A laughable concept considering I spent the majority of my teenage years outside of the classroom. Me and mainstream education certainly did not get along. From a young age I detested feeling like a robot, being forced to repeat and remember and I hated all the limitations of being stuck in a classroom.
It took until I was 19 having tried various different jobs, along with some wise words of advice from my European colleagues in the cake factory for me to consider the possibility of university. What an experience. For 3 years I studied Sports Development at Leeds Metropolitan University. I found my love for education. I learned how to learn, it didn’t have to be boring and predictable. I realised I am a kinesthetic learner, learning best by doing and channeling my energy and enthusiasm in a different way. I graduated with a First Class Honors Degree my proudest achievement to date.
I’ve worked with children and young people in numerous settings since my graduation, usually the more challenging of our youth and it is well and truly my passion. Young people are like sponges constantly absorbing new bits of information. For me exploration, allowing one to discover for themselves is the key to education. Childhood is one big lesson that forms our ‘routes’ for the rest of our life. I want to be the person that guides and supports them through the difficult challenges of childhood, but the prospect of teaching has never been on my agenda.
Several people have mentioned teaching abroad, expressing how the rewards are immediate and the kids show so much gratitude. All the fun parts without the endless amounts of paperwork. Whilst travelling I notice I am more free and open to different possibilities. I do not limit myself and when opportunities arise I shrug off the self-doubt and think “why not”?
I had my initial nerves. What if I don’t fit in? What if the kids can’t understand me? I mean most people south of Nottingham struggle. I don’t know the first thing about teaching or the student’s ability. What if I teach them wrong? I did my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) a few years back but it feels so inadequate when faced with a class of up to 50 foreign students. I am determined to extend my comfort zone and I take the plunge right into the North of Thailand to a town called Uttaradit.
I needn’t have been worried the school is run by Sira, a kind hearted Thai National who is a member of the Thai Education Committee and her husband Peter. A German National who is the Foreign Liaison Manager. Coupled with his crazy sense of humor and relaxed approach to life we immediately click and they both make me feel extremely welcome within the school and wider community.
Mornings begin with the older students parading around the school in a band, followed by a procession of flags. The students look so proud, what a wonderful way to start the school day. Meanwhile the rest of the school are with their class mates on the front lawn. Some loud music begins and I am invited to join the rest of the teachers at the front. It’s only an exercise class!! We wave our arms, legs and jump, shake and dance to the music. I leave sweating as the Thai and English definition of winter is somewhat different by a staggering 30degrees! Along with the rest of the school I do however feel extremely positive and I feel pumped ready for the day.
I constantly hear the term “farang” which I later find out means a white foreigner from Europe. This term is socially acceptable which I find quite bizarre coming from the west where everything is so politically correct. I wave and smile at the constant greetings of beaming students shouting “hello farang teacher”. It’s as though they have never seen a white person before and I am on this Pedi stool. I ask Peter, how will the teaching work? Will I follow a lesson plan? Should I make my own up? How do I know the children’s ability? My endless list of questions make Peter smile and he explains to me that the children here are not used to ‘farang’ and this is going to be a unique learning experience for all involved. He explains it’s not about the quantity of English words. The emphasis is on the students gaining confidence whilst speaking English to a native speaker and also to show Thai teachers different ways of teaching. The way English is currently delivered is by a Thai teacher reading out of a book. Peter wants to change this along with the curriculum and boy am I happy to assist.
My first class is with Anuban 2 the 4-5 year olds, cute is an understatement. I have a few materials such as flash cards and pictures and my aim is to ensure the lessons are different, that they are fun and that the children are engaged and happy. I reminisce back to my childhood and sing head, shoulders, knees and toes along with all the actions. The kids love it. I play teacher says…… jump, sit, hop, turn around. I have the sudden desire to teach them Superman- Black lace, so why not? Macho man, sound your horn, WAVE! The children are learning by doing. I also use the black board so they can see visual aids and it gives my voice a rest. We end on the Hokey Cokey which ignites squeals of laughter.
