Thai teaching assistants
Angels from the planet Xerox or Satan's snitch?
Just thought I'd fill you in on my experiences with Thai assistants. I have been in Thailand for a few years now and have always had an assistant, and I wouldn't work without one. Obviously they vary but my experiences have generally been good, in fact they end up being a good friend and very helpful.
One though got sacked for smelling of booze after she had left my services and I did hear that she told my boss I hit the kids when I never hit children. I think this was an excuse to take the pressure off her.
My current assistant is fantastic and not only helps me in the classroom, but with many life problems too - like paying the electricity bill at 7-11 (i never knew that) and we now teach privately together - she find the kids and arranges the money, time etc and assists me teaching.
Generally I use them for;
1. translation to check students understanding of what they just said. After 6 months of teaching the kids were great at speaking, unfortunately they didn't know what they were saying
2. I give out gold stars continually in the class. She manages that and stamps them up on the board.
3. She acts as an excellent buffer between the school and me. Stating that falang do not work weekends and that they don't like being disturbed at home. Also to deflect 'krooyais' desire for me to attend boring speeches and crap self-gratifying presentations where most folk look asleep and extremely bored.
We also have loads of fun and she's great for ideas in a tight spot. Highly recommended.
Great idea for a topic. I'm sure a lot of teachers have some cracker stories. Well mine goes like this...
I taught at a well known school in Bangkok and the school itself was great. A terrific staff, great environment to work in, and amazing classrooms and resources. While it wasn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, it was, by Thai standards, quite a good deal. That is, unless you took my Thai assistant teacher out of the equation.
Her name was Apple (is it OK to name her? she probably can't read English anyway). She was a 30 something Thai lady, most often seen scuttling around the school with a vague, dull-witted expression. It was as if, even she, sometimes struggled to remember her job description. And this of course was the problem, she really did struggle with her role in the classroom.
Apple's hobbies included getting students to ask the farang teachers if they could watch DVDs - for her to watch of course. Constant interference in the classroom. Constant undermining of the Western staff. An almost mystic ability to do the exact opposite of what she was asked to do, and coloring in activities.
Quite often, she would disrupt the rhythm of your lesson so much it would take a good 20 minutes to get your class under control. She would start handing out work books in the middle of class for no good reason, start talking to the kids in Thai, give the students answers to questions they were unable, or too lazy to do. At full power, her mere presence was enough to destroy a carefully planned lesson.
Apple had been working the same job at the same school for around 10 years. She once told one of the Western teachers that her job was to "control the farang teachers".
Anyway mate, that's my story.
For two years I taught at a school in Thonburi. This was an ordinary government high school (M1 - 6) with a mostly working class student body. During the first year, I was assigned to both the intensive English program (50%) - a tuition based program - and to the regular program (50%). In my second year, I was full-time in the intensive English program.
Thai law requires that a Thai teacher be in the classroom when a farang is teaching. So, over my two years, I experienced many Thai "assistants." This letter is about only one of them and may be a bit different than others you will receive.
For most of my classes, Ajarn Sayan was the Thai Teacher assigned to me. She was in no way my "assistant". She was my co-teacher, my equal and very much my mentor. In every sense of the word, she was, and still is, my colleague.
At the onset of our professional relationship, I recognized that any successes I would have in the classroom depended not only on my skill as a teacher but also my ability to capture and utilize her knowledge - what she knew that I did not. Perhaps this may sound arrogant but I am a good teacher. Ajarn Sayan made me an even better one.
Though I have moved on and am working in an international school in Chiang Mai, I still hear from some of my old students and I do miss them. I also miss working with Ajarn Sayan. I would not be where I am today if it were not for her skill and guidance.
Remember "dwarf tossing?" I could toss one of these assistants much farther than I'd ever trust them.
The Thai classroom supervisor is some sort of wannabe CIA operative on a mission to access the foreign teacher's cerebral cortex and download information telepathically, be that projected information or extracted, it's all the same in the Thai to foreigner communication, which doesn't seem to have much to do with the actual words.
They are obsessed with paper more than anybody I'd ever imagined. It goes way beyond the drive to reduce consumption or save money, it's clearly representative of some larger issue here.
Perhaps these women are so bent on controlling men that they've developed little games and rules about everything and anything. Maybe making copies at the wrong time of day really represents some sort of deep personal flaw rooting back to when I was twelve. Similar to the skin rash that I got that was caused by a black haired caterpillar walking across my backyard. Or the dream of a snake that I had, and how that means that I'm going to meet my true love.
Or maybe I'm just a speed freak because I drink a cup of coffee in the morning. Who knows. It's obvious that education is secondary to something else in the Thai education system, and that's just way too ironic for me.
