Teacher Matt. I’m not going to lie, it didn’t sound all that weird- or as weird as I thought it would be- when I introduced myself to a dozen or so kids. It also felt surprisingly natural, being in front of a handful of children, all eyes on me, with a substantial language barrier between us. I don’t know if it was the three years as a camp counselor at Pleasant Dale Park District, the semester of speech we all had to take at Fenwick, or the late night moon walking sessions at Danny’s Bar in Providence that prepared me for teaching a class. In many ways teaching in Thailand is about entertainment more than anything else. So together, I actually think all three of these aspects of my past prepared me well, more that I realized, for my new occupation. This is convenient because I am here to teach and whether I like it or not if I want to stay I have to get good at teaching. All of my previous blog posts have been about me being a dumb American tourist or acting like an idiot pretty much. Hopefully this one balances things out a bit.
Monday and Tuesday: Orphanage
Our first go at teaching began at a Thai orphanage with kids ages three to seven. Because Thai schools are out for break we couldn’t just jump into a school and practice. Instead we kind of jumped around to different places that were nice enough to open their doors for us. My assigned topic was toys and my partner was Sian. We were the second group to go which was nice. Everything went pretty well except for the fact that we blatantly misinformed the kids on the matching part of our worksheet with an arrow pointing from a picture of a toy car to the word football. I don’t know how that happened but the kids were pretty smart and corrected it themselves. Apart from that and nearly falling over as I turned around playing the “name that toy” game it all went really well. I just kind of focused on exaggerating my emotions and being super energetic. When it came time to leave the kids wanted high fives and one little girl just held on to my hands until I got to the front door; maybe one of the cutest things ever. Their level of English was pretty nonexistent but it was still fun watching them play the games and what not. It wasn’t until the second day teaching there that someone mentioned the fact that a lot of these kids’ parents could have died in the tsunami that ravaged Thailand a few years ago. That was kind of a bummer to think about.
Wednesday and Thursday: Juvenile Detention Center
After doing a pretty good job of teaching the younger kids I was a little nervous to see how things would work with the older ones. Adding in the fact that we would be teaching kids in jail got me even more curious. Oh and I would be going first. I really couldn’t help but just laugh at the whole situation and think, “Here goes nothing.” We were reassured though that these kids weren’t in juvy for violent crimes but instead there for things like stealing food to survive. That’s what they told us at least and I still believe it for the most part. There were a lot of kids covered in tattoos though which leads me to believe something gang related is going on. Apparently there are no minimum age requirements for getting tattoos here which is kind of sad. I kept wondering what these 14 – 18 year old kids are going to think about their tats in a few years.
Teaching was easier in a lot of ways though surprisingly. My topic was music and after receiving a hot tip that pretty much every kid in Thailand likes this band called Bodyslam I did some more research and incorporated some more kpop bands into my lesson. That included Gangnam Style by Psy. It was fun getting the kids to say things like: “because I like how they rock,” and “because I like girl bands.” I think they got a little kick out of it too. They liked participating in between outbreaks of singing a line from their favorite song or something- that happened regardless of my topic. They also would randomly call one kid “monkey” and point to him and laugh, which was pretty funny because he did resemble a monkey somewhat. The highlight of the day was when one of the kids spelled McDonald’s Max Dong on the board. I got a kick out of that.
My second day at juvy was just as entertaining, if not scary at one point. I told them my name, Teacher Matt, and had some kid shout out teacher batman. I don’t know where he came up with that but I went with it haha. For my warmer I had the kids play a game where I say the name of a soccer team and they run to the corresponding picture, first person gets a point for their team. Yep the kids love doing these things; we loved doing these dumb activities when we were in class. Anyway, two kids collided because I think that neither had a clue which team I said and nearly duked it out a foot away from me. Luckily a guard was nearby to break things up but it still changed the attitude of the environment. Figures, that would happen to me. I also had the kids fill in the blank: Bodyslam is a _____ band. While I was asking, “Girl or boy? Which goes in the blank?” a kid shouted out ladyboy which caught me off guard and I couldn’t help but laugh along with everyone else. On our way out every day the boys all wanted to shake our hands and say thank you, see you tomorrow which was cool.
Friday: Football Orphanage
On Friday a few of us went to this really special place that takes in orphans who are particularly good at soccer/ football. This Swedish guy started this foundation and was basically in charge of running it until he died about a month ago. Now there’s some German man running it by himself. The whole thing is privately funded and in general not very public about the things they do. They typically only open their doors when ESPN does a highlight on them or something…the kids are very talented. They travel around to Singapore, Vietnam, Europe, and Australia to compete in tournaments and they’ve won a fair amount of medals- you can see them hung up all over the walls. In fact, three or four of them could end up as pros next year once they turn 18. Teaching here was quite the treat.
I knew going into it that these kids knew a decent amount of English so I tried to make my lesson and dialogue a bit more challenging so that we didn’t fly through everything in fifteen minutes (we practice taught for a half hour). My topic was weekend activities and to keep things interesting and relevant I kept riding the Bodyslam wave because I got good reactions at the prison. The first line of my dialogue was, “Ugh I can’t wait for the weekend to come” and I had some other line about buying matching Bodyslam t-shirts for a concert. After I really emphasized the ughhh the kids started doing it too. They also caught on with the matching t-shirts and thought that was funny as well. It was cool getting them to laugh and relax a little…a skill that will become invaluable when my real teaching begins. When you do that the teaching becomes way easier and time flies by. I was really impressed with how smart, polite, and light hearted these kids were. The German guy went through all of our class telling each kids’ story and what position they play…cool stuff.
All in all I survived and it was actually really fun. After the first day teaching each age group I was super relaxed and not stressed out about it at all. The hardest/ most tedious part of it all was the lesson planning which totally sucks. With one week of experience under my belt, Teacher Matt will begin his teaching assignment in Ayutthaya, the old capital of Siam, which is about an hour north of Bangkok on November 1st. I’ll have about four or five classes with forty students each ages 14-15 and 17-18. I think I’ve got it in me. A high school teacher….hard to believe. Until then, I’ve got some island chilling to do.