Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Independent Woman

Now, I consider my self a fairly well traveled person, pretty smart and pretty able to figure things out and get by. Now this is not bragging just an observation of (what I think at least) myself. The women we work are amazing nice women who obviously care, however a lot of the time I feel like they are treating me like a small child who knows nothing, about anything! Every time I cross the street with them they grab my arm and hold on very tight, like I am going to run a way or get lost while crossing. They do not do this to any of the boys. We eat lunch everyday directly across the street from our school at a little market. Now as Jeff has said earlier, Thai’s are about the nicest least malicious people I have ever met so it is a very simple outing to eat lunch. These women are absolutely terrified at the thought of me going to eat by my self, while they and other Thai’s do it all the time! I needed to buy shoes for the parade we were in, they told me to go across the street to the market to look there for shoes. When I said OK I would go after work I got a firm grip on my arm and a “who are you going with?” accompanied by a look of “YOU are going to go by your self?” I said Jeff would most likely come with me and I got a sigh of relief and an “ok good.” Another example if this is all the high school girls were given their outfit and jewelry for the parade a few days before the event. I was not. I was told “I will hold on to this for you, don’t worry.” Now I know they are just trying to be helpful and considerate but it feels incredibly condescending. I get they are worried about me not knowing the area and not speaking the language, but this was holding on to things for gods sake! No language required!

I guess they are just his way with the girls who come work for them. There was a girl before me who came on her own, they smothered her more than me (probably because I came with a boy) and she ended up leaving after two weeks! Its hard to deal with a lot of the time. I appreciate their help when I ask for it or even useful information of places to go or avoid, but it would sure be nice to be viewed as a smart competent woman once in a while… just have to remember TIT…


When it comes to teaching, there is a balance between good feelings and bad; much like the idea of karma in Buddhism, where life and energy seeks balance. (I would like to know if "real" teachers feel the same way).

There are so many students to so few teachers here, it's sort of inevitable that you are going to have bad classes, and it helps to keep your cool if you remember that your oldest student may be 16... But on the other hand, some days it's hard not to get discouraged; some days it feels like your students hate you, they are all mocking you behind you back (or right in front of your face) in Thai, you're not getting through to anybody, they are acting like little punks. Some days every one of your classes goes so bad you wonder "what am I doing here", you straight up want to quit - true story. But then you see that one student - sometimes they aren't even yours - that is sitting all by herself in the breezeway, and she bows to you as you walk by and says "good morning teacha" with a cute little smile on her face, and that seems to outweigh the 100+ students you just had that filled you full of anger, or frustration, or depression. The number of bad students compared to good seems to be very high, but when you do talk to one of your good students it seems to make everything okay. I don't get it, three bad classes in a row - very bad classes - and for some reason you'll have one good class and that outweighs the rest? It's like the universe is always seeking balance, the good feelings sometimes seem fewer and farther between than the bad, but the good feelings are so much stronger.

There other day I gave an assignment to one of my classes towards the end, I told them if they didn't finish, it was home work. Most students were diligently working so they could have no homework - duh right - except for a group of boys in the back screwing around all period. Right at the end of class, as I was trying to leave, they scribbled some crap down (most of it just being what I wrote on the board as an example, or instructions). I said no, and showed them other students work, and said "you need to write more, more more more, you have homework"; they said "no teacha, I do"; "no, all classes you were not working." Back and forth like this for a while, me telling them I need more, all the while students are standing right behind me mocking me saying, "mo mo mo". Students were trying to come up to me and drop the paper in my arms and run away so I couldn't tell them more, they even tried to have their friends give me the same paper when I had handed it back to them. Mostly I was just dropping these papers on the floor, but a few got through (when I saw these later while I was grading, they got zeros). The whole time this shit-show was going on, I had a boy - that wasn't even my student - standing behind me poking me with a 2x2 piece of wood saying "teacha teacha, bang bang" over and over again. When I turned around he said "teacha, gun, bang bang", he was hold the piece of wood like a rifle and was thrusting it at me; he must've been able to tell by the vein on the side of my head popping out that if he didn't turn tail and haul ass he was going to regret it, cause he immediately turned around and took off giggling. Although as I walked away I could still hear him behind me, "teacha, bang bang". I fantasized about ripping that 2x2 out of his hands and whacking him in the side of the head with it...

