Sam Thompson

Teaching 'with' students, 'to' students and 'at' students

Sometimes I decide to just look on the funny side of trying to teach

I've been teaching in various capacities almost two years in Thailand now, and the differences between teaching students who want to be with you versus those who must be there are quite clear. Whereby students paying their own fare (or having companies pay) generally are excited about the possibility of learning something new, students in the government high school I work at are paid for (by parents, presumably) to essentially sit in the air conditioned classes they attend. Ah, motivation.

This isn't to say that all students are unmotivated; on the contrary, it's those that genuinely want to learn that keep me teaching there. But for the vast majority of my upper-high school students, I'm met with the same blank stares that I used to give to my high school teachers.

I can certainly understand; I've been there, thinking, this is stupid, why should I have to listen to this? And for me, it was in my native language. Now that the roles are reversed, I face that same attitude I once held compounded with a massive language barrier stemming from years of not being forced to learn the basics. Further, the students I [try to] teach may or may not even be interested in learning English (or science, my subject), but rather are forced by parents who "know what's best for them." I've been there, done that.

That being said, I'm finding that some classes I teach "with," whereby I have a good level of involvement; some I teach "to," whereby the students at least appear to pay attention and get engaged in activities; and those I teach "at," whereby it matters not in the least what the lesson is or how exciting I try to make it, the students just aren't having it.

Exhibit A: a Mathayom 5 (11th grade) class I've just taken over from a teacher who was relieved of his duties (different story) had to do an assignment for me as basic as defining a few words, alongside synonyms and antonyms; those of you teaching in government high schools realize that grades are essentially meaningless, and because the relieved-of-duty teacher didn't leave any grades just as they were due, I had to have some proof that I had graded assignments.

Anyway, the responses I got from over half of them were hilarious. These students have studied Japanese and English, yet most of the antonyms I received... were in Spanish. Our school has no Spanish classes. You know there's a disconnect when no one even realized that whoever it is they copied their answers from (typical) had their iPhone dictionary set to the wrong language altogether. I'm still laughing about it.

I guess I should be concerned, rather than amused, but at this point... given that these poor kids seriously have 17 different subjects they learn about per week versus the four I used to study at their age (block scheduling), and given that they clearly have absolutely no interest in something they consider worthless (fair play), I choose to look on the amusing side of it.

Again, I completely understand why there's a disconnect, as disappointing as it may be for me to deal with it. Still, the fact that these students don't even know what language they're trying to learn... Thailand education system, that probably constitutes a small problem.


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