Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Teacher's Diary

This diary is inspired by the Teacher's Diary that appeared in one of my favourite magazines, Private Eye.

I thought it would be interesting to see what differences and similarities exist in 'day to day' work for teachers in the UK and Thailand.

I'll try this for a week or so and see how it turns out. I immediately wish to state that I enjoy my work and life in Thailand very much and teaching is a positive and rewarding job at many times. As this diary is focusing on everyday events, the grumbles and moans that will no doubt be apparent don't represent my overall mood at work, which, again, is very positive.

Today, Weds 9th September

This is my quietest day as I have only two periods. The first is a reading and writing class in grade eight. This class causes a lot of problems for other teachers yet always seems to work fine with me as long as I'm quite stern with them. Perhaps it's because two of the nosiest students in the class seem to have taken a shine to me. It's often the case that if the most confident students are on your side, the rest of the class will come round.

Today though, these guys - all aged from twelve to fourteen - are deathly quiet. Quieter than I've ever known them. I pre-teach some vocabulary such as "physical therapy" and "pressure". I'm not on red hot form myself but this is still pretty easy stuff and they seem lost. I get into compound nouns and assign some textbook questions which they finish easily but still there is the unnatural silence. Still, they learned something. At the end of class the teacher in next classroom reports that his kids were also bizarrely silent. It's possible that grade eight had a mass scolding from one of the senior teachers in the morning.

In my free period I sit in the staff room and read. Kim - our upper grades PE teacher - comes in with a student who is clearly in trouble. Kim hands the student over to the year head and informs her that the student called him a "fat idiot". There is a long discussion between student and year head in Thai by which I can make out the student is protesting his innocence, but I don't believe him. The student is question is actually a boy who wears make up and a bra to school. Kim feels the student gets away with a lot of things because he is this way, and I think he may have a point.

Next period is also free. I try to debate with the Science teacher about alternative fuels. He swears blind that nuclear power is not an option because we only have enough uranium for one hundred years. I dispute this, but he is having none of it.

My boss interrupts to hand me a copy of the grade nine Social Studies exam paper that students are set to take in two weeks. Our school is actually a sub-branch of a bigger school (from now on I'll call it the 'head school'). All our teachers must write exam papers for every subject and then send them to 'head school', who then decide how many of our questions to use and how many of their own to use. The official policy is: "they decide which is better, theirs or ours". Anybody who works in Thailand knows what this statement really means.

Naturally the exam is about ninety percent head school's, and ten percent mine. This wouldn't be so bad if the Social Studies teacher at head school could write in English, but instead I have questions like: "Which is the first king that is first Chakri Dynasty?" and "What is the worst demonstration event occurred in 1992?". Complaining is futile, we are not even allowed to speak to our peers at head school. I count a total of twenty one errors in the exam, then I hand it back.

Period four is grade nine Social Studies. This class is one of my favourites. They take a while to settle down but when they do, they work well. Today we are studying the Vietnam War. It's a good lesson because the students grasp the basic concepts of what happened and the anecdotes of the Thai military in the jungle quite well. This group is good at English, so they understand the concepts when I explain them. Some of the other classes have bright students but with poor English skills, which makes it very hard to inspire an interest in history. The lesson goes well but next week I have to explain the Asian Financial Crises, which will be harder to make interesting.

And so my day is done. Tomorrow is a longer day though.

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