Not really sure what that story has to do with balance, but something must've made me feel better, because there was no teacher-student murder later that day at Benchama. Anyway it's one more thing to keep in mind here, things seem to have a way of righting themselves.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Lesson in Thai Lesson Planning

So I realize I just posted, but this will be a short post.

First of all and most importantly, you have to be ready to improvise at any moment. (I don't know if it's the same way for all you other teachers out there). But for a small example, the school assembly ran long today, so my first period got cut short from 50 minutes to like 17 minutes. And you're being generous if you say the classes are normally actually 50 minutes. Anyway, so much for my lesson plan, I basically had enough time to take roll and let my students get a head start on their homework, and this is with a class that meets once a week... Even though I'm in my 4th week of classes - but because half of my classes only meet once a week, and the school likes to spring random days or periods off on you at the last minute - I have only seen some of my students two or three times, and one of my classes only once! How are you expected to teach them anything?

I have grades M2, levels 6-10; and M4, levels 1-8. The M4's meet once per week, and the M2's twice a week. There is such a knowledge difference between the concentric levels of my two grades that I basically have to create different lesson plans for each one, otherwise the material is either way over my students heads and they are board, or they don't understand what I'm saying and within one minute they've tuned out and are now talking. The problem with this scenario being that I'm expected to teach the same material to all of the M2's, and all of the M4's...
So what ends up happening is I usually dumb down the lesson plan to the basic vocabulary that I put into a game - usually hangman - and I try to attempt some sort of lesson for the "smarter" kids (as a side note, the little shit-machines love freakin hangman). In the end I will have to create a standard test that will inevitably be too easy for some students, and way too hard for others. Normally those students would fail, but since they quite literally can't fail their english classes, I have to give them some lame assignment worth all the points in the class so that can get a 50 percent and pass. This is a sneak peak into a melting pot of serious issues that go deep into the Thai education system, and a discussion for another post...

Ethically, what's a teacher to do?

This Is Thailand

I was discussing this concept recently with one of the teachers that lives in the apartment below us; 'This Is Thailand'.

For those of you who have seen Blood Diamond, you may start to understand more what I'm referring to... in the movie they talk about Africa in a certain way, the way the people act, the way it is living there, the inevitable truths about the continent that you can't really avoid. Leonardo DiCaprio's character and Djimon Hounsou's character (Danny and Solomon) have an acronym they say to each other when they are in one of these situations... TIA - this is Africa. Replace 'Thailand' for 'Africa' - you get TIT, made me giggle when we first said it - but it still holds true. When Danny and Solomon would have something happen to them in the movie that they couldn't really avoid, or that was sort of typical Africa, or just "one of those things", they would say to each other "T.I.A - this is Africa". Something you sort of get when watching the movie, but you don't get as an experience.

The funny acronym aside, the same holds true for Thailand. You don't get exactly what you ordered at a restaurant, and get charged extra; you get hassled like crazy in Bangkok by Tuk Tuk and Taxi drivers, or street vendors; you have to take a 6 hour, 3rd class, open-air train to visit some friends; it's 85 degrees outside and there's no AC in your classes; you ask somebody a question, they start rattling something off in Thai to their friend, and somewhere in the middle you hear 'farung' and you think "hey I heard that, I know you're talking about me"... well, this is Thailand. It's not that any of these things are necessarily good or bad, or that the people have a malicious intent - just the opposite in fact, almost 95 percent across the board, Thai people are the nicest people you will encounter - it's just that if you let these things start to get to you, you'll drive your self crazy. So it's just one of those things you have to tell your self occasionally, and that we say to each other, and sometimes it just helps you calm down and deal with a situation. It's sort of a way of telling yourself that it's no big deal, you're in Thailand, things are different - you have to go number 2 in a squatter and there's no tp, hey, this is Thailand.

