better.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Wanderlust – How I became a Teacher in Thailand

I’m a 23 year old Californian who decided to step a little outside my comfort zone.  Ok, a lot outside my comfort zone.  Now I know I’m not blazing any trails here.  Teaching English in Thailand wasn’t just developed and I know people leave home and travel all the time.  But for me, this was a huge leap of faith. 

I graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Psychology.  I played softball for four years and was the centerfielder for the 2005 National Championship team.  This is what has defined me for so long.  Or in other words, this is how I have defined myself.  When I left Michigan, I felt lost.  I was no longer a college athlete or even a college student.  I went from seeing my best friends every waking minute of the day, to never seeing them and barely speaking to them.  I joined the workforce at a small money management firm in my hometown of Pasadena.  But I still felt lost.  I didn’t feel like what I was doing was important or that it was helping me figure out who I really am.  I always yearned for more.  I was constantly thinking of the next big thing I was do or where I was going to go.  But those were just words.  I didn’t have the courage to make them my reality.

Until now.

I realized that I needed to get out.  I needed to see the world and experience another culture, another country.  I needed to push myself and discover that I could depend on myself.  My entire life I have been depending on others.  Not just wanting them in my life, but needing them.  I wanted to change that. 

I chose Thailand.  Everyone asks me why Thailand.  I just felt like that’s where I wanted to go.  Where I needed to go.  I just felt it. 

I started researching what I needed to do to get there.  Teaching is one of the easiest ways to travel and see the world, so I decided to get my TEFL Certification online from International TEFL Teacher Training (ITTT) .  It was a 100-hour course and I felt that it would give me ample time to figure out if this was what I really wanted to do.  Once finished, I received a list of contacts and schools from ITTT and I started rattling off email after email, just hoping to find an opening or get a reply.  No luck.  Most of the openings I found were immediate and I was in no way ready to leave quite yet.  I then found AYC Intercultural Programs Thailand.  They are a company that hires teachers and places them in schools within their network.  It was a guaranteed job.  In Thailand.  Exactly what I wanted.  I took it.   

So here I am.

Being in Thailand has opened my eyes to the amazement of being in another country.  Of living and learning another culture every day.  It has taught me to be on my own, think for myself and rely solely on ME.  It has taught me to relax and go with the flow.  It has taught me that life can be what I want it to be.   It has made me want more.  It has lit that fire in my heart to discover other places, people, history, everything.  It has taught me to feel my dreams, to connect with them and make them a reality. 

Thailand has shown me that I am on the right path.

And It won’t stop at Thailand. You can bet on seeing me somewhere else in the very near future.  Hope you join me on my Wanderlust…from here on…

I like being able to ride a bike to work….sometimes

The joy of living in a small town is that you can bike everywhere.  Any restaurant, store, or market, I can easily get there in 5-10 minutes by bike.  I wake up every morning with a nice little bike ride to school.  But when that is your only mode of transportation, in a place where it RAINS all the time.  It can prove to be a problem.  Today, after a long day of 6 hours of class, all I wanted was to come home and relax.  But as I locked up my classroom and looked outwards, I noticed a little something: it was POURING rain!  Oh yes, the standards of “pouring” are a little different in Thailand.  I have seen nothing like it.  I have heard nothing like it.  It is absolutely ridiculously insane.  But its normal here.  And as I waited to see if it would subside, a thunderous boom was heard behind me and I figured this can only get worse.  Its always nice to enjoy a nice bike ride in the rain when you’re wearing a white skirt!  I wish I had a picture of it.  You can use your imagination though.  Trying to man the potholey streets of Lang Suan, one hand on the rikety old bike, and the other holding a broken umbrella is my first choice for a good time. 

I have attached a picture of the beast I like to call a bike in the rain that I had to ride through.  Not sure if the picture can really catch the essence of the downpour but I tried….

