The Single Best Word – Teacher
I don’t really consider myself an instructor even though I am teaching English in Thailand. I’d say I’m a “Classroom Facilitator” and I’m not completely confident in that, either. However, all day long I am called to assistance by other people’s children. I help all 675 of my students communicate, write their nickname in English, or retrieve a stolen pencil. They call me their Teacher.
I don’t teach thought provoking lessons, or deep subjects about philosophy. Instead, I hold up a picture of a cupcake and have the students repeat it 100 times. Sometimes I get snazzy and teach a song, or have them race to the board as I call out a vocabulary word. It will inevitably end with someone bloody and me full of chalk, but hopefully, they will soon remember how to say “Alligator” (Hard g, guuu). Truthfully, it doesn’t matter, language is a small part of being a language teacher anyway; just look at my day.
In the morning, I can see the students running to my office through my window, and I wait expectantly. They trip over themselves and fall into my open door frame, “Good morning Teacher Rose!” They shout with enthusiasm. “Good morning, students.” I reply quietly, hoping to keep the peace that was there before they arrived. My office is their safe place; no matter what their home life is like, in my presence they are safe, fed, and loved.
At lunchtime, they rattle off without a breath, “Teacher! Good afternoon my name is Prim I am 9 years old.” This is there way of saying, “I want to make contact, I come in peace.” I am there to approve their hard work. My excitement shows that they have the ability to learn. I wave back and they copy my movements. Their smiles warm my heart and I am glad to give a boost to their self-worth in learning.
In the class room I will do my best to explain the worksheet. I exaggerate my movements, to show that they will circle the correct answer. I over enunciate, to help them hear every letter so they associate what is on the board with what is on the sheet. I fail.
As I pass out the worksheets, they each begin to call me one-by-one to help them figure out what to do. “Teacher! Teacher!” I look around to all fifty sets of eyes on me, whining and demanding me by name, ”Teacheeeeeeeeer” I’m their leader, and the most important person, at that moment. Even though I just explained it to the whole class (that chose to ignore my lesson) It is my job to lead them through the learning process. In this moment I wish I had a teacher to whine to, “No, you do it for me! Make them get it. Teacheeeeeerrrrr.”
Midday: Half Way Home
The next class starts, I run feverishly papers in hand. One of my students is waiting for me outside, she grabs my hand, “Hello, Teacher.” she says in a soft voice as she plays with my fingers. She is an only child that lives with her single-parent dad. Every night she goes home from school and works in their food stand until 10pm. Sometimes she falls asleep in class (and I let her sleep in peace.) To her I am a female maternal figure. I am squishy and loveable, a girl to hug her whenever she wants.
As we enter the class and a boy comes running up to me pointing to a boy crying in the corner. He begins to act out who hit him and why. The guilty boy sits scared at his desk, he begins to plead his case, “No Teacher, Pek…” He calls me teacher in his native language scrambling for words to prevent him from getting in trouble. I rub the boys back, who’s sitting in the corner and look at the naughty one sternly. I put them both in their seats and start the lesson. This time teacher means healer and referee.
As the sun starts to slowly make its way down the horizon, I have heard the word teacher a million times for a million different reasons. And when the classrooms have emptied and the kids are full of knowledge and noodles, they leave me in my office, in silence, after they come to say goodbye, “Goodbye Teacher Rose, see you again tomorrow.” They wave happily. I am their smile at the end of the day to remind them that they did actually do some work at school.
At night, I have dinner in our town square. I am cat-called by seven-year-olds with their parents, “Teacher, Teacher, hello.” I look as they blush, smile and nod to their parents with pride. They communicated in English to their Teacher, everyone in that circle is incredibly impressed. I am their validation of their day.
I might only teach a few vocabulary words, I might barely teach at all; but there is one single word that I have earned. Whether I hear the word yelled to me from a bus on the street, or screeched at me from a whiny eight year-old in class, no matter who the child is, or what the reason, it stops my heart and takes my breath away every time I hear it. I am their Teacher.