I’ll be teaching at Wat Kanham School, in the Uthai district, all week. Like the name implies, the school is on the grounds of a Buddhist monastery. It is also located next to a factory where most of the students’ parents work. Without the Buddhist monastery providing space and resources and the close proximity of the factory, these students would not be getting an education at all.
Each day I am placed in classroom based on need of English instruction. Monday was 1st graders in the morning and 6th graders in the afternoon. Tuesday was 1st graders in the morning again and 2nd graders in the afternoon. All of the students know the American alphabet well, as did the village children in Bangsai. This seems to be basic knowledge. However, it is more like a song they have memorized, 26 notes in a sequence. Given how different Thai language is spoken and written in comparison with our language, teaching English without also knowing Thai is a tremendous challenge… not to mention the obstacle of classroom management. But the students in Uthai are very much like the students in New York. Some you can shoot a look at and they’ll take their seat and zip their lip; and some require repeated and more extensive guidance.
The mornings at school are grueling, with almost 3 hours of English instruction and no Thai-speaking teacher in sight. This is way too much time to spend in one sitting, especially for the 1st graders. I break up the time with stretches, breathing exercises, drawing and song but, still… after 2 hours many of them are running amok around the school’s grounds. Their rebellion against the unreasonable chunk of time they’re asked to sit and learn quite normal and natural. They’re 6 year olds! The afternoons are much more peaceful. After the hour break for lunch and recess, they attend ceremonies at the monastery for about 30-60 minutes. That leaves only an hour or 90 minutes of teach time before the tuk-tuk brings us back to Wangnoi. Afternoons are also spent with the older children who are far less distractable.
Yesterday, I came to school bearing gifts. Promotional pencils from my former workplace, United Jewish Communities. The pencils were a huge hit, both with the teachers and the students. After using the pencils to help keep order in my 1st room class in the morning, word got out by lunch that I had a sack with me that was nowhere near empty. Hoards of students tracked me down at lunch to get themselves a Blueknot pencil. It amazed me how happy the simple gift made them. Look for signs of the pencils in many of the pictures below.