Obviously Thailand is nothing like Africa, but it still helps. And it's definitely a lesson in tolerance.

This weekend we hade a "this is Thailand" moment; we went to visit some friends, and we went out to dinner one night (keep in mind this is a locals place, no white people there but us), they messed up the order of a couple of us and we got charged extra, we had suspected in the beginning of the meal but we thought the waitress said "okay" and we started eating the dish, by the time dinner was over and we got the bill we realized what happened. The bill was 1000 baht, wich isn't bad for a dinner for five people with mixers. But the people who got charged extra were trying to discuss the bill with people who didn't speak english (understandable enough though, you don't really want to pay extra for something that you didn't like...). They ended up reducing our bill 20 baht (which in the grand scheme is nothing). So, especially in a situation like this, no malicious intent at all, just miscommunication; and in Thailand, when you get the wrong dish and you eat it, you don't get your money back, just the way it is, this is Thailand.

Now, I really hope if our friend happens to read this, they don't think I'm raggin on them, not at all - cause this is essentially like a journal we're sharing with the world; we are all learning how to deal with the things we encounter here, and if we were in the United States I probably would've done the same thing, but... this is Thailand. Friend, you are awesome. And I think we all just brushed this off our shoulders, and after all is said and done we had an amazing time with our friends; motorbiking around the countryside, temples, and waterfalls.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

dogs and days off

When I get home and get a good real job the first thing I’m going to do is give a big check to the SPCA and the Human Society. There are sooooooo many stray dogs in Thailand. Many of them are so pathetic looking and are just hanging on to life. Its so sad. They are super thin and mangy looking with a ton of scars all over their bodies. You feel so bad for them but at the same time you just want them to go away. At night the dogs come out in full force. You can hear them every night fighting out side our apartment. It is so loud and brutal.  If you go out walking at night you have to be carful of where you walk. If you walk in an area where dogs out number humans you need to carry a big stick and a rock. The boys who live in the apartment below us were telling us about a teacher last term who was bit in the leg pretty bad by a dog. Apparently it was no big deal to the Thai teachers, I guess it happens a lot. So crazy. This also makes me appreciate Bob Barker a lot more! Have you spayed or neutered your animal yet? That is one thing this country could use big time! Every animal here is not only a stray but is defiantly not spayed or neutered. Surprisingly I have not seen a big stray cat problem.  I’m afraid to ask if its because of all the stray dogs…
So yeah, a big check to the SPCA and the Human Society when I get home. You don’t realize how much they do till you go to a place where there is no organization like that. Or how much an organization like is needed, not just for the animals wellbeing, but for everyone in society as well.

Thai schools are so weird. There are little things in American schools you take for granted. Not only how nice they are, but how organized they are. Remember back in high school when you would be late for class because of something related to school? You would walk in late and say I was doing such and such with so and so teacher. Your teacher would say oh yeah I got the memo about that, with all the names of the students who were doing it. Here there is not such system. I had a few students walk in to class 30 min late and they said they said they were playing an instrument (band).  I just have to take their word for it, I didn’t even know there WAS a band here. It never meets at the same time and you don’t have a list of students who are in it so they could be lying. You’ll never know here. Another thing is cancelations. We ended school early last Friday but we had no idea that we did until half way through the day, when someone finally decided to let us know. And again this week, no school Friday but we didn’t find out until today! I mean I’m not complaining about not having to work but it would be nice to know these things. It makes planning lessons kinda hard when you don’t even know when your meeting or not!

