A year in rural Thailand

Twelve months at a Thai government school

Today I am celebrating my first year of teaching at a government school in rural Thailand. Throughout that time I've had an excellent experience both with the welcoming staff and the enthusiastic students. I thought I'd share some of the interesting idiosyncrasies within the Thai government school where I currently work...

Initially, I started my contract via a small agency in October of last year. One of the first events, which was a fun experience, was the school's sports week. The school loves any form of activity and many of the students are proficient in sports like Muay Thai, Sepak Takraw, table tennis, javelin, athletics, etc. This was a great opportunity to gear lessons around sports as a subject, thus getting the students to talk about their favourite sporting activities.

I tend to implement some of the topics I cover to correspond with the school's schedule of events. Previously, I had no access to the school's schedule and worked from a scheme of work provided by the agency. The sports event was a great means to get the students working cohesively. The students are also 'caretakers' at the school, ensuring it is kept tidy at all times, so team activities work well in class.

Xmas

Christmas was also great fun and as mentioned in a previous blog, I was 'volunteered' to play Santa Claus. I think I gained some brownie points with the director on that occasion. I really got into the spirit of Christmas and took part as Santa in the school's pantomime.

I always made a point of talking with her when she was walking the grounds. I liked to think she could practice her English and I would often bring her gifts of fruit from my farm. Sadly, she has recently moved on as a director at a larger school after four years here. It appears common amongst school directors to move around schools and we recently had a nice ceremony to welcome our new director. I hope he likes pineapples and mangos!

Despite the seemingly long semester of six months, it should be taken into consideration that there is a numerous amount of public holidays and activities that will often take precedence over taught lessons. With this in mind, I keep a handy spreadsheet on all groups to track where we are regarding progression and topics delivered. With that schedule in mind here are some further highlights and thoughts from the rest of the school year.

New Year

The Chinese New Year. We shared some great activities with the younger students while discovering their animals according to their birthdays and creating face masks of their animals. The older groups got involved in decorating the class with Chinese lanterns and paper dragons. I like to think this encouraged expanding some cultural awareness whilst also making it fun.

We had the chance to read out the story behind the Chinese new year too. Plus, I got to make a fool of myself with a rat mask as other students prowled about as bulls, rams and monkeys. No doubt we'll be preparing the students for Halloween towards the end of this month. More masks and decorations at the ready.

Wai Kru (Teacher's Day)

Students had made small gifts from flowers and handmade cards expressing their gratefulness towards their teachers. The Thai teaching staff got me involved and I was more than happy to participate. I sat with the other teachers whilst all of the students proceeded to kneel and bow to the teachers. This was my first Wai Kru ceremony and I must confess, I felt humbled by the whole experience. Teachers certainly receive a lot of respect in Thailand and deservedly so.

The Sports Parade

About forty or more schools from the region congregated in the city stadium over three days to participate in a number of competitive sports. I got involved in coaching the students in Sepak Takraw (kick ball). This is a great sport combining volleyball and football skills. I even use a rattan ball (made of soft cane wood) to nominate students in class. Some of the older students from other schools were very acrobatic in their serve and it was a great game to enjoy watching the students work as a team.

Sadly, our school didn't make it to the finals. We did, however, win gold in athletics, discus and javelin. We also won a gold for our parade. We love a good parade and the students are excellent at putting on a display of traditional Thai dancing. It wasn't long before our school put on more parades at another local school and also at a local temple prior to a Buddhist holiday.

Scouts. (Be Prepared!)

This was a fun few days where the students camped on the school grounds and the staff organized a variety of activities for them to engage with. As a former scout myself, I got involved in helping out with orienteering... The scouts set out to find various clues on a map and achieve other numerous tasks.

On the final night, a ‘jamboree' was held around a very interesting indoor fire. As the weather had dampened the outside fire, the school caretakers got creative, combining an indoor fan at the base of a pyramid of fluorescent lights and colored tissue paper which made for the illusion of fire. Risk assessment, notwithstanding!

The X Factor

With the run up to the week of the student's finals, we had a singing competition during their lunch breaks. Essentially karaoke, a chance for the talented and not so talented to get their X Factor on. I teased a staff member I'd signed them up for karaoke, not sure they got the joke. I like to think this helped the students to take time out of preparation for their exams. It was a fun distraction if nothing else.

Back To Class

After all the fun and games were over, it was time for the students to take their finals and I eventually got to complete the student's results. Last year, I was led through the Thai grading by the Thai staff and this year I had more or less grasped it. I'd just got used to working this out before a new and improved one was introduced. Fortunately, this was very similar to the previous scoring system.

We can now see graphs and charts of overall performance. Whilst it's not the most robust of systems, it's still a vast improvement... although, I still get a bit dismayed when students get through on a 'pass' grade, despite rarely attending classes.

As the year recommences I'd like to think that I'm a little bit more prepared than when I started out last year. I had been tempted to move to a bigger school nearer to home in the city. However, all the schools recruit through agencies, which have some bizarre clauses in their contracts that I don't deem favourable to a professional teacher.

For now, I'm continuing to work at the small rural school where, hopefully, I have some impact on the students. They've certainly made my time here an enjoyable one as their English teacher.

Nigel Quinn


Also from the same writer

Going with the flow - Getting a teaching job in rural Thailand

Adventures in rural Thailand - My first six months at a Thai government school

More adventures in rural Thailand - My first semester at a Thai government school

You might also be interested in ...

Teaching in the sticks - 31 cool and awesome things about living and teaching in rural Thailand

Bangkok or up-country? Which is best? - Are you a city boy or a country bumpkin?


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