My name is Tyler and this is my blog. I had nothing better to do after graduating college, so I decided to fly to Thailand to teach first-grade social studies for a year or so. These are my adventures.

Monday, June 28, 2010

First Full Month at St Gabes/Hua Hin/Muay Thai - Now with pictures!

So it's been a couple weeks, guess I should update the blog. I'm realizing how great of a way this is to simply write down and catalogue my experience - not just for others, but for myself. I didn't write down anything in New Zealand. Maybe I should go back and revisit my experience there at some point soon before I start forgetting names and places.

I have to start this blog out with a little rant about St Gabes, just because there's been a growing sense of disillusionment with what this job really is. Something that attracted me to the teaching position was the service aspect - that I would be out in the world making some sort of difference. At least that seemed to be an important part of the job for the Loyola priests. Unfortunately, this really isn't the case. St Gabe's is a private school. Most of these kids' parents are rich Thai yuppies. The motto of the school is "Nobody is left behind," but the vast majority of kids aren't the ones getting left behind. Also, if this motto sounds scarily similar to the Bush-era policy of lower standards known as "No Child Left Behind," you are sadly right. None of the kids fail. It's not allowed. I can't give out grades lower than a B-. Granted, this is only first grade, but according to others the low standards continue as they grow older. A good number of the kids understand this, too. Their parents simply give the school too much money for them to fail out. Not my typical idea of service. If only I would have known I'd be working at a prep school. Oh well, I still love my first graders and they certainly are still innocent enough for me to get too mad at the corrupt system.

I ended up switching a couple of my classes with another Loyola teacher today, who wasn't having too good a time with the Thai 2nd grade Social Studies teacher, Mr Pot. I actually don't mind him, its just that he's been teaching for thirty years and isn't too keen on sharing teaching duties with young Americans, especially women. I'm fine with it because it means less work for me to do, but I can see how frustrating it might be, especially for an education major. Today Mr Pot did an exercise with the kids and I read the answers in English. He then spent the rest of the period grading their work while I played around, making jokes with the kids. I can do that for nine months. No lesson planning, no grading, no worries. It also varies my days a little more. Teaching the same lesson over and over again each day gets old fast.

We have also decided to start planning monthly what we do for 8th period, which is already making the job less stressful. Zach, who I share the class with, and I have decided to make July "America Month" in honor of July 4th. What better way to introduce the kids to a new culture? We're gonna do a lot of basic history stuff and then move onto some more fun stuff, like American music and sports. Maybe have them do a project or something. I'm already relieved that we have a basic plan down so that I don't have to worry each day about what I'm doing later.

Funny story to relate. I taught "camp" for second grade last week, which is essentially just switching up subjects and doing something different for a few days. I did third grade camp a little while ago for Social Studies, but for second grade camp I got PE. We played "chairball," which is somewhat like basketball (actually closer to netball if you've ever seen it) but instead of hoops there are two kids standing on chairs holding baskets. The kids can't move when they have the ball but can pass it down the court and try to shoot in the basket. It was a pretty cool break from teaching for a few days, but the story doesn't really have to do with it. You see, after lunch, the high schoolers have the gym for some sort of mass meeting time - they squeeze hundreds of kids in there and they all sit down and I literally have no idea what they do but it must be some sort of mini-lecture or something. Anyways, I was waiting outside the gym with a class of second graders until they all filed out, but there were still four or five high schoolers standing outside the door laughing. I look inside and there's one kid sitting cross-legged in the middle of the gym, head drooped down, fast asleep in an empty gym. The gym teacher does not let the boys wake him up, however. Instead, he has the second graders enter the gym completely quietly and then sics around fifteen of them on the poor kid. So, waking up to tons of little kids yelling and running circles around him, the high schooler sheepishly runs out of the gym.