Ok I think that’s it for my two little rants. No school Friday, so I think we are gonna go up to Lopburi, in central Thailand to play with the monkeys!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

a little about our school

Ok so it has been about two weeks since we have been in Chachoengsao. A lot has happened. For starters we have now officially been teachers for two weeks. This has been an interesting experience so far. Thailand apparently spends 25% of its GDP on education, you would not guess that by looking at our school. The class sizes are 46 students in one room and the rooms them selves are the biggest dumps I have ever seen! Holes in the walls, trash all over the place, broken desks, and broken chalkboards in every room! It is hard to see how students can focus and learn anything in these rooms. Also the system in places really hurts the students, they can not fail. There is no fear of repercussions for their actions so they stop caring. They know they are going to be passed on and don’t care to learn that material. The grades are broken up into levels 1 being the best and 10 the worst (up to 14 in the higher grades) so the students know they are bad if they are in the higher numbers and know that people don’t expect anything from them so they do expect anything from themselves. Its really sad to see. I have grade 1-6 through 1-10 and 5-11 through 5-14 so the worst of both grades. It amazing to see how much they don’t know and don’t care to learn, Jeff has the 4-1 and they have a clean classroom with computers in the back and about half the numbers of students in the class. The differences are amazing. It is going to be a very interesting year teaching in the Thai system.
On a more fun note, we went to Koh Samet last weekend with two friends, Ashley and Susan.  It was awesome! It is a small island right off the coast in the gulf of Thailand. It’s the closets island to Bangkok. We stayed at this little backpackers bungalow resort right on the beach called Jeps. It was nice a bit more expensive than we wanted to pay (650 baht a night) but everything else was booked up. We had dinner on the beach the first night and then went down the beach to this club where they had fire limbo going! It was pretty crazy, while the bar was still high everyone took turns running under the flaming bar, us too! As it got lower we left it to the bar staff to show off, and show off they did. On guy light his cigarette while he went under when it was about eight inches from the ground! It was pretty crazy to see!
The next day we walked around from one end of our beach to the next, it was beautiful. We decided to do something other than lay on the beach all day so we booked a tour of three tiny island next to Samet. It was a private tour, they took us to Koh Ku Dee a small island next to Samet where we got to snorkel around it. It was a lot of fun! The water was pretty clear and there were some cool looking schools of fish and some coral to look at. Not as pretty as some but still pretty cool. We then docked on the island and got explore it. There were about six wooden swings right on the water in the beach we could play on, it was so pretty and completely deserted, just the four of us. We then took a hike to the top of the island and had an amazing view of Samet, the mainland and the other small island near us. When we got back to the boat we took a quick tour of the other two islands and then went to the far side of Samet. There is a fish and sea turtle farm that we got to visit and feed the fish. It was so cool! It was a bunch of wooden planks suspended way out in the water on top of some 50 gallon plastic drums. The water was a bit rocky so we didn’t take our cameras out with us in case we fell in. it was a good thing we didn’t taken them because a few times we ended up crawling the waves were rocking us so much. It was so worth it though! We got to shake hands with a giant sea turtle and pet a tiger shark!  Later that night we went and had an amazing seafood dinner sitting on the sand on the beach. We had crabs and scallops and clams and mussels, and then a whole red snaper. All of this was fresh caught and grilled. It was so good. We walked along the beach after dinner and saw more fire dancers this time instead of limbo they had a giant flaming hoop to jump through. Jeff decided it would be a good idea to take a turn and jump through it! I got a picture so you’ll all be able to see he did not get burned. We went back to the club that had fire limbo the night before and tonight they decided on fire jump rope! Not just plain old jump rope, but fiery double dutch! I don’t think anyone tried that except for the bar guys, im pretty sure they have been burned so many times they have lost all feeling! The next day we started our trip home. So that ends our Halloween weekend trip in Thailand!

More has happened but ill let Jeff give you his point of view and fill you in on the rest later.