First anniversary in the land of smiles

One year under my belt

This month's article is so late in coming because I've been such a busy, busy boy this month what with moving across town, starting working full-time again at a new school, and impotently battling through the mysterious and intense "First Anniversary in the LOS What the Hell was That?!?!? Disorientation Syndrome" or FALOSwthwtDS. So this month my article will surely reflect my state of mind just now - all over the place, getting by with whatever, plugging the leaks as they spring, one and off, alai godai.

Moving, even if just across Bangkok, is a stressful thing- even for a newbie without his own furniture or major appliances to haul out. Maybe worse than any of the physical work, there's the insecurity one feels about his security deposit. I wrote ‘desposit' there before Word autocorrected it, but that may be appropriate, as so many Bangkok landlords do strike one as a bit despotic as they play fast and loose with our Thai-language leases and the sometimes substantial sums we cough of for first, last, and ‘just because I can'. I had heard and read far too many Bangkok apartment horror-stories to just relax, and I didn't for a second believe all, or even most, of my money was gonna come back to me until it was placed in the palm of my hand.

Moving to a much nicer place has been a joyful thing. This was a move from a box to a space. It's night and day. I feel like a human being again when I'm home. I liked to describe my previous abode to friends as "cozy"...and, I suppose it was. But there's a thin line between cozy and cramped, and it only mattered what kind of day I had at school to determine what side of that line I landed on when I got back there.

Even though I'm spending a bit higher of a percentage of my salary on my new place, in terms of a cost-benefit analysis it's off the charts for the better. I would recommend to anyone wondering why, after having moved to Thailand for an easier-going lifestyle, they've found themselves still feeling uncannily like the proverbial racing rat in Bangkok, to consider NOT skimping on rent. Sure, paying one-hundred bucks a month on rent to live in a great city like Bangkok is fantastic. But after a while, the ‘bedsit' studio takes its toll. Perhaps after inhabiting a proper space for a while I'll be able to revert and live happily for another year in a super-cheap small studio again. But for now...I need to be able to leave the room without leaving the house.

Shifting from a patch-work schedule of various part-time gigs (some uni classes here, test prep tutoring there, a little language school stuff over there) to a truly full-time (7:15-4:30 daily) homeroom teacher job has also been a bit stressful. Gone are the long lazy mornings, the breezy fun feeling of the hit-and-run, teach-and-go gig, the constant mobility leading to new discoveries in the nooks and crannies of the big Mango. And in their place is the staffroom, the staffroom, the staffroom.

But if I had one thing to say about starting at a new school with new students it's this (and this applies not only to moving, but to just starting out): don't even try to make some kind of big entrance. I did, thinking that if I made a big personal impression on my students right off the bat, they'd follow me for the semester, respect me, follow my rules and orders, take my word for things, and eventually, a la Dead Poets Society, climb up onto their desks and salute: O Captain, my Captain!

How silly. Better to ease in, I believe, with Thai students. Every day is a new blank slate. Of course you build rapport and relationships, and your personality does play a part in teaching...but what I've learned is that the force of your personality will never make up for the lack of a good lesson plan. And that's where I went wrong. I spent the first few days trying to come off as ‘really cool' to my grade 8 student and neglected to do much pre-testing stuff so I could gauge their levels and pitch my lesson plans correctly. Now I've got to figure it out on the fly. But the curse is also the blessing. They don't really seem to remember or care what you kid last week. You can leave class one day thinking "great, now they probably hate me" and the next day, after a successful class, "what a class...what a teacher!" What I think I'm finally beginning to learn is that of the three elements of learning: students, teachers, and materials, it's the first and the last that should make of 95% of all interactions. The teacher's 5% is ideally potent and effective, but still only amount to 5%. And this is as true on the first day in front of new students as it is in the middle of the term and in the last week preparing for final tests.

More notes from a newbie coming next month. The topic: using meditation as a way to stay sane in such a city as Bangkok - the journal of a week-long experiment.


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