As far as non-school stuff goes, 2 weekends ago we headed down to Hua Hin beach about 2-3 hours south of Bangkok for a Jazz festival. We took the train down, which was probably a mistake, because it ended up taking like 5 hours - but we filled the time with rum. Next thing I know, I wake up Saturday morning on our hotel floor with a bad hangover. However, a day lazing around on the beach was a pretty good cure. As far as the actual jazz went, I was a little disappointed. I'm a big fan of the genre, from ragtime to swing to bebop/hard bop/cool/avant garde/fusion - its all good in my book. The festival was 100% acid jazz though, which basically means its not actually jazz at all, but more funk/r&b/soul. The headliners were "Incognito," a group who was apparently pretty big in the 80's with their hit "Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing," but I just wasn't feeling it at all.
Last weekend was uneventful. Some people went on trips but a few of us decided we were going to stay around and explore Bangkok, which didn't really end up happening. We tried to watch the All Blacks game at a bar on Saturday, but when we got there, they suddenly claimed to not have advertised the game - then claimed the game was the next day - and then said the satellite from Australia was broken. Oh well. That's Thailand for ya. We then got lazy and didn't explore the city after all. It's okay, there's still time.

Our lack of motivation over the weekend was made up for on Wednesday, when our supervisor gave me and Zach two free tickets to a Muay Thai boxing match. The only problem was that the tickets clearly said "Thai only" on them. So she gave us her brother's business card to show the guards at the gate. Apparently, her brother holds an important position in the Royal Thai Army. However, we got to the gate and they still refused us entry. So we called our supervisor back and she gave us her brother's number. We called her brother and gave the phone to the guard. To make a long story short, the VIP section of Lumpinee Stadium is pretty nice. We had a nice view of the match (I've got a couple videos up on Facebook) and didn't have to battle the frantic gamblers in the cheap seats. It was definitely a cool experience, and I'm sure I'll go back a few more times before leaving.

I finally put up a bunch of pictures on Facebook, so check those out if you use it. I'm thinking about getting a flickr account, so maybe I'll have a link there in a bit if I decide to. Tomorrow I'm going out to dinner with my tutoree's family so that should be pretty cool. Then we're probably going to do something for the 4th over the weekend - apparently there are some cookouts/parties for American expats so we might hit some of those up. I'll let y'all know what happens - I'm sure I'll have something to write about.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Settling In

So I guess it's about time for another blog update. No big adventures yet since the last update. A lot of time has been spent just getting used to the new schedule as teachers. I'm definitely starting to love my first and second graders. There's a clear learning curve for English, however. I'm giving the kids speaking quizzes made up of simple questions (1. What is your name, 2. What month were you born, 3. How old are you, etc.) Most of the kids understand question one, thankfully. Question 2, however, is the defining moment for most of the kids' understanding of English. If they know what month they were born in English, 9 times out of 10 they'll get every other question right. If they don't know, most likely they aren't going to know any other answer on the quiz.

As a quick side note, I've been grading some pictures the kids drew of their families. Underneath is the phrase "I love _________________ because _____________." Most of the kids just copy whatever the teacher wrote on the board, which was usually "I love my mother and father because they are kind." Two stand-outs however: "I love my father because he is my hero" (wow. . . how about that for heart melter?) and "I love my parents because they give me money" (not quite a heart melter, but at least he's honest)

I also managed to nab a tutoring job for two kids twice a week. So on wednesdays and thursdays i'll be staying after 8th period for another hour and end up getting home around six pm, but i'll be making an extra 1200 baht a week. This may be a frustrating job though, as the two kids seem to have very different problems. One kid clearly is actually quite bright, but it's evident that his family speaks no English and he also has some sort of hyperactive disorder as i have to tell him to sit down every 30 seconds to keep him paying attention. He can read English words very well though, and I think he more needs a clear understanding of what the Thai meanings of English words are. The other kid, I'm quite lost on. When he sees the written English text, he can answer my questions easily. When I speak verbally and take the written words away, he's completely lost. Even when I repeat words out loud, he loses comprehension: (CLASS ... class ... CLASS ... crass ... CLASS ... cass ... CLASS ... cat ...) I still don't know how he ended up on "cat." I'll ask him a question and tell him the answer, which he will repeat several times, then I'll ask the same question again and he'll have no idea. I really hope I can make progress with his listening comprehension, as I'm actually getting paid by the parents for this. I also got another offer to tutor once a week on tuesdays, 2 girls and a boy, which should be interesting as St Gabe's is an all-boys school and I haven't had any experience teaching girls.

