After living at school for over a week I have realised (perhaps to my detriment) that I don’t have to be in my classroom at 7.45am. In fact, I don’t have to be there until 8.25am. The assembly and flag raising ceremony took place as usual in fast Thai with lots of calls and responses from the teachers and the students. It is a bit difficult to join in.
For the first hour of the day I had a free period. Teacher Tim found me reading in the staff room and asked if I would mind if she recorded me reading two texts. There is an English speaking competition coming up next week and she wanted her students to have the advantage of listening to a native speaker’s pronunciation. When I saw what one of them was going to read I recoiled slightly (ever so slightly). It was a book that I had supervised a girl as she read the other day and the grammatical mistakes, word choice and spellings were on the whole way off. In this case, as it is a reasonably big competition, I told Teacher Tim and she allowed me to re-write the whole book. I felt like an interpreter translating it from ‘Thai English’ into correct British English. I did the same with a story about a wolf falling in a hole and a farmer helping him only not to be thanked… and recorded them both in my clearest voice. The poor students, if they listen intently to the tape, will find themselves entering the completion with a Scottish accent; I hope that this won’t cause them any problems.
Before lunch I had two classes back to back. Grade 4 and grade 5. There are two sets in each year, so in effect I only have four sets of students and I have them all four times a week. This means that I have had to build up a relationship with them fairly quickly, which has involved coming to recognise their faces and getting to know some of their names. The first class I had was one I’d had before and it went fairly well. The new class, for some reason or other, has not had English in a week. There have been various festivals, holidays and activities on which have meant that some of the classes have been cancelled and they have been badly affected by it. The hour felt long with them, at one point all of the students were laughing at me and I didn’t know why. They were pointing at my back. I checked and all my zips were done up properly, I couldn’t see anything wrong. It turned out that one of the boys had managed to attach quite a number of bits of a small plant to the back of my dress (kind of like sticky willow) without me noticing. At another point a boy decided that decorating his scouts hat was much more interesting than the work that had been set so I confiscated it and wore it for the rest of the lesson. This seemed to go down well. I was pleased to see that some pupils who looked like they were misbehaving were actually diligently completing their work between snippets of conversation in fast Thai and laughter at their new farang teacher.
Lunch couldn’t have been more welcome. I had two portions today (that’s how hungry I was). I had rice and a mixed vegetable soup thing- vegetable stock could be handy but it tends to be quite hard to come across, at least I can never find it. Excuse my infuriatingly long sentences, it feels great not to have to simplify anything or employ staccato phrases. I am finding that things are becoming ordinary; lunches are rarely new and exciting and I like knowing what to expect in terms of food. Also I can recognise almost all of the students and all of the teachers so I don’t feel so lost or outside as I did on arrival.
Luckily though, most of the students are still excited by me and friendly. When I go through to the living room in my wooden house the students shout from their classroom ‘Good morning Teacher Charlie, I love you’ and wave adoringly. I will not tire of this. I like having the title ‘Teacher’ in my name; it feels good. I like it when the students run up to me between classes and ask questions and tell me I’m beautiful. Who wouldn’t enjoy that though?
As I was walking to my first afternoon class two girls bounded over to me and introduced themselves to me. As some of you will know in Thailand many people have English names as well as their Thai names. I have students called: love, guitar, oil, and apparently Sumo. Sumo is rather overweight… it seems appropriate if somewhat an unkind nickname. She did seem proud though and this was an extremely cheering little interlude.
The sun was shining brightly after school as the students dressed in their scout and guide uniforms took part in activities on the grass out front. My classes were over by 2.30pm and I decided that I had to get away from school for a bit. It can be a bit intense being here ALL the time. My trusty steed, my bike, provided a means to travel. I cycled for 30 minutes down the road to the right of the school, into unknown territory. As with anywhere people are protective and tell you to beware of ‘dangerous people’. What they didn’t tell me was to beware of dangerous animals. As I was riding down the ‘cycle lane’ I drove over a massive, dark green snake. I was so scared that I kept going full pelt and didn’t look back to see if it was coming after me. Just to the left of the road through the tall grasses I spotted somewhere to perch safely. See the picture (so I don’t have to describe it). Here I found a haven for an hour or so in the sun as I sat and finished my book. I am very aware that I live in a beautiful place, and was pleased not to be disturbed by any red ants this time.
In the evening I found company with my housemates. We sat and ate cake (very sweet!) and drank cold ice tea (that was made from powder sachets) as the tropical rain fell outside. As usual today I picked up Joy from the main road on my bike. What I did not realise about it, that was of course pointed out by a proud English person, was that it has ‘England’ stickers all over it. How unobservant of me, but sometimes ignorance is bliss…