How Did I Survive my First Week of Teaching?

How Did I Survive my First Week of Teaching?

Crossing back into Thailand

Wow, what a monumental week this is… it marks four months in Thailand (well in Southeast Asia), two months in Hat Yai, my ninth week of teaching, and the start of 2014.  Sunday, October 27th, I left Don Det on a long boat, then Kris and I took a bus to Pakse.  Then we took another bus from Pakse directly to Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand.  Upon arriving there Sunday night, we luckily got tickets for bus to Bangkok that night.  After waiting for three hours, we took the overnight bus and then had a typical Thailand taxi adventure to Hua Lamphong railway station at 6 in the morning.  Here Kris and I hung out for a few hours together, then he left for his hotel and I spent hours alone in the station waiting for my train at 3:10pm to Hat Yai.  It was some serious long travel to get from Southern Laos to Southern Thailand.


Waiting at Hua Lamphong


My first look at Hat Yai…

Upon finally arriving off the train in Hat Yai at 10:00 am, my agent Chonthira met me at the station.  It was Tuesday, October 29th and she wanted to bring me to the school that afternoon.  I initially said it would be all right after I had napped because I had been traveling since Sunday.  After we ate lunch, we went to the Road Experience “Teacher House.”  This is a home that doubles as an office and space for teachers to tutor.  There are three bedrooms upstairs; this is where Raquel had been sleeping for the last week or two.  Chonthira let me know there was another teacher, Stephanie, who was placed in Hat Yai through XploreAsia.  She had found an accommodation for the three of us, although I was not planning on having roommates, I agreed to see the accommodation that night when they came home from work.  I napped at the teacher house and when I woke up, Chonthira gratefully told me we could go to the school tomorrow so I could continue to rest.  I was very relieved.  I knew the school had wanted me to start on Monday and I figured if she brought me to the school, they would put me right into a classroom.  I was mentally not prepared to start teaching after such an amazingly lazy time in Laos.


Napalai Place, tallest building in Hat Yai

Later that afternoon, Raquel and Stephanie came home from work.  Raquel and I spent some time catching up, and then we went to look at the accommodation.  I found out from Chonthira that my school, Songsaeng Commercial School and Technological College, is about 20-30 minutes from the city.  She said she could find me accommodation closer to the school, but stressed that there was not much around and the place she found was a very good price.  It turned out to be a room in a large condo complex.  Initially, I was turned off and really wanted to be closer to school and live alone.  However, I also knew that many other people in my group struggled to find accommodation.  In some cases, their agents did not even show them any places.  I knew I had to be flexible.  The condominium was huge, we could see it as we pulled into the city.  We soon found out that it has a restaurant, a convenience store, and a coffee shop.  The sixth floor has a gym and outdoor pool and we can get a discounted membership price.  This was not exactly what I pictured I would be living in while I was in Thailand… however, one of the main things I want to achieve on this trip is to let go of my expectations and take things as they come.  We were brought up to two rooms to see, only to find out that there were only two bedrooms in each.  Chonthira seemed to think having two of us share a room, and bed, for five months would not be an issue.  After some confusion, a lot of explaining and questioning, we found out that a room with three bedrooms would be available on November 1st.  Raquel and Stephanie were very anxious to leave the teacher house and I had the feeling the agency was not very interested in showing us other accommodations.  So we agreed to take the place, sight unseen, on Friday.  After spending a few nights sleeping at the teacher house with a few other teachers and a very unkempt bathroom and kitchen, I began to get excited about moving out onto our own.  In the meantime, I started working!IMG_1830Jane, another employee at the agency, drove me to Songsaeng Technological College Wednesday morning.  We arrived around eight as the morning assembly began.  I was introduced to P Juliette, who speaks English quite well, and a few other teachers.  P Juliette handed me my schedule, written in Thai, and I saw a lot of teaching blocks marked.  We moved into a room to better introduce ourselves and so I could have my list of questions answered.  I learned that P Juliette is one of three Thai teachers that teach English.  There was a foreign teacher here last semester named Emma.  As I began to ask about the logistics of my schedule, P Juliette explained that I had 25 teaching periods (even though 27 were marked) and that I would be teaching many different classes.  Each period is 50 minutes and class sizes vary from 20-50.  I inquired about the students’ ages and proficiencies.  She began by explaining that this was a “regular school” as well as a college.  Therefore I would be teaching from ‘Prathom 1 to 6’ and students in vocational school and high vocational.  My mind immediately began to race.  I was hardly able to understand that I would be teaching students ranging from age 6 (grade 1) to 20 (college students).  Each class I would see only once a week.  Then P Juliette continued on with more information than I could process:

