From my blog posts so far, you may not realize that I have actually been working for the last 6 weeks. My culture shock outside of school has been pretty dramatic. Blog worthy stuff, I’d say. My transition to my new school? As the Thai say, Same Same….Different.
I start my morning with my vintage Chairman Mao wind-up alarm clock (a real find at a Chinese flea market in Malaysia 🙂 going off at 5:00am. The little mechanical worker children on the face of the clock smile and wave madly at me as if to say, “Get up, it’s time to work! Working is good! Working helps your society! Chairman Mao is smiling!” Time to get rolling.
Get dressed, eat breakfast, hop on my bike and pedal to work. Sunny mornings include a lovely sunrise over the Khlong (canal) and long-legged waterfowl stepping lightly through the rice paddies. Rainy or post rain mornings are different. Poncho, wind, dodging enormous puddles and hoping the passing cars are thoughtful enough to drive around these temporary lakes as they go by. Geckos making one hell of a ruckus – took me a few weeks to figure out what the sound was!
Arrive. First things first. Turn on the AC. The hallways are outdoor breezeways and the canteen (cafeteria) is a covered outside area. So, 95 degrees going from place to place and refrigerator cold in classrooms and offices. I’ve actually acclimated enough that I set my AC at about 80-82 degrees. Yes. A northwest girl just said that. The change between the extremes is awful otherwise.
We speak English at Ruamrudee (RIS.) While we are a K-12 Catholic International school, our student population is mostly Thai nationals seeking to attend American, Australian or British Universities. So, the only Thai you hear is in Thai class, in the preschool, and by the Thai non-teaching staff. More than half of our students are English Language Learners. I am learning to change my communication and teaching style to accommodate this. Plus, not all parents speak English so about half of my meetings include an interpreter. I’m learning to “wei” (bow with hands as if in prayer) more appropriately and have been told by veteran staff that a parent meeting that starts with a “wei” but ends with a handshake is considered successful. I’m batting about 500.
My counseling day. Hold onto your hat. I haven’t had to de-escalate a single child yet!! Overt anger and explosive behaviors are replaced by anxiety and covert anger responses. But, this makes perfect sense. The Thai culture is one in which feelings are withheld in an attempt to reduce conflict. Laughter and smiling are the path of least resistance.
Since we are one of a handful of international schools in Thailand with a full special services program, I am working with a good number of students on the Autism spectrum. It’s incredibly gratifying to be able to work with these students knowing that the resources we are providing are so welcome. Parents are so grateful to have a place where their children are accepted and educated with knowledge and confidence.
As a Catholic school run by the Redemptorist Order, we sponsor a number of social programs including a few orphanages and a prison education program among others so our elementary leadership program (we call it Phoenix Pals) has plenty to do!! I’m busy. Just differently. Thank God I have an excellent intern. She has been in Thailand for 5 years as a teacher and knows her way around. Plus, she is really good. Actually really, really good.
Food. Hell yeah. The canteen has about 15 food providers. Folks contract with the school and each run a little restaurant here. We have Thai, Indian, Chinese, “Western” (mashed potatoes in a little cup), a Smoothie stand, a Coffee stand, a Noodle place, Greek and Italian. The cost? Anywhere from 30 baht to 60 baht ($1-2) for a large full-plate serving.
Just like the states, we have “guaranteed and viable” curriculum in reading and math. Different? We also have science, social studies, music, PE, Thai, and, are you sitting down? Art. Yes. We have a full-time elementary art teacher. Mr. Josh has a FULL TIME POSITION as a Preschool – grade 5 art teacher. By 5th grade, students create an on-line portfolio. Plus, and this is about the cutest thing ever, Preschool, Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten have nap time!! Each kid brings a comfy mat and blanket and they sleep or at least “rest” for about 90 minutes at the end of the day. When parents come to get them they are fresh as daisies (complete with hilarious bedheads) and ready to take on the rest of their day!
Names. In Thailand, everyone, and I mean EVERYONE goes by a nickname. Given names (both first and last) are extremely long. So, nicknames are the norm. And these nicknames range from the traditional to the unique. Prim, Pan, First, Party, Ivy, Boss, Miaow, Boeing. I haven’t quite figured out if these names are chosen with an intent or if they just sound nice. One day, I told a girl the English meaning of her name, Bouquet. I said it was beautiful and defined it as a “bunch or collection” as in a “bouquet of flowers.” The smile she gave me was unforgettable.
And the kids? Same, Same. Curious, funny, naughty, imaginative, impulsive, motivated, lazy. Give ‘em an inch and they’ll take a mile. Looking for attention and belonging. Trying to understand their place on this incredibly complicated, yet simple, planet. Just like the states, THIS is the reason educators become educators. The smiles, the tears, the moment when they “get” the concept you are teaching. Smiling and waving like the children on my alarm clock – it’s the kids that bring us back to the school house each and every year. Nothing different here.