Wednesday, January 6, 2010

School Day:

School begins with the flag-raising ceremony, followed by the Thai National anthem and the reading of Buddhist wisdom sayings. For all of this, the kids are gathered on a field in front of the school. Today was PE day (Physical Education) so they were wearing their blue and white gym clothes.

My grades are Matayom 1-3, or Grades 7, 8 and 9, plus The Naughty Boys who have been tossed out of the other classes because of behavior problems. (Just between you and me, I think the latter are my favorites. A few are very bright and very hyper. I can teach whatever I want so the whole class is fun for me.)

Grades 7, 8 and 9 have workbooks to follow--or at least the teacher, Wan Li, has a workbook to follow. The kids don't have their own workbooks so she has to copy pages for them. Or just write on the chalk board. She asked me to prepare Unit 11 for Matayom 3 today--all new material and vocabulary for the kids.

The unit was about using a ticket machine, a coffee machine and locking your stuff up in a locker for a fee.

The kids have never seen a ticket machine, a coffee machine or a locker. They haven't a clue what these things are. Actually I've never seen a "ticket machine" like the one described in the workbook.

The ticket machine requires that "you first study the map" at the top of the machine, then put your money in and press a button to make your selection. The ticket and the coin change come out below.

I tell you all this to convey my exasperation with the teaching materials and "workbooks" the teachers are required to use. The workbooks are international teaching English as a foreign language books written with a definite Western slant but by folks who may not speak English themselves as their native language. (Lots of odd sentence constructions, for example.)

The lessons are usually impossible for Thai kids to understand or even begin to relate to.

Impossible Workbook

The next unit covers "famous people" and talks about Marilyn Monroe, the Beatles, Winston Churchill, etc. There's not a single Thai name among the famous and no one in any of my classes, including the teachers, knows who these folks are--or cares.

To make matters worse, the kids are just beginning to put simple sentences together--e.g. I like sports--and the speaking proficiency to master using machines they've never heard of is eons beyond them.

Wan Li knows these things and has written a book about Trang (in English) that she is hoping to get accepted for use in the classrooms here. At lunch I help her to straighten out the sentences and narrative so that the English is correct. The vocabulary remains extremely difficult for beginners but the book is definitely a step in the right direction. At least, it's about more familiar things. I also wrote a letter praising the book to the skies. She hopes to use it as a means of promotion (a farang's recommendation.)

In all of my classes I am following the only good teaching method I know: Start where your students are, take them a little further, and keep it fun.

So I have been breaking everything down into simple vocabulary words, using them in simple sentences and making a game of every lesson.

Hope it works and that I manage to impart something while I am here. The kids try so hard, are so endearing and really want to please you. After classes end, the little ones (primary grades) come running and grab my hands and my skirt and carry all my things out to the van. The older ones are "too cool" for that but I am happy for a "Good morning, Teacher, how are you?" (Said with giggles and shy grins.)

Like teenagers everywhere, they roll their eyes and laugh heartily when I make a mistake saying something in Thai. They just LOVE correcting me--so I make sure they have plenty of opportunities.

After all, fair is fair.


  1. Those kids are so blessed to have you there! Keep up the good work.

    Ooh, yes. We'll expect fried bananas next time we visit.

  2. So, ur trying to teach English, using a workbook that doesnt have correct English in it? Sounds frustrating, at the very least! Glad to hear that Wan Li has written a book, maybe that will help these kids...