Staffrooms vary from school to school and from country to country. Some local teachers will go out of their way to show you around; others may barely acknowledge your existence.
Sometimes everything can seem a mystery. During my first weeks as a teacher I shared a staff room with Thai workers, who did their best to speak some English from time to time, but generally conversations didn’t extend much beyond ‘good morning’.
Lessons on tourism?
One afternoon I looked at my schedule and noticed two extra classes had been added on Mondays and Tuesdays. My assistant explained these were lessons about tourism, and that I didn’t have to do much. That was understating things a little; it turned out I didn’t have to do anything. The first lesson consisted of some children reading out a little English, and then my assistant took control and spoke Thai for the remainder of the class. After 15 minutes of standing at the front expecting to be called upon, I took a moment to enquire exactly what I should be doing.
‘Oh, in this lesson you don’t do anything, you can sit down if you like,’ my assistant said.
‘Maybe tomorrow I should bring a book,’ I joked.
‘Yes, good idea.’
For the remainder of the lesson, and subsequent ones, I was no more than a bystander. And if they happened to have lessons outside and it was a bit hot, I could skip those and stay in the nice air-conditioned staff room. The school hadn’t allocated me as many lessons as local teachers, so they tagged these ones on so at least it appeared I was doing the same amount of work.
The urgent meeting
In addition to phantom classes, you may well come across the request for an ‘urgent’ meeting that transpires to be as crucial as having enough teabags for the staffroom.
Before my second day at school I was told to get in by 7.30am, 20 minutes earlier than normal. Keen to please, I was there at 7.15am and waited as 7.30am passed, and then 7.45am came and went, and finally assembly began and there seemed to be no good reason for my early arrival.
The only reassuring thing was that everyone else seemed to have a purpose and know what was going on, and I felt confident that eventually they would think to let me in on the secret. Sometimes it’s better, no actually essential, to go with the flow and stop asking questions.
In my next blog, I'll share some teaching anecdotes from my years in a Thai classroom.
- Above blog adapted from 'Teaching English' (How to Teach English as a Second Language)
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