Wow! It’s only the 14th of the month and here I am sitting at the laptop, contemplating a rare update to this blog. December is a month full of holidays here in Thailand but today is the last of those as far as I am concerned. But let’s back up two weeks and see what has happened in my life….
On Tuesday the 1st, I started working as a full-time teacher at a huge municipality-operated school just south of downtown Phuket Town (or, Phuket City as they have tried to rename it). This comes following six years as Deputy Head Teacher of my agency and working out of the office while doing occasional cover lessons at our various schools located throughout the southern portion of the island. Apart from working in the office on the weekends (and holidays, as it turns out), I have one school to go to each and every weekday and that really is a nice change of pace.
Even nicer is that I get to work with several other teachers whom I have known for quite some time through seeing them at our other schools or working with them at various outside activities (such as English camps) over the past few years. The others are all hard workers and whom I have always got on well with and we are all new to this particular school at the beginning of Term 2. It feels like a “superstar team” was assembled and I have a lot of faith that this will be a great school term.
I haven’t yet had time to take many photos while at my new school. However, here is my desk in the foreign teacher’s office, a selfie showing the sports field behind, the room identifier for my first lesson there, and a shot of kids leaving after the last lesson of the first week.
Of course, there is a bit of “culture shock” and a learning curve. My classes are all in the General Education Program (GEP) secondary levels (M2, M3 and M4). The students range in age from 13 to 16, with generally very little proficiency in English and even less interest in learning the language. The overwhelming majority have little to no respect for teachers (not even the Thai instructors) and many are downright rude in a variety of ways. There are some exceptions but they are few and far between. I teach a total of 17 English Conversation lessons each week, averaging 40 students in each of the non-air conditioned classrooms. As a cover teacher, I have become less strict in classroom management in recent years so I really need to find an effective way to deal with the trouble-makers and the sheer volume of non-productive noise.
The school is quite demanding in terms of paperwork and rules. I was finally given a curriculum at the beginning of my second week there and am currently immersed in writing lesson plans using the school’s proprietary three-page format and standards. I back-tracked and started with plans for the first week (for future reference if I remain in the same position next year as well) before starting those for weeks 2 and 3. Today, I plan to begin writing the lesson plans for next week and the one following. I also need to start assessments for nearly 500 different students (I see some classes twice or three times per week but most are only once each week) which starts with getting their nicknames onto the official class rosters and trying to put faces with the names.
Teachers are to be present at the daily ceremonies each morning which includes the singing of the Thai national anthem, two (or more) Buddhist prayers, and a number of long-winded speeches by Thai administrators. My position is among the M4 students which, when the sun is shining, is very exposed and hot. Luckily, it rained most mornings of the first week. We are also required to perform “Gate Duty” once per week which is standing at the main entrance to the school’s compound and greeting each student, parent and teacher as they arrive with the Thai wai and a hearty “Good morning!” We cannot leave until after 4 p.m.
The morning flag ceremony and mass assembly is an integral part of school life in Thailand. It can be an endurance test under the blazing Thai sun. On rainy days, the students perform the various elements (singing of the national anthem and the Buddhist prayers) while standing on the balconies outside of their classrooms.
This being December, each of the teachers has been assigned a different class of students to create a Christmas show skit for. I am paired with P3 in the Intensive English Program (IEP) which I have yet to meet due to my schedule in the GEP. All of the other teachers have already had rehearsal time with their students. I hope that I will have that opportunity either tomorrow or Wednesday. I had originally planned to perform the Clement Moore poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (also known as ” ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”) but was talked into having the children sing “The 12 Days of Christmas”. Luckily, I have a version of the song adapted for Thailand and will have them sing that (for example, “a monkey in a palm tree” rather than “a partridge in a pear tree”). Our teaching assistant (TA) wants the students to speak as well so I wrote a script with a humorous introduction in which a group of the kids are confused by the original lyrics to the song (“Why would I want a French hen? I live in Thailand!”). I just hope that their English ability is pretty good as we have so little time to put this together.
There have been a few “interesting” incidents during the first couple of weeks at this school. My favorite class is probably M2/1 which I saw for the first time on the 2nd. In the course of introductions, I mentioned that my birthday was 3 December. The next day, I was climbing the stairs to another classroom when all of the girls of M2/1 came into the hallway and serenaded me singing “Happy Birthday!” I wore a necktie on the first couple of days (it used to be a requirement for our male teachers but has been relaxed in recent years) and a number of the primary-level students I walked by started calling me “Mister Bean” causing me to stop wearing them. The ambivalence towards teachers is so great in M4/1 that almost all of the students walked out of the classroom after the initial greeting and sat (or lay down) on the hallway benches. I ended up going out there to teach the lesson.
Dress for success and you are rudely labeled “Mister Bean” but at there are at least a few students who seem to like their new teacher. In this school, most of the M2 students are still relatively good but M3 and M4 are real hit-or-miss. The boys in particular routinely arrive to lessons 15-20 minutes late and then completely ignore their teacher unless confronted at which time they make rude comments or gestures. At least the Thai teachers have the advantage of using “the stick” for discipline; the foreign teachers are not even allowed to send disruptive students out of the classroom or to do anything at all. We cannot even fail them as every student passes in Thailand; you do not even have to attend class. The best of teachers can try all they can but when the students have the understanding that they can get away with murder, it makes it exceedingly difficult to maintain control of all of them at all times. On the plus side, I do enjoy the walks to and from the campus (especially when it’s not raining) and the food is good (although it is no longer free for teachers).
