Learning to teach
Im sitting in the office of our school and i don't know any Thai except, Hi, Beer, Toilet, Bye and i think the teachers around us know even less english. We have been offered strange breadlike creations with a substance in the middle that looks not dissimilar to fungus and tastes even less appealing. Being the polite chap i am i try to finish mine but am defeated by the hairy texture and feed the last of it to one of the many rabid looking dogs milling around the legs of my chair. Eventually they rustle up the best English speaker in the school and she explains our timetable to us. 4 hour long classes 4 times a week with an hour for lunch. We will be teaching from year 1 to year 6. Today is only an introduction to the school so we have a quick tour and head back to the car. The school consists of a large playing field, playground, open air cafeteria and a long 2 storey building of about 10 classrooms. All up there are like 70 students and i dont see a whole lot of teachers around.
We head back to our abode at 'Mali Blues Guesthouse'. Did i mention that i'm teaching with Alice? Anyway im pretty keen to have a good first lesson so we sit down and i plan my very first lesson as a 'teacher'. hahahah i would love to see the faces of some of my old school teachers if they knew i was teaching 'what? call the authorities!! how could this happen?' Mrs Esperaga would just kneel and pray for the children 'think of the children!!!'. Hah i reckon its a pretty good lesson, we are teaching bodyparts and have little contingencies for smarter or slower children. Satisfied we are armed for tommorow we head down to the beach for dinner.
Eating in Chumphon is excellent. Imagine the best Thai dishes you have ever tasted, then imagine they cost betwn $2-$5 and that you are eating them on the beach listening to excellent tunes. Maybe throw in a sly little beverage or two and a hammock for digestion. Gastronomical delight. i went to bed ecited about the next day of teaching.
I crouch in fear behind a table. A soccer ball flies overhead and crashes into the whiteboard with a terrible rattle. 2 small Thai boys exchange solid Muay Thai blows to each others vitals and another child hangs, swinging from the protective bars over the windowsill. It is absolute chaos. Keen to distinguish himself the young soldier joins the battle. I roll from my shelter and pounce on the soccer ball, ducking just in time to avoid a second ball. I start to dribble it like a basketball, side to side, through the legs, over the shoulder, a veritable white tornado weaving through the tables and chairs and the monstrous children rise to the challenge, diving from all positions to stop my glorious run to the hoop. But look out folks, it looks, like, he might go, all, the, wayyyy, he jumps for the shot and the buzzer sounds. I collapse on the floor, never being happier to have heard the bell signalling the end of the class. The children stream out into the light as i lay, a sweaty, inanimate mass, breathing heavily, catching as much rest as i can before the next class enters.
The day that follows involves about 30 to 40 minutes of 'teaching' until the children reach the end of their attention span and snap, degrading into raging animals, at which stage we play semi controlled games until the lsson ends. One boy tried to tackle me, tripped and grabbed my pants, promptly dacking me. At least i wore undies today. By the end of the day we were shattered and out of ideas. The last class was starting to go mental so we sat them down and knocked them unconscious with a special pressure point a thai monk had taught me only the other day at the bar. No that didn't happen but it could have right? I didnt feel like showing off my special monk endowed ninja skills so instead we got them to make and decorate paper aeroplanes. We started throwing them around the class and word got out to the rest of the school. Kids from all classes came in and joined the aeronautical chaos and soon enough just bout the whole damn school was throwing paper aeroplanes EVERYWHERE. There were planes in fans, windows, trees, on the lawn, in the pond, on the roof and even on the poor buddha statue. No school authority came out to stop the madness. Our lesson was over and we packed our bags and ran to the car, ducking paper missiles, collapsing inside with a sigh.
The first day of teaching was hectic, tiring and absolutley chaotic but it was also seriously fun. Me and Alice made a good team and it felt pretty natural teaching. The next day we had an even better plan, teaching animals and transport and we dominated the first couple of classes. I made the error of drawing a robot for one boy. The next day at lunch i had to draw about 15 different robots to be left in peace. It might sound easy to draw a robot but after about 5 you kinda run out of ideas so i started attaching giant cannons and swords to them which was probably not entirely appropraite but was a step up from the mercenary with an AK i had drawn the day before. I also made the error of playing soccer with the boys. I was actually playing well but it was so hot, i thought i was going to die. I kept crumbling to the ground in distress and the children would run past singing, hot! hot! hot! and wiping their foreheads in imitation of me.
Over the next few days we really started to get the hang of teaching and we did a pretty good job. It was a lot of fun. At times i couldnt believe i was getting paid for it but then remembered that i was not getting paid for it so i could believe it. Our school is small and rowdy but we like it. We spoke to the other volunteers and their schools sounded really strict and organised compared to our ruffian school. Really though i reckon ours was a badass school. A typical entry into the school would go like this: Drive through the school gates. The driveway is almost completely blocked by building equipment and piles of supplies from the construction site next to the playground. The builders hang from the second storey of the construction like monkeys, no harness. Small children are playing below in the swings. There is usually about a whole class worth of kids playing soccer unattended on the playing field, which also has a shady looking billboard being constructed above where the kids run. Packs of dogs, looking dead or dying roam around like zombies ocassionaly fighting among themselves when they have the energy as the younger children mingle with them. An odd feature in this landscape is the random fire, which i saw a lot of in Thailand, just a small contained fire burning for no apparant reason. On this occassion a tree stump was smoking away as a class of nursery children played around it, unattended. The only form of authority in this scene is the golden statue of buddha that watches over the school with a cheeky grin. Its a hilarious sight.
I only saw four teachers while at the school. 1 teacher was really nice and she always seemed to teach outside in the cafeteria. One guy i never saw outside his classroom, which was always empty, and he would be sitting in his chair, he was definately on the juice or the herb, he was a corpselike chappy. The other guy at the school always wore a military outfit and carried a cane and the last woman, the english speaker, would tell us she had errands to run and drive into town everyday, returning with shopping bags or a friend, and one time even her boyfriend. If she wasnt running errands she was on the phone or sleeping and one time we went to ask her something and she was asleep on a bed she had made by pushing the nursery kids beds together as the children danced and fought around her, faces white with talcom powder they had got hold of. Its certainly an interesting place but its a lot of fun and everyone there is a character. Who said education was boring?