Wednesday, June 28, 2006
well, i am here in Surat Thani, a very Thai town, just finished with some observations. this city is odd because it's spread out all over the place and is really not very big, but has a lot of schools. the teacher i saw was not good with giving directions, so i've been lost a lot in the past few days. ah well, that's how it goes i guess. i am leaving on a bus in about an hour to go to Phuket where another teacher awaits observations. i will spent thursday and friday with her at school and then saturday morning beach before making the trip back to pattaya. i reckon it might take up to 24 hours. the 'special express' trains don't mean that they go fast or don't stop, i don't really know what it means, but not what we would think of as express. Phuket looks to be very nice, Thai people say that it's very beautiful, and when pictures of Thailand are seen, it's usually Phuket and it's spike like greenery covered rock protubements out of the sea. should be gorgeous.

the world cup is coming to the good stuff, and i will miss some great games! the best will be england vs. portugal. i'm cheering for an england victory, and Non would like to see portugal with the cup. pity we can't watch it together! hope all is well, i have to find a 7-11 and some water before a four hour bus journey. tahtah.
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Monday, June 19, 2006
well after a rather exciting week last week with travel everyday and mass cancellation on saturday morning i made it to sunday. the day for relaxing a movies. i thought i did well last week, completeing observations for six teachers and handing out four certificates. not bad for a short week. i saw some good teachers and some bad teachers and a lot of back of heads on the bus. i have perfected the art of the bus nap, unless i'm next to an unsavory character or have a man speaking to loudly on his cellphone near me. i had a few really good taxi drivers and a few really bad ones. and i managed to work out on the regular schedule despite merely four hours of sleep at night.

on the bus when i'm not snoozing i do a lot of thinking about the teachers i've seen and how they all fit in with each other. and the fact that neither the boss in pattaya or the boss at tefl will ever know how their teachers are because they don't ask and they don't care. it's sad and again embarrassing. i have learned a lot about teaching, a lot about Thailand, and a lot about how a poorly managed unorganized and extorting company functions. it's truly fascinating. i would love to spend time at another tefl and languagecorps site to see if things are comparable. if only i had been quicker to see!

saturday i went to the beach, movies, and had thai barbeque with Non. it was a very relaxed and nice day. we saw Tokoyo Drift, one of the dummer movies of late, but the cars were nice! the meal was amazing. we sat on mats around a low table for a few hours having beers. the barbeque, i think i've described it before, is basically grilled meat and lettuce and noddle soup all cooked about a charcoal fire. it's a slow, delicious, and light yet filling meal. and of course there was World Cup watching. both of our teams are winning. England has won two, my team, and Portugal, Brazil, Korea, and Argentina have won, his teams. Argentina appears to be on top in terms of points with Ecuador and Germany tied behind. it's going to be a great tournament. it's cool to be in a place where people watch it and really get into it. four years ago the streets of Exeter would go silent when the english were playing their matches. the office where i worked then was across from a bar and we knew where their was a goal because the place would erupt in cheers. saturday we watched the end of the portugal/iran match on a makeshift screen with draft beer outside of the phone company building. it was great!

ok back to work. well, back to looking up stuff on the internet. :)
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Monday, June 12, 2006

Non and me. And it won't let me post more. I'll try again tomorrow! There's an adorable puppy!
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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.

Thailand is ranked second to last in all of Asia in English skills, only barely out speaking communist Cambodia. A bachelor’s degree has become something of a requirement for certificate holders to secure a position at a school. Yet, in crunch time when schools need a teacher right now or the kids will sit in a classroom with no teacher or learn improper English from a Thai or Filipino many schools will hire anybody who walks through the door, qualified or not. The TEFL program itself will accept anybody based on this knowledge. Thankfully many of the worst certificate candidates I have seen are yet to be hired by a school. The men and I say men because they are all men; this is Pattaya, either become lazy and disappear or are rejected. It’s a waste of their money and a sigh of relief for me because I struggle to be diplomatic when a teacher is truly awful and refuses to heed my constructive criticism. In many cases here I feel that everybody, the teachers, the administration, and even TEFL employees forget the ultimate reason behind everything that we do. At the end of the day after all of the drama, good and bad teaching, and salaries are paid the students are what matter. Many of our candidates neglect the fact that I do what I do to help them be the best teachers they can be for the sake of the students. If you are an unsatisfactory teacher, it is a waste of your time and your students’ time. Mr. “F”s kindergarteners can write a mean “F” and “f” but have nothing to which this foreign symbol relates. It might as well be a particle floating in space with nowhere to go and nothing to do but float about completely un-affected by anything else in the universe. Now put this letter with ‘frog’ or ‘four’ or ‘finger’, something they can see, touch, and comprehend and that floating particle is suddenly grounded in an entirely relevant and understandable universe. While ‘Sesame Street’ may seem silly now, when we were kids it was fascinating and full of learning tools, tools that can be applied in any classroom.