Lang Suan

When I first arrived in Lang Suan it was 3:30 in the morning, I was expecting to be in Chumphon, and nestled in a little house by the sea.  What I got was an hour outside the city of Chumphon, a house by the train tracks, and complete seclusion.   I didn’t sleep a wink because as I was closing my eyes, the roosters from next door started crowing and the trains were in full force.   There was nothing in my apartment except a thin mattress on the floor and there was no sink in the “bathroom.”  Now this was me being out of my element.  I was furious.  I felt like I was completely lied to about where I was going.  I was the first person to be confirmed in Chumphon and somehow I was the one that ended up all the way outside of it.  I was bawling crying and livid at the same time.  I didn’t know how the heck I got put into this situation.  I felt utterly and completely alone. 

Two of the teachers picked me up in the morning to show me around town and take me to breakfast.  Thais don’t really do breakfast like we do in America.  Any food can be breakfast.  Defintely something I have to get used to especially since breakfast food is my favorite!!    There are only two main roads and it took all of five minutes to see the place.  Of course I had no idea how to get anywhere after our short tour.  We stopped by the school as well.  It was pretty big and looked pretty nice.   School was starting the next day so I got to see the classrooms and my little desk.  Later I met up with James (an AYC teacher that I happened to have met a few weeks before) and he introduced me to the only other female foreigner in this little town.  Jackie is from England and she’s great.  She speaks pretty much fluent Thai and we have come to the agreement that we will work out together and she will attempt to teach me Thai.  What a great little deal!  Still unsure of the place, still in my little house by the train tracks, and still feeling completely alone despite the nice people, I pressed on to my first day of teaching. 

The first day of school made the difference.  These kids were amazing.  They were full of smiles and they absolutely LOVE me.  I look over and I see little boys pressing their faces against the door to see in.  It’s incredible!  I walk through the school and every student says hello to me with huge grins on their face.  I think I’m one of the first female farang (what they call foreigners in Thailand) teachers at the school, which is why I’m treated like a superstar. Maybe this place isn’t going to be so bad afterall.  Oh, and I found out that I only have a three and a half day work week so that will make going to the islands almost every weekend a definite feasible option.

The town is tiny, but I think that’s what I needed.  I’m going to get the real Thailand experience here and I think I’m going to get everything out of this situation I can.  The people here are great, the food is delicious, and I think I’m going to be ok here…

My first taste of teaching

The only teaching experience I have is teaching little girls how to hit a softball.  At least they spoke my language!!  I’ve had the opportunity to help out on a few English camps through the company I work for.  I was a little nervous at first because this would be the first time I was meeting Thai kids and I was worried that a) I wasn’t going to like teaching or b) they weren’t going to like me.  The camps are pretty much summer camp which consists of fun games where we try to integrate English.  Of course, the kids always are speaking Thai except when they’re required to speak English.  I wish that I had listened when I was in middle school and high school and the teacher told me only speak Spanish in the classroom.  I’m pretty sure I would have learned it a lot better!  I had the chance to teach my own class a few times and of course it was a little challenging at first but I realized that I could definitely get the hang of it.  Oh and I realized another thing…. I loved it!! I had so much fun teaching the kids that I can’t wait to have my own class!!  I can’t wait to have a classroom and make my own lesson plans and do everything that is involved with teaching.  This was an amazing discovery!  The only thing that sucks slash is a little bit funny is when the kids try to talk thai to me and I have no idea what they’re saying.  Its like in Finding Nemo when the baby turtle (Squirt) is talking and Marlin says: “It’s like he’s trying to speak to me, I know it.  Look, you’re really cute, but I can’t understand what you’re saying.”  I think about that everytime and I laugh a little (inside of course).  The blank stares are tough too, but I know its going to be so rewarding when they say words that I taught them! 

There is so much I need to learn, especially the around the clock peppiness that is required with teaching Thai Kids!  I talked to a few teachers and they said that no matter what kind of day you’re having it doesn’t matter, you need to be all smiles when you enter that classroom.  This will definitely be a difficult task for me because I wear my emotions on my sleeve, but hopefully I won’t be having many bad days in Thailand!!  Another tidbit of advice was to teach every class like a fun English Camp.  I love that idea.  I want to sing and dance with the kids and make them excited to come to my class!!  I can’t wait to get down to Chumphon and start teaching November 2nd!