900 problems but the boy ain’t one.

Thanks, President Obama, for making it okay for me to quote Jay-Z in a semi-ironic way.

The subtext is that I have 900 girl students, and only one (one!) boy student. In two full grades of my school, only one boy! And actually, none of the kids are problems. Though some are more giggly and teenage-girl-y than others, they are nearly all sweet and most are happy and excited to be at school. It’s entirely possible that once I understand some more Thai I’ll have a slightly different report, but for now I’m going on smiles and body language, and therefore, my students are awesome. All of the girls, and Sakad.

A crazy group of Mathayom 1's (7th graders.) Note the girl with the happy ukelele!

A crazy group of Mathayom 1’s (7th graders.) Note the girl with the happy ukelele!

Whew! I finished my first five days of classes, which means I’ve met all of my students once. As of this week, I have a radically different view of every teacher I ever had. The amount of work, energy, planning, and personal effort that is required to show up,  be ‘on stage’, AND make sure your kids actually learn and retain information – WHAT?!? It’s mind boggling. Seriously, many heartfelt and awed “khap kun kha’s” (thank you’s) to my teachers and professors.

My desk at school. The essentials: green tea, pineapple cookies, dry erase markers, microphone, hand sanitizer, and lesson plans. And some lovely flowers from our welcome ceremony.

My desk at school. The essentials: green tea, pineapple cookies, dry erase markers, microphone, hand sanitizer, and lesson plans. And some lovely flowers from our welcome ceremony.

This also means I’ve taught the same lesson plan (with a few variations) 19 times, and I think it takes about that amount of time to get a lesson plan to the point where you want it to be. I got to act out the state of “Colorado” (brrrrrrr, cold, snowy!) 19 times, and show a picture of me and Kate to the class 19 times (“I have one sister, her name is Kate!”), which was followed by 19 rounds of exclamations from the class of “So beautiful, teacher!”

A few observations and discoveries about teaching this week:

– Less is more in terms of classroom management. The majority of my classes have 45-50 students. If you try to talk over them, nothing is accomplished. If I stand at the front staring at them when they’re being loud or chatty, word travels very quickly that they need to be quiet. It’s like watching the wave at a stadium.

– Establish your rules first, and be consistent. This reminds me of training a puppy. Only reinforce the behavior that you want. For example, and it’s not rocket science, but in my earlier classes I allowed students to call out answers. This turns into chaos. In my more recent classes, I only accepted answers from students who raised their hands, even if another student called it out. Ignoring the bad behavior and reinforcing the good. Simple in theory, more difficult in practice.

– Nail polish is a great stand-in for glue. (Celebrity/20 Questions Game for tomorrow is done, thanks to that!)

– If you’re having fun, they’re having fun! When my students make me laugh, they can tell it’s authentic, and vice versa. Humor, and being able to laugh at myself, is key on so many levels. Like when I tripped over the power cord today or misspelled the word “beautiful” during a competitive game of Hangman. Whooops, mai pen rai!

(Side note: Mai Pen Rai is the “Hakuna Matata” of Thailand. It means no matter, no worries, it’s nothing, no big deal. In Thailand you use this ALL THE TIME. Bus is three hours late? Mai pen rai. Students didn’t show up to class? Mai pen rai.  Gecko fell on your head at the coffee shop? True story, and it’s good luck. But also, mai pen rai!)

Students didn't show up today? Mai pen rai.

Students didn’t show up today? Mai pen rai.

– Last observation: Thai teachers don’t sweat. And they’re wearing the equivalent of business suits. I don’t know whether to be hopeful or discouraged by this fact. Because I would really love to teach my body that I’m not in hot yoga all day, and it doesn’t need to react as if I am doing 200 reps of Mountain Pose in a 95 degree room. Except I AM doing 200 reps of Mountain Pose in a 95 degree room. Ah, I know. You get it — it’s hot.

Which is why I am headed down south this weekend for some sun, sand, and ocean breezes! Meeting up with a few lovely ladies from orientation week on Koh Samet, and I cannot wait to share teaching stories, have a cold Beer Chang on a white sand beach, and get out of the exhaust-filled flurry of the city.

More pics of my sweet students to come! And perhaps another Intro to Thai language lesson. But no Jay Z, I promise.

2 thoughts on “900 problems but the boy ain’t one.

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