"Teacha! Teacha!" were the first words I heard as I walked through the gates of Pinpat Kindergarten School for the very first time. Little did I know this is what I would be hearing first thing every day when I arrived to school... Or entered the classroom... Or sat at lunch... Or walked past them. Once they knew my name ofcourse, it became "Teachaaaa Emmmmmy!"
I entered the gates and walked past the playground through the courtyard to where the students have their morning assembly. It's like walking through a rainbow. I noticed how colorful everything is: the playground, hopscotch on the pavement, walls, windows, and doors all decorated. The kids wear uniforms: white collared shirts with red checkered shorts for boys and skirts for girls. When my students spotted me for the first time, without knowing who I was or meeting me, they all ran up to me and next thing I knew I had 15+ tiny humans wrapped around me. It was in this moment that I was filled with so much joy and happiness. A sensed a feeling of both confirmation and relief knowing I made the right decision. I knew this would be worthwhile. And I knew this job was right for me. Hopefully I would be cut out for it too...
Now let me tell you something: I do not have a degree in education, nor do I have any teaching experience. It is certainly intimidating not knowing what to expect teaching an entire class for the first time. Let's not forget about the language barrier. I don't speak Thai. My students don't speak English. I might seem just a tad unqualified for the position... But I grew up in America and speak English as my first language. Countries around the world are looking for fluent English speakers to teach English. Pretty simple, right?
Before coming to school I did not have a syllabus or schedule or list of how many kids I was teaching. I didn’t even know what age my students would be. I guess I really had no idea what I was getting myself into other than I would be teaching English. When family and friends asked me questions about such details I just said, "I don't know. I guess I'll find out when I get there." The previous English teachers had left a few notes behind letting me know what vocabulary and units they had taught them: alphabet, numbers, colors, and toys. I was assigned my classes and found out I would be teaching Kindergarten and Pre-K. 3-4 classes a day. Classes range from ages, levels, and sizes. Ages range from as young as 2 1/2 years old to 6 years old. Classes range from 10-30 students. The younger students can barely even speak their own language yet. So imagine listening to someone speak a totally different language? It must seem like a bunch of strange sounds.
My role as a teacher is to teach them conversational English. Since I have young learners a lot of their learning will just be vocabulary words for now. I will be focusing on parts of the body, animals, food, family, and weather for the semester. Little kids love songs and surprisingly absorb vocabulary through singing quickly. They can hear the song just a few times and be able to sing it themselves. Think of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Roes” or “If You’re Happy and You Know It” and “The Hokey Pokey.” Those have been helpful for teaching body parts. For animals of course there is “Old McDonald Had a Farm.” Below is a video of one of my classes having just memorized a song.
Getting them to actually speak English can be very difficult for some as they are shy and speak so quietly you cannot even hear them. One thing I am struggling with the most is learning their names. Thai students have nicknames for their long Thai names. Many of their nicknames are short English words and some just easier to say. For example: TinTin, Donus, Tomtan, Bonus, Minmi, Captain. Some easier to remember are Tomas and Grace. For the most part many are impossible to say and spell, like Angpho or Thonkhing.
Not having a curriculum made it really difficult and intimidating at first, especially since I have had 0 teaching experience. But after the first day, utter chaos of me having no idea what to do.. I sort of got the hang of it. I came to be very impressed with what English they had previously learned. Now for the embarrising part. I sat on the floor with most of my classes, I stood up and realized I had brown stuff on my butt. My hands then turned blue from the whiteboard and I got that all over my pants as well. It wasn’t until the end of class one of the assistant teachers told me I had it on my face. I can’t imagine what the students were uttering amongst themselves when I faced them or turned around. blue face, brown butt. How embarrassing. Oh well!
You might wonder how you communicate and teach English when there is a complete language barrier. I am used to talking a lot and very quickly. But with Thai students, I actually barely say a sentence, just one word at a time. Visual aids like images or drawing on the white board is helpful. They know to repeat what I say and eventually they seem to understand. A lot of the time I feel like a mime, and I think I have gotten pretty good at it in just two days. All though trying to get them to keep quiet is impossible. I have tried a few methods and they all fail miserably. It wasn't until I learned the Thai word for quiet, (Thai): "เงียบ" / (English): "Ngeīyb!" that I finally got their attention. All at once they whipped their heads around and there was a moment of peaceful pure silence. They were probably shocked to hear a familiar word finally come out of my mouth. When in doubt, google translate will be your best friend.