A Kid for a Day in Thailand
The biggest difference between teaching in Thailand and anywhere else in the world, is the student body. You will never encounter students like the Thai. They are the biggest challenge and by far, the most fun you will ever have at school.
Kids Just Want to Have Fun
Thai students get to school early. They come and buy food from vendors, they all clean the school and they socialize. The Thai school is a place young people learn, a home where they have chores, a kitchen where they eat, and a playground where they laugh and rejoice with friends. Students love to be at school and because of that, their joy rubs off on all the faculty.
The students are required to show an abundance of respect to their teachers and their school. When they arrive to school they are required to greet the teachers by bowing to them. Teachers and students greet one another in preparation to an outstanding day. Teachers hug and say hello to students, inspecting them to ensure they are well nourished, dressed and cared for.
The teachers enjoy interacting with students and making them laugh, so as the students clean the school during their morning chores, the teachers chit-chat with them and get to know them very well. The students seem to enjoy their chores and music is played over the entire school to make it a cheery time.
In the classroom, it’s sheer chaos. Students run up to me and hug me. They hit my big hips and poke my white skin to see if I’m really all I appear to be. They laugh at my accent, my English words, my Thai words, even the noises I make. For example, if I drop something and say “uh ho” they all repeat it 100 times and giggle.
They wrestle each other, hit each other, push each other and that’s just after the bell rings. Trying to wrangle their energy is like herding cats on drugs. It’s going to be different every time you try, and you will rarely succeed. But that’s part of the fun, it’s a real adventure.
Hearing other teachers talk about their students in other countries makes me really appreciate the Thai spirit. In some other countries, the students have so much pressure, they are often working on school work for more than twelve hours a day. Some aren’t allowed to make eye contact with the teacher or have a playful relationship with any of the faculty. This is not the case in Thailand.
While it proves challenging to gain control of a class, at least the students are playful. All the teacher has to do is harness that energy and use it toward learning. In my experience, if I can create a competitive game, the students will choose to participate and with full force. This is easier than trying to motivate students to want to interact, instead one must just convince them to learn while interacting.
If You Are Happy, They Are Happy
Being a foreigner is about being weird. They look at me like I am a totally different species, and I remember seeing foreigners as a child and feeling the same way. To them I sound funny, look funny, smell funny, and it’s just a spectacle to watch me jiggle as I hurry from class to class. But being laughed at is all part of the fun. The more I am vulnerable and speak poor Thai and look like a hot mess, the more my students see that I am only asking them to do what I’m doing, step outside their comfort zone and learn a little bit. The concept of allowing others to laugh at me for their enjoyment is freeing and funny to me too. We all laugh at each other all day long.
Thailand is all about being happy. They attain joy from each other and those around them. If the teacher is enjoying the lesson and is being silly, the students are much more comfortable to be silly too. Soon everyone in class wants to be laughed at. We dance and sing and exaggerate words all in the hopes that in the midst of the fun, something will stick, and it usually does!
So go back in time, re live the glory days of your youth, and be happy.