I wrote in my last blog entry that I will continue to teach my weekend classes in the agency’s main offices in addition to teaching at the school during the week. Despite that, I have not yet worked a long stretch without a full day off. That will change following today (14 December). For our first week, we started on Tuesday and so worked only four days. Saturday 5 December was Thai National Day (the birth anniversary of HRH King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great) so our office was closed. I taught two lessons on Sunday and we had a short week 2 (Monday through Wednesday) as the school was closed Thursday and Friday for the Constitution Day holiday. However, one of my in-house students at the agency office wanted to have her lesson with me on Friday rather than Saturday so I did that; I also had two two-hour classes at the office on both Saturday and Sunday. The school is closed today (Monday) due to planning meetings for the upcoming General Election thus another short week starts tomorrow. I will not have another day off until New Year’s Eve. A potential conflict is brewing as the school has informed the teachers that we need to work on Saturday, 26 December, to make up for the extra day off today. My agency will not allow me to cancel the lessons I teach at the office so we will see what happens.
Whenever I was in my office located at the big shopping mall in the center of the island, I worked hard to finish Christmas decorations and party games between my classes.
From this account, it sounds like my schedule is impossibly busy. In reality, it is not that bad. I have light teaching days on Tuesdays (only two lessons) and Wednesdays (three classes) with four each on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays. There is plenty of time to do planning and other administrative duties between those teaching hours. In addition, I am getting plenty of exercise as it is a 30-minute walk to and from the school and many of my lessons involve climbing four flights of stairs in separate buildings to get to the classrooms. Most days, I am home by five or 5:30 in the afternoon giving me plenty of time to relax or work on projects in the evening.
The difficult endeavor is to try and not be completely lazy when I do have a day off. Luckily, I had something to do on the National Day; I went to the Phuket Philatelic Museum to purchase the most recent Thai stamps. There were two issued that day — a delayed release from August marking Queen Mother Sirikit’s birthday and one picturing the Thai national flag for National Day. I’d also missed the set of New Year’s stamps issued last month and I picked those up as well as some first day covers of stamps released back in 2018 picturing the current HRH King Maha Vajiralongkhorn. The next stamps scheduled for release by Thailand will arrive on 21 December, more delayed issues including two sets originally scheduled in May for the Coronation Day anniversary (including a gold-embossed 100-baht stamp) and one for the Royal Grandmother. I may need to obtain permission to leave the school between classes on that date as I expect the gold stamp to sell out quickly (past history has shown similar issues to significantly increase in value so I plan to purchase a few extras!).
I always enjoy my visits to the Phuket Philatelic Museum to buy Thai stamps. There are not many issued each year (especially compared to the United States or Australia), the designs are usually very attractive, and the total costs are quite low.
I spent this past Thursday (Constitution Day) at home but worked on my Philatelic Pursuits website all day and I read quite a bit as well. I plan to do quite a bit of writing today (this blog entry, lesson plans, and material for Philatelic Pursuits and, hopefully, my postcard blog).
Along the way, I have managed to maintain my Christmas Spirit and am delighted at how the local businesses all seem to be trying to outdo each other on elaborate Yuletide displays. One local restaurant posted a number of photos on their Facebook page last week showing the interior to be a veritable forest of decorated pine trees. My first thought was “It must be difficult for the wait staff to get through all the trees” but I really want to check it out one of these days soon. I have finished making the three games for our office’s holiday party (which has been switched from 19 and 20 December to just one day, the 27th) and decorating the lobby. I may still buy a small tree for either my teacher’s room desk at the school or for home. The local budget “big box” store has a huge selection of Christmas items on sale and I can get a fair-sized tree for less than US $10 there.
Baby, it’s HOT outside! The local Christmas decorations my look nice but consider that I was probably sweating in 90-degree Fahrenheit heat while snapping these shots. Seeing such festive scenes still puts me into a holiday mood, feelings that are sorely needed this year.
A huge variety of Christmas decorations for sale can be found at Big C in the center of Phuket island.
I broke down and purchased a combination birthday and Christmas gift for myself a couple of days ago, taking advantage of the 12.12 sales. It’s a Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 Lite, a very popular tablet that kept selling-out every time I put it into an online wishlist. I ordered it from a retailer in Bangkok so it will arrive sometime later this week. I am really looking forward to using it in my lessons; I tried using my old clunker (cheapo Chinese) tablet in two classes last week to test the potential and it definitely helped until the device completely froze-up (I doubt the Samsung will fail me). Anyway, it has been a long time since I have made such a major tech purchase and I cannot wait for it to be delivered.
As it gets closer to the New Year, I will try to report on my ideas for 2021 plans. I no longer call these resolutions because “changing plans” sounds better than “breaking resolutions”. I believe many of these will simply be a continuation of what I have been doing already as I am a fairly organized and content person and don’t really have anything major I feel needs changing other than trying to lose weight.
The best part of the day is stopping for an ice cream while walking home.
In addition to the routine of schoolwork, my immediate concern revolves around the Philatelic Pursuits website and my reporting of stamps issued in 2020. Currently, I am focusing on Christmas stamps and recently put together a checklist which I will publish to the site within the next week or so (once I have articles on most of the holiday releases). Following that, I may concentrate on reporting about the Chinese New Year stamps or a few other recent designs that I find interesting. I have yet to publicize any of the stamps already scheduled for 2021 and may wait until New Year’s Day to start those. I will only report on a select few countries and themes next year rather than making another attempt to cover EVERYTHING. I want to spent a bit more time with my other blogs in the months to come.
As far as Asian Meanderings, I do have one year-end wrap-up in the works: a listing of the books I finished reading in 2020. I doubt that I will attempt to put together statistics of music listened to or movies watched, however. Better to just leave this old year behind us. It was a weird one, to be sure. I hope 2021 proves to be better.