Teaching English in Thailand

During the month of February, and part of March, I had the opportunity to teach English at Thep Phrathonpon Primary School north of Bangkok. I was told about the position by my Beginning Thai teacher, Ajaan Nantana, who told me that she had a friend looking for a English teacher. I later met up with Ajaan Nok, Ajaan Nantana's friend, and she explained that I would not have to teach grammar, or rules (or any other complicated, frustrating parts of the English language), rather, I was just there to try to get the kids to talk with me in English and help teach them useful phrases.

I was to teach 3rd through 6th graders, and my schedule worked out so that I was working two hours on Monday and Wednesday, and then four hours on Thursday. During my first few weeks, I played games with the kids. They loved to compete, so I would try to get them to write and read aloud about a variety of topics. However, I began to realize quickly that the kids were primarily dependent on rote memorization. Meaning, they didn't really understand what they were writing or reading about. This became my biggest obstacle while trying to teach.

With the third graders, I often sang songs like "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" and the "Hokey Pokey." These definitely helped them learn body parts, and directions. However, I wanted the older kids, particularly the 6th graders, to be able to talk at least in present tense about things around them and what they were doing. I stopped playing games (much to the dismay of the students) and began focusing on a more practical lesson, like having the kids share what they eat and what they do in the summer. While some students, clearly more comfortable forming sentences in English, finished the lesson in 5-10 minutes, I would have to sit with others to help them form just one sentence. Unfortunately, this created a highly conducive environment for lots of talking. Since they would talk in Thai to each other, at times it seemed almost impossible to get them to work independently. (During one of my Thursday's working with 5th and 6th graders, I tried to get them to create scripts and practice saying them with their desk partner. None of the students would do this unless I was standing next to them instructing them to do it.)

I couldn't really blame them for talking, they very obviously had no clue what I was saying most of the time. And when I would come around to each table, the students would at least try to speak with me, which is what I was there to do anyways. The kids, while sometimes slightly uncontrollable, were always extremely sweet, and any frustration I would have due to their inattention to the lesson would quickly melt away when I would talk with them one-on-one or in small groups. On my last day, one student gave me a teddy bear, and another gave me a bracelet.

I even had the pleasure of being invited to the 6th grade graduation this week. In Thailand, the hottest months are March and April, so the kids get out of school in mid-March for summer break and return at the beginning of May. During the ceremony for the 6th graders, I felt wholly emerged into a piece of Thai culture that I could have never experienced otherwise. Furthermore, Thep Phrathonpon is a small, intimate school where the students and teachers develop close relationships. After the 6th graders were presented with their certificates of graduation, they presented an offering to the Buddha, and then proceeded to on their knees in a line in front of where the teachers were seated. We each tied white strings around their wrists and wished them good luck. While I couldn't understand what the teachers were saying, I could tell the some students were deeply moved by kind words as they sniffled and teared up. One boy that I had in my class, who was persistently stubborn about joining in on the lesson, was one of the students who seemed to be moved the most, and immediately, I realized how this school offered more than just a primary education. For some of these kids, Thep Phrathonpon was their homebase, a place where they were supported and loved. After all of the students had come down the line, they went back to their seats across from the teachers and sang songs. More students began to cry, which indicated to me that the songs were most likely about moving on to the next step in their lives.

After the whole ceremony, the woman who I was sitting next to asked me if I was going to stay for dinner. Out loud, I politely thanked her for the invitation and graciously accepted; in my head, I was screaming "YYEEEEEEESSSSSSS." The meal consisted of seven courses: small appetizers, fish stomach broth (don't knock it 'til you try it), noodles, yam sam krob (Thai salad, which is not really a salad--mostly various types of fried seafood mixed with peanuts and some veggies on top of lettuce), fried rice, delicious spicy fish, Tom Yum Kung, and then coconut and other fruits for desert. I had so much to eat that at one point had to starkly refuse to have people serve up any more food for me. I literally couldn't eat another bite. Teachers and students were singing and dancing all the while during the dinner. Two students got out their guitars and began singing and playing to a Thai pop song. One teacher placed two buckets in front of each student, and some of the kids threw some change into their buckets. I got out my wallet and gave each student a 20baht note, which received loud cheers and smiles from all of the students and staff. At the end of the night, the students wrangled me into getting up and dancing with them. They taught me dance moves to popular songs, and we all had a blast.

I was so overwhelmed by the amount of love that night. I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to work at Thep Phrathonpon, it has truly been a highlight of my study abroad experience in Thailand.

On a side note, I realize I have been lacking at uploading photos to my album, so I have made a commitment to myself to have all of the February and March photos up by the end of next week!


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