As I have mentioned in the about section of my blog, part of the reason that I am in Thailand in addition to traveling is to teach English, which is how I’m funding such a long trip. I teach at the local school, Banharnjamsaiwittaya 3. It’s a large government-funded school, with about 2,400 students, and it is Mattayom(middle/high school), or 7th-12th grade.
A large chunk of the language department.
The name is so long because Banhan, a previous prime minister, donated money to fund it, so it is named after him and his wife, Jamsai. They’re from the Suphan Buri province, and a lot of buildings are named after them. Mr. Banhan actually just passed away in April. His son came to the school for a memorial ceremony and to give out scholarships, and while wai-ing all the teachers he actually stopped and chatted with one of the other Americans and I. Such a VIP moment, we were quite shell-shocked that he stopped to chat.
The memorial we had honoring Mr. Banhan senior. The above picture depicts the monks the school just whipped out of nowhere mid-ceremony. They spent about 20 minutes chanting during the ceremony while seated on tables in front of everyone, but I still have no idea what they were saying.
I am teaching mostly Mattayom 3, or 14 year-olds, with one 12 year-old class, however they act a little younger than kids in the US, so they are more similar to 10-12 year-olds.
Since arriving to Dan Chang I’ve seen hordes of stray dogs, I’ve seen maggots sold in the food section of a local market, I’ve been stared at compulsively for being one of the only white people in town, and I’ve stumbled onto monks on my ride to town. And I didn’t experience an ounce of culture shock until arriving at Banhan.
My First Day at Banhan: The Closest I’ll Ever Get to Actually Being Britney Spears
When I say that people stare at me for being white, I’m not exaggerating. In fact, in the case of the school children at Banhan, I’m under-exaggerating. When I first rode my green motorbike dashingly through the golden gates of Banhan, I seriously considered stopping to give autographs. I legitimately caused the jaws of numerous Thai students to drop, as they stared at me bug-eyed and open-mouthed. This is definitely the closest I’ll ever get to being famous. Apparently the arrival of the new “farang” had been widely anticipated for some time, both by the curious students and the teachers whose classes I would be taking over. Then began the “wai”-ing, where students bow to there superiors. I’m definitely a huge fan, bow down kids.
My class schedule, written in Thai of course. 421 is the golden room, the only classroom with air conditioning in our department.
Students still”wai” to me all the time, whether I’m on my motorbike or walking to the canteen for lunch, which is a Thai greeting in which one does a small bow to someone(usually older) out of respect. I wai to all teachers older than me, including P’nga(my coordinator), and especially the principal. The student teachers visiting to observe classes wai me.
A long time ago the King of Thailand came to Banhan 3, when P’nga was attending at age 14. She was selected to give him flowers on behalf of the entire school, and people still make fun of her because she forgot to “wai” him. She also told a story about how the queen looked at her at that moment, and said to her husband “My, the students here are quite large.” There’s a picture of this whole debacle on the front of the school, along with other pictures from the king’s visit. They really love the king.
In fact, there’s a picture of the king in front of the school, not that that is uncommon, as his picture is all over Thailand. Every classroom I’ve been in, plus the foreign language department office, has an image of him and the queen. On Tuesdays all teachers have to wear yellow, in honor of his 70th year on the throne. Yellow is his color because he was born on a Tuesday. Yellow is coincidentally not my color at all, and I did not own a single yellow piece of clothing before arriving in Thailand. I am now the proud owner of a super-Thai looking canary yellow old-lady-looking shirt that I bought for 80-baht at the local market, complete with an emblem of the royal family sewn on. Apparently I realllllly love the king too.
The foreign language department in Tuesday Mellow Yellow.
After I signed in on my first day, I was brought on parade in front of the entire school of 2,400 students at the daily morning assembly. I gave a short introduction of myself in English. I think about 2 people understood what I said, partially due to the fact that I still can’t grasp how slow I should speak for non-native speakers. But it’s fine, they clapped anyways. I also considered also sitting, staying, and rolling over, but didn’t want to show off.
A Day in the Life
The Thai school system is all about pomp and circumstance. Every morning at the morning assembly they play the national anthem, do a Buddhist prayer to a golden statue of Buddha, and recite a paragraph on how to be good citizens. P’nga informed me that they recently began to recite the good citizen chant every morning as a result of the military coup circa 2014. Everyone stops in their place when the national anthem comes on, even cars. This is customary in all of Thailand, even public train stations. On Mondays Thai teachers wear a military-like uniform. The reason why from the other American teachers is “I don’t know,” which seems to be a recurring theme. The students and Thai teachers also wear boy scout and girl scout uniforms on Wednesdays, back to the previously mentioned theme “I don’t know.”
