Have you ever had something that you had thought about doing, but it seemed unattainable to some extent? And then fast forward some time, and you realize you actually did that thing, or were doing that thing and realized only in hindsight that your dream came true? That is what it was like for me to teach English to these Thai students.
As described in a past post, my wife and I found ourselves in Bangkok with 150usd to our name, fresh off an airplane from Africa. It was a Friday afternoon. Thankfully upon arriving, we had gotten an email verifying that we got the teaching jobs that we had sent our resume's in for the day before. I scrambled to send my resume online from a cafe in Zimbabwe, while Kathryn had sent her resume in during a layover in Singapore (which almost had us miss our flight because the wifi was so slow). We were scheduled to have teaching orientation on Sunday, and were set to be placed in Pua, Thailand to start teaching on Monday.
This was all such a rush of course because we were left in Zambia with 2 days left on our visa, but that's a previous story.
We woke up rather early in the morning, just to be sure we wouldn't somehow be late for our orientation. We were instructed to bring all of our belongings with us, as we would apparently be taking a bus straight to our placement location. It is quite something to have such a meeting planned with people you've never even spoken with, to learn about a job you've never done that you are about to have in a place you've never been. Wow.
We paid too much for our taxi ride there, I am sure, but there wasn't time to bicker over a dollar or two, we had to be on the floor twelve at 9am. As we walked in the door we were greeted with 2 other people who were also having the orientation with us. It turns out we were all just getting signed on for this semester, and that this orientation would be the short and sweet version. Everything was a haze after that. I remember being a little bit overwhelmed, learning about different teaching styles, and the owner of the agency talking to us in Hebrew for some strange reason during an activity.
They gave us some papers, told us of some norms that we might not be used to in the town we would be living in, and told us what time to be at a certain address to catch a night bus to Pua. They said the school would probably expect us to teach in the morning if we can. We had to kill about 4 hours before the bus was actually departing from the station, and then it was about a 12 hour bus ride to a town near Pua. From there, all I knew was that I had to get on a red looking smaller bus that would actually get to Pua. So a half of a day goes by, and there we are at dawn at that station, looking for a red vehicle to jump in, asking all of the locals "Pua?...Pua?... Hello?"
They indeed pointed us to a janky red bus thing, and we grabbed all our bags and jumped on that thing. I remember all the windows being down, and Kathryn being freezing (as she usually is). The blur of passing trees flew by me, and the chill mountain air filled my lungs as I was filled with wonder and awe in the fact that we literally had no idea what we were doing or where we were. It took a lot of effort to make sure that we actually got off the bus in the town of Pua because nothing was in english and I had no service. They dropped me off ensuring me "Pua... (pointing finger towards ground)... Pua!" And there we were... Pua, the mountain town of Thai people: the students awkward, the scenery lovely, and the food delicious.
Curbside we were, as Kathryn was just lying there with her smaller pack as a pillow. Several street walkers showed concern on their faces as this woman of mine just appeared to be passed out without conscience of the world around her. I showed the people walking by the words of the place we were instructed to stay. They pointed in a direction, but I had no idea how far it actually was. Kathryn clearly wasn't going to be getting anywhere far. A nice man motioned that he would call Green Hill Resort (which is what was on my paper), and shortly after a lady came by to pick us up and take us there. We paid her an absolutely ridiculous price for what turned into a 2 minute taxi ride. It turns out that she would be our landlord, and she would nickel and dime us as much as she possibly could for the duration of our stay. Where we stayed, the beds felt like cement, and the hundreds of ants followed each other into the dark.... or the light.... or anywhere, they would parade every living space they came across.
This was Monday morning mind you, so from our understanding we were expected to be at school to teach. Since Kathryn was pretty much out of commission, The lady offered me a ride to the school so that I could at least know where it was for the first day. It was about a 15 minute walk, and about a 5 minute ride. Unforgettable was the time that I walked up to the school absolutely dumbfounded as to who I was supposed to talk to or where I was supposed to go. Thankfully I finally found someone who spoke English and led me to the English department. I wish I could say everyone informed me entirely on how to go about being a teacher, and that they were clear in what their expectations were, but nope... absolutely not. From here on it was kind of a grind, a struggle to figure out what it was that they expected from us and how we were to grade/teach the students.