  • I have to grade the students and create/give my own tests that score 10 or 15 points.  The total score needs to add up to 100 by the end of the semester.
  • I need to give 2-3 tests, totaling to 30 points, before December 18th.  I would then need to present the grade books and scores to the headmaster.
  • I have to fill out a grade book for each class and write their names in English in them all.  I was handed a huge stack of class lists, all with their names in Thai.
  • I have no curriculum or standards to follow.  I need to help students to improve their conversational English and focus on pronunciation.  I have to determine the topics to teach on my own.
  • I can teach the same lesson to P1-3, a slightly harder lesson for P4-6 & vocational classes, and then the most difficult to the high vocational classes as this is the equivalent to university for them.

I quickly made as many notes as I could in my small book, and of course as she was telling this all to me I thought of 100 more questions to ask.  I tried to make note of them because I was realizing that Jane had given my paperwork to be copied and she was preparing to leave.  Sure enough P Juliette told me I should stay the remainder of the day and meet the students.  She wrote out that day’s classes in English… I had one moment of relief when she wrote M 5/2.  At least I had misunderstood one thing and this would make my life a little easier.  I would not be teaching Prathom classes (elementary), I would be teaching Matthayom (high school).  I began to realize the students would probably only range between the ages of 13-20.  That felt much more manageable and it made more sense why I could teach the same lesson to the older Matthayom classes and the vocational classes.  They are the same age, just on different academic tracks.

Jane left and P Juliette briefly explained the different buildings and which classes were in each.  She showed me our office where the other English teachers work and one Thai teacher that teaches Chinese.  Then as 9:20 came around, she walked me up to her 2nd period class and pointed down the hallway to show me where my class was waiting for me.  She said she would meet me at 11:50 for lunch in our office.  And so my first day of teaching started.  Just like that.  Sink or swim!  I had M 6/1 first; this is equivalent to seniors in high school.  The first number indicates the grade and the second number indicates the class number.  As I walked into the class, they all stood up and said “Good morning teacher.”  I said good morning in return and froze.  I had no idea what to do, I was not prepared and there were 35 students staring at me… waiting.IMG_1811       IMG_1790   I introduced myself by telling them my name, age, and where I am from.  Then I asked them to introduce themselves by saying their Thai name and their nickname.  I wrote each student’s nickname on the board; this was a bit of a challenge because I could not spell some of them.  Also when they pronounce the names they are hard to understand and they do no phonetically pronounce the English words.  Some of the nicknames from the first class were: View, Meaw, Pick, Dream, Lookwad, Mild, and Saw.  However they pronounce “Mild” as “My” and “Saw” as “Sow”.  With such a large class it took nearly the whole lesson to have them all tell me their names.  After I wrote them on the board, I took a photo with my phone and told them I would try to remember their names.  The bell rang and on I went to the next class, M 4/3.  This class was challenging for the sole fact that there were two names I just could not pronounce correctly.  The class laughed every time I said it, and she was mortified.  This class was smaller so I practiced their names more and had them move seats to see if I could remember.  At 11:00 I moved to my third class, M 4/2.  This class was very small with only 16 students, once I learned their nicknames I asked them some other questions.  I found out they’re around 16 years old and what occupation some of them want.  There was a bit of confusion as Panan tried to tell me she wanted to be  a captain.  With some questioning and drawing, I deduced she wanted to be a boat captain.  However, the following class I realized she actually wanted to be an air hostess and she was gesturing a plane, not a boat… but she just agreed with my drawing so I would move on from her!