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 Thailand where the administration made the decision to teach math and science in English, those subjects are also taught in the native language. The kids already know how to do every problem the foreign teachers will attempt to teach, they just don’t know the English words associated with the concepts. Last week at a private school south of Bangkok, I observed two math classes taught by the same teacher. My presence had induced nervousness on his part and while he thought his lesson, and especially a need to linger on the word ‘consecutive’ because the students did not understand the word would warrant a less than satisfactory evaluation. As the evaluator, I thought his lesson upheld TEFL methods, his ensuring the understanding of ‘consecutive’, the impromptu quiz on the board to fully explain the word were more than satisfactory. The lesson, being a review lesson to cover everything that would be o an upcoming test, did not rely on superb teaching skills but on the effort made by the teacher to be sure each student had a handle on material already covered. From my extensive experience as a student, this type of lesson can be either worthwhile or a complete waste of time. This lesson will grant several of the students better scores on their test. Science is the same. I have seen only two science lessons, but each based in vocabulary included only simple explanations. If a concept needed further clarification, often the Thai teacher would step in, translating the explanation into Thai for easier understanding.

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.

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Friday, June 09, 2006
well, since my last post i have been to Koh Samet for a three day weekend, to Bangkok probably five times for observations, seen numerous sunrises, and turned 23.

my weekend on the island was amazing. it's a very beautiful place with nice joints to eat and drink right on the beach while watching the waves roll in, one hand on a beer and another behind the ear of the nearest starved for attention dog or kitten. the bugalow had AC and a shower will excellet water pressure. i only got a little sun burn from walking around a few points to other beaches over uneven rocks avoiding the scrambling crabs. there was also an afternoon paddle around to the next beach, wondering what the odd, clear hard with a tadpole like center things were floating by the millions in the sea. they are young jellyfish, and they are gross. when you sweep your hand through the water, you hit them and instantly retract that arm. something else in the water seemed to like to bite me and only me. it's probably the white skin, everybody seems to like it. there are laods of things to do, like snorkeling and diving, but with a limited time and funds, wandering the ceah and reading "Smoke Screen" was the activity of choice. (the book was really good, I'd recommend it). our weekend was entirely too short, but work was calling and the can back to Pattaya was cold. so all in all Koh Samet is a nice place for a weekend getaway, a bit expensive and lacking in delicious food, but nice sand and sun. next time, i'd rent a big bike and drive down to Koh Chang instead. it's much cheaper and just as nice with much better food and more friendly service.

the trip was the big birthday bash. i spent the actual day in various forms of transport and watching a teacher show kindgardeners how to make the letter "F". they then traced and colored while i sipped coffee and wrote up the evaluation. he's a decent teacher, but needs more activites with speaking, as is usually the case with younger students. singing, choosing the right picture, etc. KG is the easiest, and also the most difficult for many reasons. that night i checked e-mails, had an excellent workout, and did laundry. Non took me out for Thai barbeque, tandoori pot with lemon grass broth in which you put noodles and greens, then meat. it was delicious, but the mosquitos were biting. the following morning at 5.15 i got on a motorbike taxi headed for the bus station and another exciting day in Bangkok.

this weekend, for five days they King is celebrating his 60th year on the throne. the entire country has been wearing yellow shirts all week, and the entire country will stop this weekend for the party. royalty from all over are here to join in the festivities of the longest reighning King ever. i'm not allowed to wear black, which means i might have to stay home in my underwear because many of my clothes are black. :)

i'm looking forward to a relaxed weekend with movies and time at the beach. i figure i'd better have a tan when i get back or people are going to think i wasn't actually in Thailand. i have just learned that i might be making a trip to the infamous Phuket to do a few observations in the last week of June. hopefully it will work out as well as i need it to because schedules are so tight. ok, i'm signing off to go in search of a yellow shirt.
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