On our first day, we receive this terror of a paper. The Schedule. It would have been nice if they would have explained it a little more clearly, but that is their roughest attempt at a concrete schedule. Each block with letters in it is an actual class. On the far left side it goes from Monday on the top to Friday at the bottom. We didn't teach any particular class more than once a week. This made it extremely difficult to make much progress with any given class considering we both had almost 20 classes a week with 20-40 students in each class.
The little extra squiggly marks on the far right side was English Club. We would also have to stay at that time frame on Tuesdays to play games and what not with students. You can see that we had a lot of time in between where we didn't teach. This paved the way for Kathryn and my first fights as a couple because I felt like we should stay in school considering it was a 8-4 job, and she felt like we could go drive about and get coffee whenever we pleased. Oh the freedom Kathryn lives in.
Whenever we would arrive in class, it looked a lot like the cover picture of this post. It is usually pure madness. The numbers, 5/1, 5/2, 1/6 etc, represented the strength of the class. Yes. They just put all the slowest kids in one class, and all the smarter kids in a class at the opposite spectrum. This gave us teachers a way to curve the grades and also have an expectation for just how rough of a class it would be. For the most part when I taught, I had a Thai teacher helping translate if I needed them. Kathryn on the other hand, basically never had help from a Thai teacher and was to fend for herself. Regardless, Kathryn and I both yelled A LOT to get kids attentions and to behave. They never did anything terrible or insane, but they were extremely hard to calm down and behave, especially when they understood nothing.
You may be asking: Well WHAT DID YOU TEACH?
We taught Conversational English. Our job wasn't necessarily to teach grammar or punctuation, but rather to give the students an opportunity to hear a native speaker teach his/her native material in conjunction with whatever the Thai teacher was teaching them in English class. It was a hard situation when it came to expectations because our host agency would give us material every week that was very difficult to practically use, and our Thai teachers would also give us their own material. This made for awkward situations.
We would constantly have interactions that would look like this with our Thai teachers/coworkers:
"uh, Teacher Brown."
"Hello, how are you today? (smile)
"good, uh, teacher Brown, uh, do you have test today for students(?)"
"Oh, Uh, Yeah..I was supposed to give them a test today? Welll I was going to give it to them next week" (lie, but now a truth)
"uh yes teacher that would be good"
"Okay, yeah! A test I will give them!"
Essentially, the Thai culture was very passive, and if we did things wrong, we wouldn't know about it until they "kindly" let us know that we weren't living up to their expectations. In general, I loved teaching, and it would have been much easier if it was all under my curriculum or my own system. Thai kids love playing games so any chance we could we would have them play conversational english games to take up the time!
The other hard part was that Kathryn and I were never set out to be teachers in the first place, so we had to find suitable clothing on the fly. Students would make comments like "Teacher, you always wear the same shirt". Also, Thai teachers would make comments asking me to dress like one of the other English speaking teachers that had worked there a long time who set out on this trip with dress clothes in his suitcase, not shorts and tank tops in his backpack like myself.
I also remember a Thai teacher shyly address a problem that I was on the phone way too often during class. I then explained to him that all of my teaching plans are naturally on my phone because that was how my host agency can communicate them to me. It didn't matter what my reason was, I had already crossed the line apparently.
In Thailand, "keeping face" is of essential importance. You don't want to make the mistakes to be perceived poorly or be looked down upon. Sometimes it felt Kathryn and I were set up poorly from the beginning to really excel in that environment when we simply felt like we were trying to play catch up from the start!
Overall I am extremely thankful that we had the opportunity to teach again. I probably would do it again! I enjoyed teaching more than Kathryn did for the most part. I just think we were sprung into it at such late notice with such little instruction that it led to issues down the road that made it impossible to carry on for long. It was an incredible adventure, and an amazing way to sustain ourselves and get ourselves back on our feet after arriving in Thailand with no money!
Check out the next post about our time living in Pua, Thailand!