Class wrapped up at 11:50 and I went down to the office.  I was sweating, my hands were covered in blue ink from the dry erase markers, and I was exhausted.IMG_1791  (Which reminds me, in one class the students were laughing at me.  I assumed it was because of my pronunciation, but finally one girl took out a mirror and showed me how I had blue marks all over my face.  How embarrassing.)  P Juliette was not there, so the two other English teachers told me to go to lunch with them.  The “canteen” is behind one of the buildings, across a railroad track and a street.  There are about six stalls and I was glad to find one with rice and a chicken dish I really like, Gai Pad Krapow.  It is minced chicken with basil and spices.  My lunch is only 50 minutes, so I ate quickly and tried to appear interested as the other teachers all spoke Thai.  Then I had to teach my last two classes.  I had my first college class, HVC 1/2-1/4.  This means it is three classes mixed together, however, they only total to 28 if they are all present.  My last class of the day was M 5/1, it was the largest class with 44 students.  I am pretty sure one of the boys was messing with me as he introduced himself as “Moo Moo.”  The class laughed hysterically, but who was I to question his nickname?!  As 2:30 came, the reality of my new life began to set in.  This is going to be hard and exhausting.  I had to wait until 3:30 when Stephanie was getting out of work.  She works just a few minutes from me at Songsaeng Wittaya School teaching primary and kindergarten students.

That night, Stephanie, Raquel and I went into Hat Yai city to go clothes shopping at a night market.  We all really needed some black and white clothes because we would be wearing them until November 23rd.  Just before school started a very significant and prestigious monk passed away, to mourn him all public officials must wear black and white; this included us.  We took a songtaew into the city and I began to get a sense of where my school is in relation to the teacher house and the city.

Thursday at work was insane.  I had seven classes, five of which were my youngest students: M 1/1, M 2/1, M 2/2, M 3/1, and M 3/2.  The youngest, M 1/1, were extremely noisy and rowdy.  However, I can still remember leaving work that day with sore cheeks from smiling so much.  The students were all eager to meet me and many called “teacher, teacher” to me as I walked through the campus.  With a few of the classes, I was able to elicit a dialogue from the students.  Most of them appeared familiar with it as I am sure they have had to introduce themselves in English this way before: “My name is _______. I am _______ years old. I come from _________. I live in ___________. My nickname is __________.”  It was helpful to hear them speak some English as they introduced themselves.  I started to feel more confident and was excited to meet the rest of the students in the days to come.IMG_1831Friday I only had five classes, so I was relieved to have a little more time off between classes.  I enjoyed my getting to know the students in M 6/2, 6/3, and 6/4.  They were interested in me and asked questions.  In the final two vocational classes of the week, I made the mistake of referring to the school as “Sangsong.”  This sounds very similar to “Sangsom” which is a blended liquor that is very popular here.  The students found it extremely hysterical, it was quite the freudian slip.  By the end of the day, I had said my introduction lesson nearly 15 times.  I had figured out how to explain to them where I came from, what my job was in America, and how it related to my job now in Thailand.  I think some students understood.  Note my lovely drawing of USA above.

When I got back to the teacher house on Friday afternoon, I was exhausted and not looking forward to moving into our apartment.  However, it had to happen at some point, and at least we would have the weekend to settle in and unpack.  Yet, in typical Thai fashion, we found out we could not in fact move in until the next afternoon.  So we had another night at the Teacher House.  Raquel had heard of a Halloween Party in the city that nearly all the farangs would be attending.  I was so exhausted, I did not want to go, but we decided to venture out and try to make some friends.  This was my first hectic, exhausting, overwhelming, and exciting first week of teaching in Thailand.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *