On Tuesday morning this week I am filling in for another teacher at a different school before returning to Piboonsawasdee in the afternoon. This will be my first substitution this school year and I’m looking forward to it. It might sound odd but over the years some of my best lessons have been (often last-minute) fill-ins with minimal preparation and, more times than not, without the benefit of a lesson plan or classroom notes left by the teacher I’m replacing.
You might say that I’ve become a “professional” substitute teacher as it’s something I’ve been called upon to do quite often throughout my teaching career in Thailand. At Kajonkietsuksa School, my primary role for the first several years I worked there was as a Lower Primary Reading teacher. The format of the Reading lessons meant that there were usually two teachers in the classroom at a time – I would work with the homeroom teacher. Because of this, I could (and would) be asked to help out when other teachers fell ill or were called away (on visa runs, for example).
I quite liked the substitute lessons as they tended to break up my routine and gave me confidence as I increased my teaching skills. As there was often little time to prepare I learnt how to enter a classroom and pick up where the regular teacher had left off. That usually meant a quick glance at a student’s notebook and anything else that might prove helpful. Usually a lesson plan couldn’t be found! Yes, I enjoyed that and always felt good afterwards. Strange but true: the kids in Thailand seem to pay more attention to the substitute than their regular instructor (quite the opposite from in the States!).
At Kajonkiet, I proved quite reliable – my supervisors found that I rarely said “no” and that I always tried to do the best lesson I could. Occasionally, I would be double-booked and that created a bit of confusion and stress at times. But overall it was a great learning experience.
During my first school year working at ECC I had Wednesdays off at Piboonsawasdee School. That meant that I was available for substitutions one day per week (and occasionally did more). That meant that I would be teaching in different schools rather than just different classrooms. That brings the experience to an entirely different level. While the kids act the same at all the schools, I find the scariest thing is simply finding the classrooms I would be teaching in. You can’t rely on signs above the doors (many don’t have them at all – those that do are printed in Thai only so I had to learn to read Thai numbers); at one school, one of my lessons was actually in the Science Lab rather than in a regular classroom. Most of the schools are a complete maze and sometimes there is no logical numbering system to the rooms.
I’ve also done a number of in-house substitutions which means teaching small groups or one-on-one lessons at ECC’s language school at Central Festival Mall. I’m usually asked to fill-in for these with a day or so of advance notice. Once or twice, I’ve arrived at the school early to prepare for my regular in-house lesson (well, mostly to do a bit of online computer work) to find that another teacher hasn’t arrived for one reason or another.
“Can you teach a class right now?” the slightly panicked branch manager asked me as I approached the entrance a couple of Saturdays ago. “What book are they using? Where exactly are they in the book?” was my answer. I don’t know who I’m trying to satisfy more – my employers or the kids – but I wouldn’t think of not helping out. (Well, perhaps I would admit that I wouldn’t be able to teach Chinese, Japanese, or German if asked to substitute for one of those teachers!) This particular lesson was a Phonics class and I flipped through the book while walking to the classroom and plunged right in upon opening the door.
In all of my substitutions, I’ve only had one lesson fall flat (and I’ve only been teaching for a little over five years). It was the aforementioned Phonics class that seemed somewhat less of a success. The lesson itself went well but as an extension I asked the children to color various items in their workbook representing the sound they’d just learnt. The three boys gleefully took to the task without a problem. But the sweet little girl (I’d guess she was three or four years old) turned suddenly into a little monster. She kept dumping the canisters of colored pencils upon the floor and when the boys and myself tried to pick them up she would turn off the light in the room. Then she started kicking the pencils under the door into the hallway. I tried everything I could think up but just couldn’t reel her in; this went on for perhaps twenty minutes. Exhausting and a bit frustrating. But humorous at the same time. . .
At any rate, hopefully I haven’t lost my touch. I’ll be teaching the P2 and P1 students at Wat Kajonrangset about animals in the zoo. I’ll post an update and let on how it went.