My 8th period class (the one I teach by myself) went a little better this week. I'm switching days now with another teacher, so I'm only doing twice a week, which is just sooo much better. The other teacher came back after his first day with the kids, though, and just said to me "Man those kids are shitheads...." It's true. They are shitheads. Actually only a few of them are, but when you have a few of them in a class of only 15, it spreads like wildfire. It's really just a question of what activities we can find that will keep them distracted from being wild and hyper long enough to get something accomplished. I'm currently going through as many kids activities I can think of: 7-up, bingo, word searches, a more-PC version of hangman, mad libs. . . SUGGESTIONS ARE WELCOME.

SO I mostly resort to yelling at the top of my lungs and smacking my hand against the desk to get them to shut up. May be a little meaner then the "cool" teacher I envisioned I'd be, but at least I'm easier on the kids than the Thai teachers are. I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but there are still some teaching methods utilized here that wouldn't quite be kosher in the US anymore, mostly involving rulers. It's actually kind of difficult to get used to, but then again, sometimes I feel like pulling out my own ruler. Not to smack them of course. Just to make them think I might. Speak softly and carry a big stick, eh.

On the brighter side, we did do some traveling around Bangkok, visiting the Chatuchak Weekend Market, the largest market in Thailand and possibly the world. We went with a group of about half guys and half girls, and as we expected, the girls lost us within the first five minutes. It was insane though, just the range of goods and sheer immensity of the market. I doubt we even saw 10% of the market in the couple hours we spent there. Bought a Singha Beer shirt, the local Thai beer I've decided is the best of the lot (it's quite an unremarkable lot). We passed through the pet section, which was probably about the size of ten pet stores solely of the cutest baby kittens and puppies youd ever see crammed into tiny cages. There were some snakes and crocodiles for sale too. That would have been a surprise to bring back to our housing. Also, apparently this market is supposed to be one of the top places to work on bartering skills, but we all failed incredibly. "How much for the sunglasses?" "100 baht." "No no, way too much, how about 50?" "No. It's 100 baht." "Yeah okay."

This past weekend, we really didn't do much, just stayed around Bangkok and watched the football (translation: soccer) matches. Saturday night the US played England and you better have watched it. As a quick side note, if you aren't at all interested in football, that's quite alright. But at least recognize that a) this is one of the few truly global events connecting the people of our planet, more so than the extremely specialized, often expensive to learn and train events of the Olympics. Football is the one sport that anyone, rich or poor, can play, and as such it's the most popular sport in the world. B) This world cup is the first to be held in Africa, bringing international attention to the struggling continent. If you don't like the sport, at least understand and respect its significance instead of offhandedly saying things like "Who cares about the World Cup?" only affirming the stereotype of Americans as uninformed, chauvinistic isolationists.

Enough ranting. The US-England game was fun to watch, but the backpacker bar we went to was filled with pickpockets and cute, overly friendly Thai girls who clearly worked for the bar in order to reap a little additional profit. They also played dance music the entire night, which was distracting. Not that I'd care much to hear the commentators, because it's all in Thai, but I'd much rather watch football in a nice pub, sitting around a table with some friends and brews.

We also checked out the Dusit Zoo this weekend, which was pretty interesting. Lots of Southeast Asian animals that are mostly similar to animals in American zoos, but just a little different.

So I hope these blog entries aren't too long and boring. I want to kind of treat them like mini travel pieces, albeit more personal without that tight, journalistic tone. Hope you all enjoy! PS I promise I'll get some pictures up soon, I just haven't been taking as many as I should, and with one camera down I lost all my early photos. I wanna have some cool ones before I post them!