Sam Thompson

Mid-term prep and a week in review

You have to go with the flow in Thailand

The past week AFTER my busy weekend traipsing around Bangkok shopping malls to open a bank account has been full as well. Although we don't give midterms until Christmas week (ironic for me), the Thai teachers want us (the foreign teachers) to turn in our midterms by the end of this past week so that they can check them. I'm not quite sure of the point of this, being that only one of my three Thai teachers speaks enough English to say "hello," and I'm quite sure none of them can read enough to make any judgments. But, I just do what I'm told.

Here's another example of why you must roll with the tides here in Thailand, too. I spent a good two hours making a 40-question midterm for my Mathayom 2 class. My paperwork shows that the M2 class I have is divided into Science 1 and Science 2, but the curriculum is identical for both. I didn't realize that I was supposed to be taking enough grades to create 30 points worth of credit for TWO classes in the same class before midterm, and certainly didn't know that each class needed its own midterm.

That's a bit of a doozy, but luckily I've already taken more grades than I needed. So, I just split the grades I have according to the chapters we've covered, but it could have been problematic if I hadn't taken extra grades already.

I had written only one midterm for the class, too, which then had to be re-done into two separate midterms. The format was also different than I was initially told; I was told the midterm and finals were to be all multiple choice, so that's what I had done, but was then told the midterm needed to be varied format. Frustrating, sure, being that I'd already finished the test, but whatever. Just roll with it.

Eventually, I got my midterms finished... 40 question tests for six classes, even though I only actually teach three classes' worth of students. Wrap your head around THAT one...

A colleague of mine, poor fellow, was under the impression that midterms were to actually be given to students next week rather than them just being due to co-teachers for review. I feel his pain; up until a week or so ago, that's the same thing I thought. I wondered why midterms would begin so early...

Once again, don't expect to know what's going on at any given time. Just go with it.

I'd like to mention my Mathayom 3 class for a moment. I can't express how impressed I was with the presentations they gave to me this past week. I assigned a poster project to the class in pairs, each with a topic related to genetics, about two weeks ago. I haven't even mentioned it since, thinking that I would give them time in class this week to work on it.

However, when I announced to them that we would have a project workday, they announced-all of them-that they were all finished! They kept the original presentation date I had given them, and without me so much as mentioning the project for two weeks, they all completed the task! I'm beyond surprised; in America, due dates were simply an excuse for students to beg for more time to drag things out. Not here!

Not only did the students finish the project, but I can honestly say that the presentations they gave were top-notch. This is coming from a native English speaker who has a good deal of experience in public speaking, too. I have seen far worse presentations by native English speakers in universities than what I saw in my English as a second language science class of 14 year olds.

Seriously, I'm still blown away at how well they did. Sure, their pronunciation wasn't perfect, and I'm sure that most of what they read was copied directly off of Wikipedia, but just the fact that they completed the project (with great looking posters, I might add) and presented them well blows me away.

Take that, American education system. A bunch of kids in a third world country can do better presentations in a second language than many (if not a lot) of students in the US can.

A few other things about the past week at school: for whatever reason, one of the foreign teachers wasn't able to make school one day, and when this happens, the rest of the foreign teachers have to cover the class. Every now and again a substitute will come, but not often. I've mentioned that I've done this before, and here it is happening again. I rather like it, actually; it gives me a chance to teach actual English rather than science in English... I can be a stickler for pronunciation and other aspects that I don't have time to emphasize so much while teaching another subject.

This same particular day, I ended up having to cover for one of my co-teachers too; half of the science department went off with a bunch of upper-Mathayom kids to some kind of science camp Wednesday-Friday, so the teachers that were left were having to cover a LOT of classes. I didn't realize that my M3 class didn't have my co-teacher to teach them one day, so at the last minute I ended up staying and, essentially, babysitting due to having nothing prepared to have them do.

I would have made them at least do science charades or something, but I didn't have the heart to after having already told them I was through with them. So, free time it was. I did learn a neat game that the kids like to play called "24," whereby you write four numbers on the board and race to see who can make the numbers equal 24 by any mathematical operation. I'm highly impressed at how good they are at math, too; not that I'm any good at math by ANY means, but they beat me every time!

The few students who gathered around me also wanted to play hangman. They love to play hangman. They're extremely competitive students, the lot of them.

During one of my days sitting in my office making midterms, I also discovered first-hand the fascination Thais have with the supernatural. A group of teachers gathered around one of the teacher computers and watched a YouTube episode of some kind of possessed-by-a-ghost program in Thai, and were literally transfixed by it. They kept trying to explain to me what was happening, and when the office phone rang, they all jumped as though they were sitting through a horror movie.

I've never seen anything like it... they seemed to eat it up! The best I could figure, the woman in the program was possessed by a 1,000 year old ghost that caused her to stab her husband... and apparently that's just normal here. I had a hard time keeping a straight face; I certainly don't want to disrespect them, but it's just not my cup of tea.

This past Wednesday was the Loy Kratong festival, which is some kind of apology to the river (and any water, it seems) for polluting and abusing it after the end of the primary rice harvest. I had all intentions of going out to the river in Bangkok to see the festivities, which include making these little boats made from banana leaves with flowers and candles in them. It rained most of that day, though, and after spending hours writing midterms, I just didn't have it in me to fight the rain and the people to go. There's always next year.

It was quite the scene, though, even from my apartment window. The Thais downstairs (mostly uni students) partied until who knows when, shooting off firecrackers all night, lighting floating lanterns that flew up into the night sky (very cool to see), and otherwise lighting things on fire. Needless to say, it's not something that would be remotely acceptable in the States, but it certainly looked fun and no harm was done!

I am sorry I missed it... but there are plenty of other festivals to partake in. This coming Wednesday, for example, is the King's birthday. It's a national holiday, and the students at school have missed at least two first periods last week in assemblies to prepare for "Father's Day," as his birthday is known. I'm not sure what to expect from this day, but I'll certainly go out and about to see what happens.

Let's see... other than that for this week, I did book a flight to Italy, round trip Bangkok to Rome, for $788 in April. Not bad! I get to fly Aeroflot, or Russian Airways, and will go through Moscow going there and back. That should be interesting... two weeks in April, 2-16th. I'm excited!

So, all in all, a very busy week! With writing midterms out of the way (and, in turn, all of the material I need to teach before I give them), the next few weeks at school should be a breeze. I can't wait to assign "the great paper airplane project" to my M2 class to reinforce Newton's Laws of Motion. I did the project myself in elementary school, and if you ask me, there's not much more fun to be had than by making paper airplanes.

Ain't science great?


Hi Sam, great blog.
I also teach science in a government school EP. I wonder if you have any advice regarding how to deal with students whose level of English is very low, I mean like P1/2 low, in M1 classes?

By Sam, Buriram (20th May 2013)

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