Matthew Noble

Those new year resolutions

Some resolutions related to teacher and others not.

Coming to you this month from the very back seat of a two-car Chiang Mai-Bangkok 2nd class late night express train, let me open with this small piece of advice: don't ever write an article in the very back seat of a two-car Chiang Mai-Bangkok 2nd class late night express train. Not unlike many a TEFL-hack's favorite Friday night Soi Cowboy de-stressing diversion, the rear end of this baby is flying all over the place as it pummels headlong into the deeps of the Thai night.

Happy New Year to all the teachers out there, especially my fellow newbie kroos. Seems we've made it through quite the first year here in the Land of Smiles. We made it through floods, coups, and John Mark Karrs. We made it through visa crackdowns and fake degree smackdowns, baht crashes and teacher's forum rehashes. And finally we made it through an explosive New Year's Eve and slipped on into 2007 almost dropping our blue whiteboard markers. Time now to shake it all off, regroup and march on.

I have a few resolutions this New Year related to teaching.

The first one is to relax more and try to really enjoy teaching in this land of sanook. I knew about sanook before I came here to work- it was partly the great sense of fun in Thai culture that attracted me to it- I just didn't know that for a Thai person it quite properly should infuse just about everything worth doing. Working? Sanook. Eating? Sanook. The first, second, and third conditionals? Sanook Mahk Maaahk! As they should be, of course!?!

It couldn't have been only me who found all this a bit disorientating at first. All this fun in large doses would seem to preempt learning. Real learning. Serious learning. This is just the attitude I'd like to leave behind in 2006. As much as we may find ourselves sometimes thumbing our noses at aspects of the educational culture here, we really must admit: this is a precious opportunity to hang up our hang-ups, throw caution to the wind, and make work like play. So I'm gonna play my way through to next New Year's day.

My second resolution: don't lose a "beginner's mind" about teaching. Sunryo Suzuki was a Japanese Zen Master who relocated to San Francisco in the 1960's. He famously said that "in the beginner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind there are few". As I learn EFL/ESL teaching mainly by reading about it and doing it, I'd like to try to keep from adopting any rigid set of techniques or developing predictable habits as a teacher. There are so many competing theories and opinions about the best ways to teach a language, and then there are our own experiences of learning in our formative years that pull and push us certain ways as teachers ourselves. None of these necessarily promote a insightfully fresh look at the needs of our students as they file in and out of our classrooms everyday. I've experienced some struggle with both of these things. This year I'm gonna try to keep it real simple-like. I ain't no expert anyway, so it ain't gonna work even tryin'.

My third and final resolution for 2007 is to study some grammar! I hardly know the first godforsaken thing about it, because it always seemed to be just that: forsaken by the Almighty Himself and not to be partook, partaken, par-whatever of (you see). Truly, verily, Mai Sanook is grammar of any kind. Sure, I do teach it a bit, and I bone up on that bit as needed. But as a matter of course I'm like a Whig when it comes to grammar: a know-nothing. So this year I'm going to study it, learn it, drink of it. And it's not really because it's so important, here in Sanookville, that I must be some kind grammarian- it's only because when we make New Year's resolutions one must be a bit unsavory, like quitting smoking or losing those 12 delicious pounds. So there you have it.

So, from the wildly jerky very back seat of this two-car Chiang Mai-Bangkok 2nd class late night express train- here's a toast to teaching English in Thailand again in 2007. I hope all of your resolutions work out. Having fun, thinking fresh, and perhaps a bit less grammatically challenged, I'll see you again next month.


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