It’s been a while since my last post, but I’ve been a bit busy these last couple of weeks. The last one was pretty long though, so I figured I’d wait a bit till I asked you all to read another.
So unfortunately I didn’t make it to the beach at Songkhla a few weeks ago – the camp was pretty intense, and in the end it turned out that there just wasn’t time. We had to wake up at about 6am, and worked till about 9. While parts of it were undoubtedly fun, most of the kids were great to teach (their English being better than your average Thai student), and the ASEAN cultural show at the end was truly amazing, the song and dance that accompanied every new activity started to grate pretty fast. And I don’t just mean that there was a lot of hassle involved. I mean there was a literal song and dance, sometimes two or three, that occurred before we could move onto whatever else was planned next. There is, somewhere, video evidence of me taking part in this, which I sincerely hope never sees the light of day. We were also expected to come up with 3 hours of activities and lessons within about 15 mins, which was a bit outrageous to say the least. But in my short time in Thailand I’ve already learned not to expect any prior warning of things like lesson cancellations or room changes, so I can’t say this really surprised me or phased me too much.
For the most part I am actually enjoying teaching. The boys in the school love the fact that I play football (I have been likened to both Messi AND Ronaldo, and I’ve even started bringing kit to school on Mondays and Thursdays), and I’ll never get tired of being told I’m “perfect” by the girls. At the ASEAN camp I actually played guitar while a couple of the Thai girls, but when we started trying to find English songs, it became quickly apparent that we had wildly differing tastes. The songs they wanted to sing were truly terrible ballads – think Robbie Williams album filler – and even when I offered to compromise on ‘Better Together’ by Jack Johnson or ‘I’m Yours’ by Jason Mraz, they would not agree to anything else. So I have begun a campaign to introduce some not horrendous songs into the repertoire at my school. First up was ‘You Are My Sunshine’, which actually went pretty well, even if it did take ages to get Thai students to start counting in 4 and not in 3. Next up are ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘If I were a Boy’ – I’ll probably have to sing one of these myself at some point, god help us, so I’m definitely going to need to find somewhere to practice.
While these ‘extra curricular’ activities are going well and are a lot of fun, I also think I’m definitely becoming a better teacher. Or at least I’m better at thinking up lesson plans that actually work in the class. I have started to prepare worksheets and to include activities that I can easily monitor, and do not allow half the class to zone-out, which happened with a couple of my overly-ambitious lesson plans in the first couple of weeks. I have to admit that I would probably fail any PGCE/TEFL/CELTA qualification if I performed one of my lessons for assessment, but then the techniques encouraged by those courses is not designed for classes of 40+ teenage Thai kids who barely speak a word of English. While I’m well aware that I could do better, I do think I’m doing OK so far, and according to another teacher, the kids do actually remember what I teach them!
Nearly all the children I teach are actually quite nice, and while their level of English can be frustrating, there are very few unpleasant children in the school. However, I am unfortunate in that I do teach one class recognised throughout the staff body as a horrible one to teach. My first lesson with this class was the only time that anyone has deliberately tried to make me uncomfortable or physically intimidate me in Thailand. But given the boys in question are in a low set in a school that is not particularly good even by Thai standards, I find it hard to get worked up about what they think of me. And although it’s early days just yet, they do seem to have realised that I’m not particularly bothered by their attempts to weird me out, and they’ve started to get on quietly with their business of sitting in the back of the class not doing anything. As long as they don’t interrupt me or the rest of the class I don’t mind, and they are welcome to get involved in the lesson whenever they want. It’s an arrangement which I guess works for all of us.
There is another class that I have found difficult to teach, but not because of any malice on behalf of the students (in fact I quite enjoy teaching this lot). Thai boys are very affectionate towards each other, and will quite happily spend an afternoon with their arms round each other or lying with their head in another’s lap – Thailand’s attitude towards sexuality and gender is pretty well documented elsewhere, so I don’t really need to go into any great depth – and I really have no problem with it. If anything, I think it’s pretty cool that boys in Thailand can express their affection for each other in such a way without it necessarily being ‘gay’ to do so. But I have to admit that when the boys will not do any work or sit still because they are too busy stroking each other, I do come close to asking my Thai assistant to ‘tell the boys to keep their hands to themselves for just half an hour’, something I never thought I’d have to say in the class room.
Outside of work, I am gradually settling into life in Hat Yai. Slowly, I am accumulating a circle of friends, although at times it can still be pretty lonely and a bit boring. But the same was true of my first couple of months in Holland, and my exchange year ended up being the best year of my life so far, so I’m not too worried about this just yet – I know from experience not to expect everything to be perfect straight away when you move away from your friends and family. While I don’t particularly like being the ‘new guy’, (who does?) it’s just something I’ll have to deal with. But I do now have a gym to go to, I get the odd game of football, and I have even started to take advantage of the 50m swimming pool just down the road. And there is always the opportunity to go out every Friday or Saturday if I want to take it – at the moment I’m on one night a week, but as I get used to waking up at 6 o’clock every morning I might graduate to two.
Anyway, that’s all for now. I guess I’ll try and make my next post after the three day weekend or the 8-10 December, by which time I should have done a ‘visa run’ to Malaysia and actually made it to a beach.
Hope you’re all well, and thanks for the kind messages saying you actually enjoy reading this thing!