I once again find myself at a turning point here in Thailand as I find my contract at the school is over. Yes, my teaching days are over (at least, for now) and it is time for me to start the third and final part of my journey. In just two days’ time I will be trading my apartment for a backpack and spend the next two months travelling around Southeast Asia.
My time in Thailand so far has been fantastic, though not always what I expected. I have spent the majority of my time here so far in the small province of Sakon Nakhon found in Isan. In many ways I feel lucky that this is where I ended up, because it is here that I feel I got the true Thai experience. The town where I worked was not the type of place where you would find tourists, or really where anyone decides to stop by and visit. It is an 11 hour bus ride to Bangkok and it has no western restaurants except for a KFC that seems extremely out of place. I am quite certain that C and I were the only female farangs in town. At least, I’ve yet to see another since I’ve gotten here. There are a handful of male farangs in town though, mostly teachers. It is because of this “isolation” that I feel I received a true cultural experience. Over the past few months I have attended many Thai parties, shared their food, and sang and danced with the locals (a Thai party just isn’t a Thai party if there isn’t karaoke).
As for the teaching aspect, that has been quite the experience as well. This semester I was teaching the equivalent to grades 10 and 12. I had 16 grade 10 classes and 8 grade 12 classes, and I saw each class once a week. Sometimes. Actually, I don’t think I had a single week where I saw every single class. For various reasons such as festivals, tests, and field trips, or missing desks, classes were constantly cancelled, which far too often I didn’t know I was happening until after I wait in the classroom for the students for 15-20 minutes.
I think the times when I was really put to the test while teaching was when I gave my students their midterms and later their exams. For their midterms I decided to give them a nice easy assignment. For the M4s (grade 10) it was a simple, five sentence description of their favourite character along with a drawing. I told them exactly what I wanted them to write about (all things that we had covered in class already) and even showed them an example. The example was a bad idea. In one class I had six students hand in midterms that were word for word copies of my example, although they did take it upon themselves to create their own pictures to go with the description. It was the pictures that really told all. There was clear progression of who copied off of who, and by the end it was clear that they didn’t even know who they were writing about. Unless, of course, Gandalf is a broom-riding witch and I have just been terribly mistaken all of these years. However, even with the exorbitant amount of copying off of me, each other, or the internet, every now and again I would receive a midterm where it was clear that the student just got it, and those made it worth it.
The exam is another story entirely. I made what I thought was a simple, multiple choice exam. At least it would have been had the students studied for even just 20 minutes before the test. My personal favourite part of the exam was the section about inviting, accepting, and declining invitations. Just before the exam I went over with my classes that “accept” means “yes” and “decline” means “no”. I drilled them on it. I wrote it on the board for good measure. I think they thought I was trying to trick them with the number of students who gave me “no” answers when told to accept and vice versa.
But despite all of these minor setbacks, I had a fantastic time teaching here. My students were often clever and witty, and the Thai teachers filled the office with laughter and smiles. I am grateful for my time here and I will never forget Triam Udom Suksa School of the Northeast.
I am sad to leave this school and the home I have built for myself here, but it is time for me to step out my door again and start my next adventure.