Friday, February 02, 2007

"Teacher, today dead!"

It's been a really good few days at work. Yesterday and today I had my Mattayom (M) kids (the older ones, from grades 7-9) who are usually pretty uninterested. We did the solar system yesterday and transportation today. The games went well, the learning happened, and I threw some chalk and hit some kids on the head. It's great.

Now, to give you an idea of the motivation of my students it is probably a good idea to start with some information on the area where I teach. It's a town called Sarapee which is about 20 km outside of Chiang Mai. The students who come from the area will mostly become farmers and farmers' wives. They will probably never use English after they graduate from high school. Some of them might go to university, but it is not the norm. University here is cheap, but it is still 4 years of your life that you're not bringing in money, and for a family that makes less than 4,000 baht a month (almost USD120) that's a big deal.

This is perhaps the biggest challenge for me, and one that I've just begun to grasp. For me high school was working towards a goal- the goal was university and then a job. I didn't worry about how I would eat or live during university, let alone who would pay for the huge cost of classes. At the time I didn't think twice about that, it was just what people did in my neighbourhood/economic stratum/whatever classifier you want to use. In this school the kids don't have that end goal. This isn't to say they don't enjoy their lives or that they're a miserable bunch of hopeless miscreants. They're punks, don't get me wrong. 22 students got suspended today because they got caught drinking beer at another school on Saturday. There have been plenty of arrests of students for doing stupid shit like theft and drugs. But when you're going to be a farmer and you'll probably spend most of your life drinking cheap whiskey why not start now? Why not break the rules, it's not like it's going to go on your 'permanent record' or anything. Most of the kids are looking forward to not coming to school.

So what's the point of this rant? I guess I'm just starting to understand that learning the names of the planets in English isn't all that important to these kids lives. On some level I knew that going in, but it's sinking in now. I haven't learned one of my kids names yet. That sounds pathetic, I know, but it's true. First of all they have tricky Thai names, and there are 880 of them. I try really hard not to show favouritism (even though I have favourites- particularly the ones that actually show interest) so to learn some names might cause tricky problems there. Or I could just be making excuses.

Shall I go through my typical Friday at Watweruwan School?

I got up at 6:30, went over my lesson for the day, and left for work around 7:30. I fought with my motorbike over who would win the battle of starting the motor. Eventually I won, rode through the freezing cold to work where I parked and walked into Teacher Lee's room while the kids sang the national anthem (which for some reason I always want to call the Thai theme song). Teacher Lee is the head teacher for Weruwan. He works for Nava and makes sure things go smoothly for the three of us farang teachers at the school. He's British, has lived here 6 years, has a half-Thai son, and speaks fluent Thai. He's pretty much a riot.

Anyway after hanging out in his room for about half an hour I headed to my first class. Mattayom 2/1. The classes here are stratified: 2/1 is the best, 2/2 is not as good, and 2/3 are the dregs of the year level. It sounds harsh, and it is, but that's the way it works here. As Lou would say, "tit." This is Thailand. Merit is a big deal. I asked 2/1 if they'd brought their homework. This was the first time I'd assigned homework. In our last lesson on the Environment I had them begin to make posters about recycling and saving the planet, etc. They had to finish them for homework and we were going to have a contest. 4 people, out of over 40, brought in completed posters. I taught them the word pathetic, telling them it was what they were. I told them to bring them next week or they'd have to run around the track outside. This is a regular punishment but one I've yet to use.

From here I introduced the topic: Transportation. I asked them to name some forms. They got pretty creative, even thought up hangliding. I had to really think about how to spell it... they thought that was pretty funny. From there we moved on to comparatives and superlatives. For those of you who are not English teachers that means fast/faster/fastest; big/bigger/biggest, etc. This stuff was obviously not new to the M 2/1 group. They picked it up really quickly which made it easy to move onto my game. I had all the kids stand in a big circle. I explained the rules: I'd throw a ball to someone and they would have to say a sentence using two forms of transportation and a comparative, like "A bicycle is smaller than an airplane." If they got the sentence wrong, they were out and had to sit down. If they couldn't catch the ball, out. If they threw an uncatchable ball, out. If they repeated a sentence, out. It was a lot of fun, especially when I started trying to catch students who weren't paying attention and missed the ball. We played until the end of the class when there were 4 or 5 students still standing.

After that I had M 2/2 and 2/3. These kids didn't know the comparatives/superlatives yet, so it took a bit more time explaining. Actually they didn't even know the word 'fast.' I also threw stuff at them because nobody had done their homework in these groups. I'm not sure if this sounds harsh or not, but it was all in good fun. It actually serves to strengthen the class dynamic because then everyone is laughing at their mates that get picked on by me. I also threw the ball at people and hit them on the head. The Thai teacher in these classes is amazing. She teaches English and does the accounting for the school. She brings me bottles of cold water and mugs of hot water as well as cakes and other goodies. If I need anything I know I can go to her, she's wonderful. Her name is Tuk Tha and she has a young daughter.

Once those two classes were over it was lunch time. Today's lunch was a virtual feast. We get lunch for free, which is a definite perk of the job. Yesterday it was sticky rice and pork (my favourite) and today it was rice, some spicy tomatoey stuff, pork rinds, and some thin noodles that were delicious. Lee, Gaz and I sat around after lunch chatting about various Thailand things. Favourite post-lunch topics include (but are not limited to) sex, students, beer, Thai corruption, cheese, drugs, travel, home, family, what we did the night before, what we'll be doing that night, cheese, and the stupid fat kid in Prathom 2 who manages to fall on various parts of his body and injure himself.

