The magic act was working, the children were being entertained and more fool them they were being educated. But it turns out that I was the unknowing student and the topic was text book studies. Confidence levels had risen and most of the children could annunciate with ease the following sentences ‘The robot is yellow. The robot is small. The robot is on the chair.' Did I feel a warm glow resonate from my teaching soul, in short no. The reason? I was teaching items of clothes. Mmmm. What was I missing? Did Thai children have a thing for robots? I began to hunt for clues, hair clips, book covers, pencil cases, mobile phone covers (I did mention that the parents were rich right?) anything that would be marked with their tribe signature. All I could see were teddies, ducks and anything that was round, soft and fluffy. Where were the robots, at home? Most of the children were borders so home literally for some was their classroom, their pencil case an extension of their beside cabinet. It began to niggle.
New topic for the staff room coffee corner discussion board ‘what's with the robots? iRobot still playing?'. Silence and then an exchange of ‘oh bless her' looks ‘Flick through the textbook, start from the beginning and cross reference with the teachers book' said the fluffy cat mug owner. ‘Yeah but if you wanna be really educated, flick forward the next 3 chapters from this week' offered the You Suck elongated mug slurper. Silence. The quiet stayed with me as I walked to my desk and pulled out the textbook. The mug owners remained quiet as they sipped their 3 in 1 mix and watched my reactions as I turned the pages. My eyes bulged, my hand stifled a gasp, my motivating teacher mood was at hig, but it crash landed at ‘movie time' teaching level.
I had found the robots. The entire book was about robots. The last 3 months had been a subtle yet constant implementation of brain washing. Someone in the department of education titles at the Oxford Books Publishing house might want to debate with me, so I'll admit that talking toy machines were not the only primary coloured pages fillers. Occasional mentions of balloons and a talking cat would make a narrative guest appearance, but robots were the main focus.
Who actually thought that the word robot would be an imperative word for a second language student to master?A leader of a robot worshiping cult who freelanced in the publishing world, maybe? Dissection - yes the beginning letter is the most difficult for most Thai's on the obstacle course of english phonetics and always needs the most practice to untie the Thai tongue. The second syllable is good practice for sounds like english arguments that universally starts with ‘ Yeah, but.....'
Then we move to the object, a toy that is recognised across playgrounds worldwide and a few London creative media executive desks. Usually you hit ten, hormones are at their peak and personalities are buckled in for the puberty rollercoaster which splits the childhood ‘likes' into a mess of ‘I like it. I don't care about it. SHUT UP!' Loyalties and attentions wane accept for the dedicated collector of the metallic figures or the prada fashionista who splurged on the 2 seasons old now dress accessory. Personalities types aside, how often does anyone actually say the word? Once or twice a year, think about it. Maybe a miniature plastic one will fall out of your Christmas cracker or you use it to describe an emotionally disabled person i.e the boss.
Back in the classroom, I began to go mad and development robot turrets. ‘ What is on the table? The robot. What is red? The robot. On Tuesday what will Jimmy play with? The robot?' Mentally I was tumbling in a world of human inspired circuit boards. ‘Close books' for my own sanity, I decided to forget that we had a text book. Bold and rebellious, ah just like my school days. Deprogramming was tough, trained in the way of the robot the young ones fought to let go, but let go they did. Without the limitations set by the text book and the ‘R' word the lessons became more spontaneous. Banning the word helped, making a swear box (yep only one word was considered a curse) helped even more. Every time the ‘R' word was uttered, drawn or pointed at in the forbidden text book a fine had to be paid. 10 baht. Steep? At first I thought so until they all started to ask me for change from a 500 baht note! The coins clinked continually, even the brighter children whispered the word so they could drop their gold centred denomination into the large glass jar. Some even tried to get their coins to spin and flip before they landed and would drop more coins until their money acrobats scored a 9.9.
The novelty worn off and the word was eventually phased from their short term memory. All that was left to show of the robot invasion was 2 sun bleached drawings on the wall and a jar full of sliver coins. And my turrets had reverted to the normal fisherman's wife standard. A day trip was scheduled and the class was given the chance to decide what they wanted to do. Visiting the beach to ride the 4 seater bikes was booed. Crying in front of the the gorillas who are in a shoe box cage at the department store zoo was also not an excursion to excite. The vote was in and it was unanimous - Lets go to the movies. Both my hands were in the air for this one as I had an excuse to sing the same titled song/scene from Annie for 5 days straight! In between broadway bursts the day was arranged.
The day came, the bus was boarded and the children we each given equal shares from the ‘R' swear jar for movie goodies. We arrived early and in time for a promotional cabaret for a coming soon blockbuster. A girl and a boy were shimming in character along to the movie sound track and my students readily handed over their ‘R' baht and all purchased pencil cases emblazoned with the movie title and lead characters. The movie? Robots. The world? Against me and my sanity.