I have 36 children in my classroom. This is a small class compared to the other teachers who may have 38 or even 40. You think you have it bad with 26 in America.
My precious little Thai students
Before I got to Thailand, I was under the impression that I would be teaching English. Reading, writing, grammar, and conversation. I wasn’t exactly wrong, but why don’t you throw in science and math on top of it as well. Then try and teach them all together. Constantly. To kids who don't know what you are saying half the time. I teach 2, 3, or 4 periods a day, then the rest of the students’ day is taught in Thai. It is a little bit overwhelming trying to figure out what we should be teaching, but the first four days really went well. This was mostly because the first three days were “getting to know you/Halloween” days. Had that in the bag.
About the school: Anubanchonburi is the first STEM school to arrive in Thailand, and is considered extremely controversial to many. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. This type of school is so controversial, that the United States only has STEM programs, not schools. It is extremely difficult to find a school in the U.S. teaching STEM K-12. I am by no means an expert on STEM, so bear with me, but here is a little bit about what I know. Here in Thailand, I am integrating everything I teach. All of the subjects I listed that I teach are always building off of one another. For example, here is a snippet of my plans for this week:
Our reading unit is called “A Sandwich.” We will talk about McDonalds and if it is healthy or not, watch a clip from Super Size Me, and experiment with packaged food. This incorporates most of the elements I teach.. Again, reading, writing, conversation, phonics, and science. Probably math too if we get into working with the nutrition facts on the back of the packaged food. The Sandwich unit has a workbook, so there are also reading words, sentences to write, and the connections go all week long. This week will probably be the least interactive week out of the whole term, as I have to travel to Laos for the latter part of the week.
STEM is hands-on. Seems to be the complete opposite of what we are in the U.S. What teacher didn’t go into teaching thinking that they would be able to do projects and exciting activities?! Steps in the process of teaching STEM are plan, design, label, and build. Then students should write as often as possible and reflect. Last week, I showed a powerpoint about Halloween because they don't celebrate Halloween in Thailand. I then had the students design their own Halloween costume. We brainstormed materials they could be made out of and then they labeled their costumes with chosen materials. I never once said that we were going to make these costumes. I actually didn't plan on making them at all. The next day though, I had four students bring in their own materials from home to create the costumes. I was so thrilled. They have been working like this for 3 years and they are excited to do these types of things!
Even though this sounds wonderful, remember that STEM is controversial. This is because of testing. Parents, teachers, and administrators get nervous that the children will not pass the exams. It happens at home and it happens here too. In Thailand, there is testing in grades 3 and 6. How can the children possibly pass when students are constantly doing ‘arts and crafts’?! It is not just that. Thailand has indicators, just like the US has standards. For each grade, we have to teach certain indicators by the end of every term but here, we get some flexibility in when we teach what topics and how we teach them. It’s a great system if you ask me. The children have to be taught these indicators and it doesn’t matter the topic. We are expected to get creative. If the topic is rain, students can design and build rain gauges, like they did last term with the teacher before me. That is exciting, fun, and relevant for Thai students, especially during Thailand’s rainy season, which lasts for half a year. Children are more likely to remember facts about rain if they have done a cool project to go with it than if they are being lectured. If I never come back home, it will be because I have found a school that lets me teach the way most teachers picture themselves teaching.
Some more about STEM:
How does the United States compare in STEM Education?
-The World Economic Forum ranks the United States 52nd in the quality of mathematics and science education, and 5th (and declining) in overall global competitiveness
-The United States ranks 27th in developed nations in the proportion of college students receiving undergraduate degrees in science or engineering
-There are more foreign students studying in U.S. graduate schools than the number of U.S. students and over 2/3 of the engineers who receive Ph.D.’s from United States universities are not United States citizens
About the children:
Like I said, 36 2nd grade Thai students. 36 Thai students who behave better than having 10 American students in one room would. They behave so well for a couple of reasons. First is because their parents pay for them to come here. This ensures a good education and native English speaking teachers who will make sure their children learn English. Second is because they are disciplined, and I believe they may be scared of that discipline. I assume they are disciplined at home if they come home with a bad grade, just like they are disciplined at school for various reasons. The Thai teachers are extremely strict. When my Thai teacher is in the room while I’m teaching a lesson, my kids are on their best behavior. Their excellent behavior is something that I don’t think I have ever witnessed before in a classroom, and I enjoy it.
The kids are adorable. They are so curious about the new Americans in town. TEACHA TEACHA is what I hear all day long. Their English is pretty decent already, and I can’t wait to help them learn more. One thing I love is that they all have nicknames so us Americans can hopefully call them something with no fumble (kidding.. it helps, but it’s just another cultural thing that Thai people do). Some American-ish nicknames are: Rat, Stamp, Ice, Guy, and Pooh. There is I-fon (pronounced iPhone) and more Thai names like Yumi, Mew, and Chokun. They are all just too cute and bring presents all the time. At the end of the day on my first day of school, one of the girls handed me a plastic bag with a Tweety Bird stuffed animal inside. She wrote duck and I’m heppy on the outside. I told her it was very nice and she said ‘For you Teacha, for you’!! I have zero clue what the significance of the gift was, but I accepted and greatly appreciated it. These kids will continue to confuse me every day, but each time I find myself at a disconnect with a student, I just laugh. Our language conflicts are silly, and eventually through large gestures and asking around the room, we’ve always gotten on the same page, and I think it will only get better!