After lunch I headed to M 3/3. If you're following along you'll realize that these kids are the dregs of the highest level of the school. This is also the class with the bulk of the students who were suspended, so there were only about 12 of them there today. Class starts at 12:30. I usually get there around 12:35, the students around 12:40. The last one was there at 10 til. Before I started at Weruwan I was warned that this would be the class I'd dread the most. Actually 3/2 is worse, but these kids definitely don't make my job easy. I was told that some of them can't write their names... in Thai. Yikes. We talked about the solar system, which was fun and all, but I wasn't too disappointed that class started so late. It meant less time of dealing with the bullshit of kids who think they're too cool for school.

The last class of the week for me is Prathom 4/2. At this level (grade 4) the kids aren't in the stratified system. Prathom covers grades 1-6, then they start Mattayom. These kids are fun, but they get way rowdy. We used a simple sentence structure: You need ------ to ----- . Something like "you need feet to kick." There were 5 teams, they had 10 seconds to think of a sentence (1 point) and if they couldn't, or if they got it wrong, another team could steal it for 2 points. Simple enough game, especially with flash cards. Time passed, I yelled at the kids for playing strange games with their rulers. The work week ended, I was out of there faster than you can say potato pancakes.

From there it was off to Nava (the contracting agency) to get my work permit sorted. I had to meet Air, one of the two lovely office ladies who has been rushing to get it all through before 5th February when my visa runs out. We were going to go to City Hall together so I could sign some stuff. As it turns out Air's car was in the shop, so we decided to take my bike. I can't drive with another person on the back, so Air was going to drive. Just before I gave her the keys I said "Do you drive a bike a lot?" and she said she hadn't driven one since [sic] 6 years. With a raised eyebrow I handed over the keys. She got on and said "Where are the gears?" to which I responded "There are no gears, it's an automatic!" She had trouble starting it and hit the horn instead of the starter (at this point we were on the bike, she was in front) so I started it for her from behind. Now I'm not one to fault others for not knowing the workings of someone else's motorbike, as we all know by now. The bike lurched forward and I yelled "Stop! Stop!" but with some luck the bike didn't hit anything (or anyone, this time) and we both stood there realizing that this was not how we would get to City Hall. Apparently Moo (the other office lady) and James (my boss) had been watching from inside and decided that Moo would take us in her car. By this point the three of us (Moo, Air, and I) were laughing hysterically about how Air and I managed to miscommunicate ourselves into such an odd situation. Air kept saying "Teacher, today dead!" and I kept responding with "No, not dead, but maybe if you had driven!" and various other ways of joking about how it was a good thing we didn't drive on the motorbike. Meanwhile Moo was peeing her pants with laughter. It seemed a lot funnier at the time... anyway it was a good afternoon that ended with Air buying us all some mango (ma muang) and rose apples (cham poo) to eat on the way back to Nava. Good times.

From there I went home, changed, relaxed for a few minutes, and headed to Lou's for some down time and a farewell dinner for Dede. Now I'm back home taking an easy Friday evening in. And that was my day.

I will leave you with some funny things that my kids have said this week:

"You need a cock to see." she meant to say clock, and it was all I could do not to laugh in her face.

"Teacher Kiss!" many students have trouble saying the /r/ sound, so they end up saying kiss as my name.

"Saturday!" a very enthusiastic boy thought this was the name of a planet...

"Teacher, he's a gay!" when I called on a boy for an answer everyone giggled and decided to point out that the kid was gay. I wanted to say "Uh, yeah, I pretty much gathered that from the pink scarf and the makeup..." but didn't think it would compute. The gay boys seem to be much smarter than the dumbass cool kids, that's for sure.

"Airport!" One kid was sure this was the word for airplane.

"Teacher, shake a hand!" I get this regularly as I cross the playground. I feel like a golden retriever sometimes.

K, that's all. Tschuss.


Anonymous said...

Hi Kiss,

Oh my God, you had me laughing in stitches. You have to write a book, Kiss,....really. I read your experiences to Nicole today. She too thought it was quite fun to listen to. That's one way to get my kids reading.

Keep posting your experiences when you're able. They are very interesting, informative and entertaining to read.

Hugs, Auntie Tracy

Anonymous said...

HI Kris.

After talking to you last night I fell asleep mid sentence reading your blog. What a week.
Instead of the golden retriever visual think celebrity when they are asking to shake your hand.
We were suppose to go to Grand Rapids today as you know but Colin just called and said he woke to a blizzard. 4" with whitouts and intense squalls expected throughout the day so here we sit.

Bye for now. Love mom

Natasha said...

Hi Kris
You really should re think your calling. I think you were meant to be a great communicator. Ever thought of journalism? Your are an excellent writer.
Aunt Debbie
-15 degrees Celsius but sunny in Canada.

Anonymous said...

Hello Kiss
So great to be back from our vacation in Cuba and reading about your adventures in Thai Land. We were surprised when you said it was cold there. Your stories are just great, please keep them coming. Ron and I enjoy reading th em so much. By for now Great Auntie Shirley