School in Thailand is a lot different to school in England. The day starts with an alarm and several traditional songs about the King that are played out of speakers around the grounds. The children begin to arrive as early as 6:30am to “clean”, but mostly they play around while pretending to sweep leaves around the floor. At 8am, the whole school stands to attention on the field, sings the national anthem, raises the flag, blesses the Buddha and chants the school mottos. One teacher or another will give a speech on being good and give announcements, the younger grades “wai” the older grades and the teachers then they will all shout their times tables while doing a karate routine. Classes start at 8:30, but it seems to be an unspoken rule that teachers arrive 10 minutes after the children do.
I am scheduled to teach two classes a day, grades 3-6 Monday to Thursday with the other intern, and do a twenty minute kindergarten class on Friday. The more effort we put in to making the classes fun, the more we get out of the students. Our primary focus is to get the children speaking in English as much as possible. If at the end of the lesson, we have taught the children to say one new thing in English, it is judged as successful. We have lunch at 11:30, which as a vegetarian is usually quite tough. I can count on rice, some vegetables retrieved from a pork dish and fresh fruit at the very least. We finish at 3:30pm, chill out, play with the children, go into town, run in the park and meet up with other interns for dinner. We spend a lot of evenings with our incredible English teacher who lives across the way from us too.
I’ve seen the children doing a number of things that would be illegal in England. Like making fires to burn rubbish on school grounds unattended, sharing their lunch with the puppies that sleep next to the canteen and jumping into the pond to retrieve a football when they should be in class. One time a girl fell from the second floor window (apparently an attempt to save her work blown away in the wind) but it was okay because she fell on a banana tree. Only in Thailand. To think that I was concerned about giving year 3s permanent markers to write their name tags with! I know that not all schools in Thailand will be like this, and that our state funded local primary school may not be the best, but I will definitely look back on it and laugh.
The attitude towards teaching is extremely laid back. Me and my fellow intern are always ready on the dot to start teaching, but we realised pretty early on that the pace of doing things here (if they ever get done at all!) is very slow. If we don’t have a class we will be in the office planning for the next one, which now takes no time at all, and is even more basic than what we were taught on the TEFL course. Children can be very naughty and corporal punishment is still used; I think our teachers are sensitive to us when it comes to this though. The whole time I’ve been here, I’ve only seen our English teacher hit a grade 6 boy once with a stick. She apologised to me straight after she did it. I’ve had lessons that have been put on “pause” while the kids all eat ice creams, and I’ve had morning lessons cancelled because the class didn’t clean their assigned area well enough before assembly. Actually the few classes I have are cancelled quite often, which is a real shame because I don’t feel that I am doing as much as I could here. I do not feel like I am getting a realistic insight into teaching and the students aren’t getting as much as they could out of me. It seems to be the luck of the draw – some interns are in secondary schools with 1,500 students and teach upwards of 15 hours a week as individuals, but in my small school the teachers don’t seem to want to give their lessons away when we ask if it is possible to have more. It even feels like I’m stepping on their territory when I ask if I can just sit in on their lessons for want of something to do. It is very un-Thai to deny someone something straight out or talk matter of factly, so it is hard to tell what the teachers feelings are towards us being here. Sabai sabai.