Throughout my time at Paradusorn School I have the opportunity to teach various classes, giving students the chance to experience learning English from a different perspective. It’s amazing to see their enthusiasm and eagerness to learn which is stretched right from ages 3-13. The teenagers Matthayom 4 are an exception, the girls are engaged but the boys are demotivated and sleepy. Still I’m armed with a microphone and an aim to enthuse. So when one boy falls asleep I hide under the table and begin snoring loudly he quickly wakes to the guffaw of laughter from his peers. As their attention drifts I begin a game of hangman, WINNER! They love it, it’s inclusive as they can guess letters. Some students are brave and create a word on the board, all be it ‘KILLER’ the intention was there.
I advance to sentences and end on _ _ _ _ / _ _ _ _ / _ / _ _ _ _ = LETS SING A SONG. After a bit of encouragement from an extremely enthusiastic teacher the sleepy heads are standing up. After several rounds of EVERYWHERE WE GO and a lot of laughter trying to say mighty, mighty, mighty, mighty, mighty, mighty Thailand. The hour is up and the students break into applause. One girl comes to me and says “funny teacher” another “thank you, you kind”. I leave feeling happy and I have a real sense of pride. I had achieved something, getting 40 teenagers enthused about speaking English.
Prathom 1 ,age 6 and Prathom 4, age 9-10 are a different story they have endless amounts of enthusiasm and cannot wait to show me their English skills. For this lesson I am given a presentation to follow. UH HUH for those that know me will know how much this fills me with dread. I have this extremely annoying fear of presenting, I work myself up into a frenzy over nothing. It triggers the fight or flight mode in me and usually I end up freezing or running. Well this time it was going to be different. I use all the self-talk techniques I discovered during my Vipisanna retreat and I give it my best shot. I stand at the front and act confident. I am aware of my body language, remember to smile, I’m happy to be here. And so I begin “good morning” and the students reply “good morning teacher how are you” I reply “I’m fine thank you and you”? As I flick through the slides I see their confidence grow as they shout the English and I am genuinely impressed, I praise them and laugh a lot. I begin to relax. I ignore the power point and show them photographs of my family and create a theme around that. They are so intrigued by the white people on the screen. They laugh when I mime “old” relating to my Grand Father and I pretend to fall over with a walking stick. If in doubt act the fool. I use the microphone and ask the students questions in English “how old are you”? and “do you have any brothers”? If they are uncertain their friends help them out, a real sense of unity and pride when they get to communicate with this crazy fallang teacher. I realise then that my fear of presenting is all in my head and I am once again showered with the positive feeling “I can do anything I put my mind to”. I once again end on a song and another 2 classes leave empowered singing the English language. The Thai teacher who sat in on the lesson came over at the end and in very broken English seemed impressed I was still a “baby” at 26 and she said the students were “happy”. I asked her age, she was 60 and not looking a day over 40, the chilled out Thai life maybe?
A genuine realisation that the traditional teaching method of leading from the front and talking at the children is not for me. I love the ethos of this school with regards the students respect towards each other, to their teachers and a real sense of pride. This school has a population of 800 students age 3-15 all in the same vicinity and I did not see one argument, one fight, not even one person crying throughout my whole time there. I saw nothing but love, warmth, respect, happiness and a real appreciation of education.
A couple of my favorite moments were the afternoon swimming sessions with anuban, age 3-6. I use the term swimming lightly as it was more of a splash, kick and dunk session. It was during this experience that the children quickly learned the words. Shark attack, splash, up, down and swim. They would go around shouting “I’m happy”.
Also with Anuban 1 aged 3-4, experiential learning is strongly promoted so I took the opportunity to take these adorable little people exploring around the playground. We learnt about shade and shadows and sun and heat. Pretty easy as the fallang teacher comes complete with sweat patches and a bright red face. We learnt the colours of the play equipment and the opposites, big and small using various objects. I am so proud of them all and they have huge grins from ear to ear throughout the lesson. They are wiped after lunch and all head off for their afternoon nap.
I certainly am sad to leave such a positive community of people, students and staff a like. Whether we communicated by words or gestures the language would always be genuine and heartfelt. It has been an absolute pleasure to be part of educating the youth of Uttaradit. Something I have learnt, never take education for granted and always strive to keep learning no matter how old, young, wise or dumb you feel.