The students all wear uniforms, with even their hair cut to identical lengths and in identical styles. All the girls have mushroom cuts up to their ears, all the boys have their hair shaved on the sides and longer on top. It makes it 1,000 times more difficult to remember their names and tell them apart, especially since I have difficulty pronouncing their names in the first place, and classes that average about 45 students. They also enter the gates in a line each morning, girls on the left and boys on the right.
From the outside, this would appear quite militaristic, as it looks in pictures. However, discipline-wise, it is quite the opposite. It is normal for students to talk when the teacher is talking, and showing up to class 10 minutes late is showing up on time. I don’t lay down the law until 20 we’re 20 minutes in. I am also having to introduce the students to raising their hands, and asking to leave to go to the bathroom. The Thai school system won’t fail a student, they know this, and some of them take full advantage of it. Or they’re just trying to take advantage of foreign me, but who knows.
As far as the actual teaching part, I was provided with no curriculum to teach, very few materials, and did not observe a single class before being pushed out of the nest into my first class. I’m joining the school a month into the school year(they start in May), and although I talked to the teachers who previously taught my classes, no one told me what they had already been taught, nor did anyone keep track of it. However, luckily I had been warned of this by the other American teachers, so I went in with my guns fully loaded. I also asked what I should teach, and I was told that I can teach whatever I want. Fetty Wap lyrics it is.
I really wish that I could carry a bunch of Thai students around in my pocket for a rainy day. They’re very chatty and loud and undisciplined by Western standards, but they’re very sweet. I get numerous “teacha very beautiful” from both my students and students I don’t know. I’m not saying I’m hot stuff, they also do this to the other American teachers, who have told me they get “teacher very beautiful” and “teacher very sexy.” It is unconfirmed if they do this to Thai teachers as well, subtweet @languagebarrier. Some of my students’ favorite questions to ask are “teacha have boyfriend?” and “why teacha no have boyfriend?”they must’ve been in contact with my mother.
A cute little drawing from one of my students on the first day, I think she meant to write “teacher.”
I’ve also received many complements on my eyes and hair. I’ve talked to the other teachers about this, and we theorize that part of the reason they do this is because they’re so used to people having similar features in their town. Everyone has brown eyes and black hair. One of the other Americans has a tiny bump on her nose that I didn’t even notice until another teacher asked her about it at a staff dinner. She said that students and even strangers point it out all the time, probably because they mostly have similar noses.
I have no idea what they feed the children here but I didn’t think it was physically possible for something living to have so much energy without spontaneously combusting. Classes mostly consist of me staring down the students until they stop talking(yelling is counterproductive), butchering their Thai nicknames, and cracking English jokes that I forget they can’t understand. In addition to butchering their Thai nicknames I’m usually giggling alone at what they mean in English. In my class Bank, Ice, and Benz were sitting next to each other, I considered putting on some Snoop Dogg. The other day the students said Pee was running late because he was “at the toilet.” Throw in a lot of students yelling “TeaSHAA! TeaSHAA!”when they want my attention(every5 seconds), and it can get quite rowdy.
The kids can be a lot but sometimes they make it worth it, two have even asked me about doing an exchange in the United States. Some are so intrigued by my American-ness that they stay after class to ask me about my life in the US. They also friend me on Instagram and Facebook on the reg. Unlike in the US this is not frowned upon, and it’s normal for teachers to be friends with their students on social media. They’re also hysterical to watch, and I spend a lot of time trying to stifle my laughter.
For example, the other day I sat at my desk and watched about 7 little Thai boys try to fix my projector. It was like an episode of the 3 Stooges- one would unplug something and another would bop him on the head, while a third one chimed in and reprimanded them both in Thai, before getting bopped by another little boy.
Legit Thai food from the cafeteria for 20 baht makes it all worth it. Actual photo of what I usually eat for lunch, as navigating the cafeteria when you don’t speak the language is a struggle. “Gai Saigon” (chicken to go)
I have one student who’s very tall and large, which is quite rare in a Thai school. Every day before walking into class he marches up to the doorway in his military-esque uniform, stops dead at the door, tilts his chin up, and very properly yells “MAY I COME IN PLEASE.” in a slight British accent before failing to wait for a reply and marching in. Even when he’s 20 minutes late and I’m in the middle of a lesson. Hard to put this spectacle into words, I need to get it on video.
With reference to the above picture of my lunch – another huge plus, the cafeteria serves really freaking amazing Thai food, at 20 baht a pop. But some of the menu items are a bit strange- for example the “ice cream sandwiches.” Maybe someone told Thailand that ice cream sandwiches were trendy and forgot to provide a picture of what an “ice cream sandwich” was? Because I see students every day walking around with literal “ice cream sandwiches,” as in scoops of ice cream folded between white bread. Again, I don’t know.
Like I said, between the flattery and people finding me so interesting just for looking western, I’ll probably never reach this level of fame again in my life.