I currently have four (Yes, four!) Korean teaching assistants in the public middle-school where I'm now teaching. Two for the grade one students and two for the grade three students. All four are women, single, and a couple of them are almost pretty. They are neither angels from planet Xerox nor are they Satan's snitch. But let's give them time. I just started teaching there on April 24th.
They have to be in the classroom with me because it is mandated by the Provincial Office of Education. But they probably really don't want to be there. So, what should I do with them?
The other day one of them was nice enough to sit next to me and say, "I'm your assistant teacher for the 1-1, 1-3, 1-5, and 1-7 classes. How would you like me to help you?"
How would you like me to help you? Wow! I never expected that. I spent the next few days thinking about it. How can Korean (or Thai) teaching assistants help a native speaking foreigner? First, let's stop calling them assistants and start calling and treating them as equal partners in the classroom.
I say this not out of a sense of some grand or magnanimous gesture, or a naive proponent of the "We are the World" teaching philosophy. Being partners with your Korean or Thai co-teacher is a real "on the ground" solution to many of the problems faced by all teachers in both public and private schools. It also shows some solidarity in dealing with the problems.
My co-teachers and I have two basic and very real issues that we deal with on a daily basis: The language barrier and classroom management. My classes are only 45 minutes long, so it helps to keep the modelling and concept checking to a minimum, even though modelling and concept checking is very important. What is not understood can be quickly translated.
I am also dealing with 35--40 students in every class with an age range between 13-15. Discipline can, and often is, a problem, especially with the boys. My partners help to keep the students in line so that they can work together on group tasks. They also help with monitoring and correcting.
Admittedly, this is not easy for me because up until now I've also never had the pleasure of working with co-teachers. But it's a learning experience for me and I'm glad I'm going through it. And I'm sure it's not easy for Korean or Thai teachers too. We come from two different worlds and have very different experiences. We also have very different ideas about teaching English.
That's why it's also important to keep your co-teachers at arms-length while emphasising a businesslike approach.
There will be disagreements with co-teachers on how best to teach the students. I, for one, do not want to fall into the trap of telling or advising my partners on how to teach, and I expect the same courtesy in return.
So translating, classroom management, monitoring, and correcting, are the ways in which native speaking English teachers and non-native speaking English teachers can work together to achieve a common goal.
Being new to teaching. I had the joy of working with an evil child-loving, farang teacher-hating assistant.
She helped me a few times in the classroom but spent most of the time playing with the kids or making them sing and dance to loud Thai hip-hop.
I tried to get her to help me with crowd control when the kids got a bit hostile, but all she seemed to do was sit back and let me deal with it.
In the end I had a plan to report her or throw her out off a third floor window. I did nothing and left the school with a slight taste of blood after biting on my tongue so hard.
I wanted to throw my two satang in on the teacher assistant discussion.
I read a great interview with the former Superintendent of Nogales Unified School District in Arizona, USA, a district of 7,000 students. Most of them are ESL students due to the fact that Nogales literally straddles the Mexican border.
Over a three year period, the community saw dramatic increases in student test scores and achievement. When asked why this occurred, the first reason he gave was that he fired the assistants, and then was able to pay the teachers more. This resulted in better quality applicants and a higher retention rate.
My personal experience has been that they are not very useful. I've seen them arrive to class thirty minutes late, eating a bag of food from Jack In-The-Box. They also tend to be underachievers, who are ready to tell you the students "can't" do something.
Student teachers are a different story. Fresh out of college with the ink still wet on a degree, they seem to always be ready. When I worked as a substitute, I would usually just put the student teacher in charge and just take it easy for 131 U.S per day.
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I am a kindergarten teacher and have had some teacher assistants who have been great- very helpful and necessary to the classroom. Others however, have been a menace to me and the children. They can't seem to take initiative to do things and seem annoyed when you ask them for help. They think all they have to do to be an assistant is to sit down and lean like the Tower of Pisa and repeat the odd word of English for the children. It is okay for them to learn English from my lessons, but it gets seriously annoying when they feel it necessary to answer all the questions for the kids like 'B is for boy not toy'. They think that a five second gap after a question means that nobody knows the answer. I also get increasingly annoyed when assistants use my lesson as telephone time to Isaan to sort out boyfriend problems. I know I'm going on a bit, but I also hate it when there is constant talking between the assistant and Thai homeroom teacher during the lesson and yes I do always tell them how I feel about things, but that doesn't always go down so well. Oh well c'est la vie! I will stop moaning now but I'm sure that other teachers feel the same way as I do.
By Fahad, Bangkok (3rd April 2010)