Education in Thailand is definitely not your typical system. There is a concept of 'losing face' in the schools and in the culture itself, hence, you do not make direct confrontation with a student regardless of what they are doing. It can lead to interesting classroom situations. But if asked the students will immediately pay attention and focus with almost laser intensity. Like American schools, respect must be earned from the students before you can truly teach. Discipline does not actually occur in the classroom. Students can, and will, do whatever they want and will not be reprimanded for it. They know this and they abuse the right. Just as much as American students do. But the difference is that these students work hard. Really hard. I am teaching them in a language that they do not understand. They catch a few words here and there, but for the most part, it truly is a foreign language. I know how hard it has to be for them, I'm experiencing the exact same thing with their language. I understand a few words and phrases here or there, but for the most part? I'm lost. Unless someone corrects me when I use the wrong word or teaches me how to say something, it truly is a struggle. For example, today at lunch I was ordering green tea. The wonderful tea lady pointed at it and said 'cha keyow'. I looked at her blankly for a moment and then released that she was telling me what it was called. 'cha keyow' is 'tea green'. The noun is followed by any adjectives, adverbs or descriptors that are placed upon it, much like spanish. There is also no tense to their verbs or context for subjects used in their speech. The english language is in reverse for them. We say 'What is this dish?" In Thai, the phrase translates to, "Dish this is what?". Since there is no tense to their verbs, grasping verb tense is very difficult for them. Walk is walk. Forget 'will walk, walked, have walked, am walking' or anything else of that sort. If you went walking yesterday, you would say "yesterday walk". Pronouns are very rarely used. The words I,he,she,they,them,etc. do exist, but it is assume that you know who is being discussed. In fact it is more confusing to them to continually refer to someone as he or she, even using 'I' in a sentence is perplexing.
But still…still despite all this, they learn. They improve. They speak slowly and clearly. Asking for different words and different ways to say something until they understand what is being said. The students are happy and joyful. They will immediately sing and dance if you ask them, they laugh often, they do not judge or mock each other for answering questions wrong. However they will laugh if I greatly mispronounce a Thai word, just as I laugh when they butcher english words.
- "NO! It is not SPA-OOOON. There is no SPA. It's just spoon. spooooon. say it. ouuuuuuun. Yes! Spoon."
- "Ah! No. It is a fork. F-O-R-K. Fork. ORK! ork. say it. Ork. NO!! Not uck! No uck! UCK BAD! Yes. Well done. fORK. Good job."
- "Teacherrrrr! (Thai's have an interesting english accent in which the last syllable of a word is drawn out) No Teacher! It is not rrien! You just told us 'to fruit ourselves' over the weekend! It is 'wrong rrien'. To Study. 'wrong rrien'. Say it Teacher!!"
Laughter accompanies me in every class that I teach. It is not mocking. It is fun. The students are enjoying have a foreign teacher that doesn't speak their language. Just as I am enjoying learning theirs. On occasion, it is frustrating that I cannot teach to my full ability. But in a sense, I am teaching far past my ability. It is forcing me to strive, to think and to adapt my lessons instantly and be able to explain even difficult concepts with simple words. That challenge is perhaps the greatest of them all.
Plus, Thai children are just adorable.
However, not all is happy and go-lucky in the world of Thai education. There are many things that are not told to new teachers and it's because no one talks about it or simply do not notice the world around them. So with my happiness above comes the balance of anger below:
10 Things I Do Not Agree With In Thai Education:
#1. If something is happening in the school that cancels classes, shortens classes or moves classes around every teacher will assume someone translated the announcement for you and never actually tell you what's changed until it's too late.
#2. Discipline is not given in classrooms and the educational culture is based around talking to friends despite what is being taught right in front of them.
#3. There is no curriculum
#4. Did I mention the lack of curriculum, set standards, and the acceptance of copying and memorizing answers to tests from the actual tests themselves?? What does that solve?!??!
#5. Yes. I'm a foreigner. Thank you for reminding me, I forgot for a moment. Yes, thank you, I am white person. We exist.
#6. Classes will go for weeks without meeting with no regard to the teacher's plan and no mention of why. 4 lessons out of the 20 lessons should have taught them by this time…and the schools still want a midterm exam worth 30% of the grade? I don't think so.
#7. Please pay me. No, I do not have millions of dollars. Yes, I am American. No, we are not all rich. No, I cannot just wait, I have no money because you have not paid me to teach your students. No, I cannot pay rent. Why? Because I have not been paid…don't you see the circle here??
#8: Foreign teachers make a significant amount of money in Thailand, particularly if you are American or from the UK. Native Thai teachers resent and despise you for this, despite the fact that comparatively the foreign teachers are making less then minimum wages in their home countries and tend to forget that we get paid roughly three weeks late and charged double to triple what native Thais are charged for pretty much anything.
#9: There is rampant racism, ethnicism, and cultural prejudice throughout the population and teachers are paid different amounts not based on experience, but based on the countries they come from.
#10: There are no curriculums,standards, expectations, regard to teacher's time and effort or caring. School is treated as a place to send children to get them out of the house. Yes…I said this three times. It's a big deal.
Rant Over. Thank you.