Finally! The first day of school!! Honestly, I was more excited than nervous. After much talk, training, (and blogging!), I was ready to get this teaching thing started. So after morning yoga and coffee, I walked with the Caitlins to SY school around 7:45 and arrived at 7:50. This is the best commute I’ve ever had. Since I didn’t have any classes scheduled until 11:00, I had a few hours to tool around with my lesson plans, enjoy the air conditioning in the Foreign Language Department office, and ignore the butterflies in my stomach.
My first class was a group of rowdy (or as the Thai teachers say, naughty) beginner level Mathayom 1’s. (Twelve year olds.) They are the youngest and newest, and move around like a school of fish, arriving and departing everywhere at the same time. I walked through the hall in a sea of uniformed, excitable Thai teenagers, slid my shoes off at the end of a row of identical, scuffed Mary Janes, and walked into my classroom. It was full of happy chatter, movement and shy smiles. I smiled back as the room got settled and wrote my lesson plan info on the white board. All of a sudden, I heard a sharp voice cut through the chatter:
“Stand up, please!”
The whole room got to their feet, faced me, and said/shouted, with earnesty:
“GOOD MORNING, TEACHER!!!” (Or, more accurately, “TEACHAAAAA!!!”)
It took all of my effort not to break into a surprised giggle. I replied, “Good morning, class! How are you today?”
“FINE, AND YOU????”
“I’m good, thank you!” I looked back at them. I smiled. They were still standing. Nothing happened.
Then I realized they were waiting for me to tell them to sit down. Oh!
I said, “You can sit down,” and made a motion with my hands so they understood. They hesitantly took their seats and broke into quiet Thai chatter and giggling. (This is a constant. Very rarely is a classroom totally quiet, and if it is, you’ve probably just scared them out of their wits.) Once you get used to the low hum of conversation and ignore it, you just carry on teaching.
My first lesson was an easy one, an “All About Me” question game that we learned at orientation. Almost all of my fellow teachers used this lesson, because the first thing you have to do is gauge the English level of each class. Classes within the same grades vary wildly in terms of skill level. For example, this first class was a group of true beginners, with basic knowledge of English vocabulary but not much else. My instructions, though seemingly simple, were met with blank stares. My last class on Friday afternoon, who are in the same grade, understood all my instructions and we zoomed through my planned activities with 20 minutes to spare. The one constant is that nearly all of the students are motivated and sweet, and all of them have a high level of respect for their teachers. This makes teaching any class, and any level of student, fairly easy and quite fun!
Regardless, my first class flew by. Any nervous energy I had was gone within ten minutes, and by the end of it, I had coaxed most of the class into speaking out loud, introducing themselves, and we played a raucous game of hangman. I was exhilarated. And very sweaty. 50 minutes later, the same voice said:
“Stand up, please!” (I still never saw the student who said this, nor do I know how she was designated as the class announcer.)
The students shuffled around and everyone got to their feet, facing the front again.
“THANK YOU, TEACHER!!!!”
“You’re welcome, class.” I kept it together again, barely.
The Mathayom 1’s grabbed their backpacks and headed back out into the hallway. The students who walked by my desk on the way out said, again, “Thank you teacher. Have a nice day!” or, “Thank you, teacher. You are so lovely!”
How can you not have a happy heart when this happens every day, on the hour?
I slipped my shoes back on and walked back to the office, full of light and optimism.
We were all a little gushy. Caitlin S. (aka Mai) described her Mathayom 3 students as angels, and Caitlin C. (aka Cash, or Prer) said her Mathayom 6’s were nearly fluent, and whip smart. I felt like I had just opened a big present that was only going to get better over time.
In each of my classes I felt more confident and at ease. In between classes, the Thai teachers in our department left us little gifts and snacks on our desks (an orange one day, a sticky bun the next). Though four classes a day is a fair amount of teaching time, it still leaves two or three hours for whatever we want to do, in air conditioning! I drank instant coffee, ate pineapple cookies, worked on my lesson plans for next week, wrote in my journal, and started reading “The Glass Palace” by Amitav Ghosh. This will be a summer of great books! An unexpected bonus.
Before I knew it, it was 3:20 on Friday afternoon and I’d finished my first two days of teaching. I’d taught seven classes, met 320 new students, eaten two delicious (and free) school lunches, sweat buckets, and my cheeks hurt from smiling.
I’m sure it’s ridiculously clear that I love this. I am having a wonderful time. I’m also sure my patience will be tested and there are challenges to come, but at the end of our day on Friday, Cash turned to me and said, “This is a great job.” She’s so right. Once again, I am filled with gratitude — living and teaching in Thailand has already shifted my perspective and lightened my heart, a welcome feeling after one of the more difficult years (stateside) of my life. I feel both empowered and incredibly lucky to be here.
Now, I’m headed out into the heady, tropical evening air to make the toughest decision of my Saturday: A visit to Pad Thai lady or fresh pineapple/mango/coconut lady?
I think both.