There are many days here when I forget what I’m doing. I read something somewhere about somebody else and what they are doing, thinking how cool it is. Somehow my own experience becomes lesser. Life is normal to me. Though I don’t do as many different things here as I would somewhere else, such as playing my violin, cycling, or going camping for the weekend, I don’t do this things because I don’t have my equipment, each day still presents a challenge. The challenges themselves vary as in every other life, but some days the challenge is to get outside. I guess after a week of traveling everyday and not having time to do the little things, they pile up, literally, and we need a day to take care of it. For example to day I caught up from a three day weekend, two days of travel for work, and one day of my body telling me that if I do anything too strenuous there would likely be a system failure. I cleaned the bathroom, swept the floor, did laundry, scrubbed the electric frying pan, cleaned my bracelets, and read the newspaper. I also checked e-mails, found a yellow shirt for the King’s celebration, had a coffee, had dinner with various bosses, and worked out for two hours. It was a very productive day here in my little room. But it was the same day that I could have anywhere else. I forget that living in a foreign country is still living, and after a year things should seem routine and even uninteresting. I can do any shopping I need and any traveling I need in the native language making even that challenge dissipate somewhat. Other than the relationship I have formed with my Thai man, the only interesting challenge I have left is my job.
On Tuesday I traveled by bus to Bang Na then by taxi to Sarasas Witaed Nimitmai, a school on the southeastern side of the city of Bangkok. I had gone to this school to observe, for three hours, one of the teachers with the Languagecorps program. He is 24 and we have all had our doubts about not only his teaching ability, but his ability to survive in this ‘weird’ place. His first day in the country brimmed with awe over differences between his home country and this hot, occasionally odorous foreign place. I kept the thought to myself, ‘of course it is different dimwit, it’s a different country with a different climate, culture, religion, government, and economy’. He seems to now have adapted and is actually doing rather well. I watched him teach a room full of three year old children how to write the letter ‘F’. “Top to bottom, left to right, left to right” he kept repeating as the kids traced the frog beginner on their worksheet. Over the span of the three hours I had plenty of time to consider his methods and come up with some suggestions of how to make the lesson a bit more interesting. He could sing songs with them, do matching games, review the letters they have already learned, or play ‘I Spy’ with colors. I have come to see that those who teach kindergarten can take two approaches, the easy or the hard. This guy took the easy, putting little more effort into his lessons than printing the necessary worksheet provided by the school and following along when the class’s fulltime Filipina teacher decided the kids need to sing in English to help them learn, an excellent idea. The hard, or with more effort, way to teach kindergarten I saw the next day in a teacher at a school under the same administration as Mr. “F”.
This teacher had made, by himself, a die with pictures of various people on each side. When the die falls, the kids have to identify the type of person on top, man, old man, etc. He also made a numbered board with different objects behind 1-4 and then those objects again but scrambled behind 5-8, the kids were to remember what hid behind each door and tell the teacher, in English where each object laid. He used one worksheet to practice colors, number, location words, and a particular letter. The kids spent most of the class coloring, but only what he instructed them to color, such as ‘color the hats red’, or ‘color the frogs in front of the rock green’. He had all elements of learning including activities as a class and one to one time. He is one of the best teachers I’ve seen, and he has the same qualifications as all the teachers I see.
Many other kindergarten teachers also take the easy approach, getting by with the least amount of effort they can muster. As an ‘authority’ on what these teachers should be doing, but in reality a person who has never taught kids less than nine years old and could honestly not handle a room full of three year olds, I am meant to give an accurate evaluation of their skills and give them guidance and ideas. This obviously presents a challenge for me. The only training I have had for this job has been taking the PELT course myself and the two meager months of teaching I did at Sahtit Burapha. The only knowledge I have on this subject is what I remember from my days in the classroom as a student, where never before 16 did I learn a language, and what I see in the numerous teachers I have watched. My list of teachers, schools, and different age groups has become somewhat lengthy in my short time in this position, but just doing the job has given me enough insight to feel confident and justified in my suggestions. I have seen enough to know what works, what doesn’t work, when a teacher is putting honest effort into their responsibility and when a teacher is doing just enough to get by pleasing the administration and the parents. More often than not I see the latter, and it does not put a smile on my face.
The principles upon which the famous show based its learning are key in language learning, keep it simple and pack language practice into fun activities. TEFL teaches these same ideas. Students may only learn ten new words a day, but by the end of the day those words will be ‘known language’ and tomorrow those words will be usable without a prompt. So where do math and science fit into this method? Simple, teaching math or science or any subject other than language in a foreign language is a vocabulary lesson. Teaching the concepts of long division or lowest common denominator in a foreign language is an impossible task. Teaching the words and demonstrating what the words mean using numbers is easy. In most cases in schools in
Now, as pointed out to me by some of the teachers in my family who have spent an entire career ascending to the point to which I have jumped to within merely four months of my college graduation, what qualifies me for this job. I have only a Bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field and a TESOL Certificate. I have nothing other than the eyes and ears of an outsider who can see and hear what a teacher may not. I can offer support and advice based on the experience of their peers, things other teachers have tried and found successful. Were I to stay in this job for a longer period of time, I would get better, and so would the teachers. I learn from the good ones to help the not so good ones, finally I am living up to my given name. The challenge is in how to force improvement and the frustration of not being heard.old posts