Three’s a Crowd (Third Week and Weekend)

Brushing my hair Monday morning, I felt something tickle my arm, thinking it was a hair I looked down and it was an ant. They’re back in my bedroom again. I moved the ant trap put of the bathroom into my bedroom and they swarmed it. They were all over my table. Before walking to school I bought some rice, from the people selling rice near my apartment, to go with my leftover seafood lunch. Upon arriving at school, I noticed an ant on my skirt, then one on my laptop, then several more on my desk. The ants had been on my table and gotten on my laptop; I put my laptop in my backpack and brought the ants to school. Fortunately, there were no ants in my lunch, just ants all over my desk.

My morning students were noisy and did not want to participate in the games I had planned. When I finally called off the games as class neared an end a bunch of students demanded more games. I gave them the homework game to play, they weren’t too happy about that. One boy followed me out of the classroom to ask me questions about the homework game because he didn’t understand it. I was very proud of him for doing that because I think there were several others who did not understand and just did not bother asking. He and his best friend turned in their homework early, each with original sentences. I was very proud they did not copy each other.

As I sat at my desk trying to figure out what to do with the monster classes today, the teacher in charge of all my work permit and teaching license paperwork stopped by. Earlier they had made a bunch of copies of my transcript and passport and had me sign them. As I found out today, I did not sign them in blue ink so I had to sign them all again. For some of them I just traced over my signature, the teacher found that highly amusing. Blue ink is the way to go when signing documents in Thailand. One of my coworkers mentioned to me that there was no electricity or water all day in our building; I was not the only one with that problem. She said she just slept all day because she didn’t know what else to do.

On my way to my monster classes a random student took my notebook from me and carried it to class for me. My huge monster classes weren’t too bad of a monster this week. They were definitely worse last week. We played games and they seem to pay attention to games, I just need 17 more weeks’ worth of speaking games for large classes, which should be easy… right? Fifteen year old boys are like six year old boys, only bigger. I had to stop the game because two boys almost got in a fight over the rules of the game. Each was calling out the other for using phones and were getting in each other’s face about cheating. The irony was not lost on me. During the second class a bunch of the boys were popping each other’s zits so I called them to the front of the class and made them act out the verbs on the board. Singling out students and bringing them to the front of the class might not be the best teacher strategy but I had it up to my eyeballs by that point.

I went to dinner at Henry’s restaurant as usual. His youngest daughter was there working on homework, she goes to the school where I teach. She asked me for help with her English homework, we sat for over an hour with her homework. Her English is really good, I wish all my students were that good at English, or even half as good as her. She is not in English Program but Henry says she always get the highest grades in her class in English. She didn’t need my help, just a little guidance and encouragement. Henry gave me dinner on the house for helping her and took me home on his motorcycle. Since I was wearing a skirt, he told me to just ride sidesaddle. I rode sidesaddle on a motorcycle. After a bit I finally relaxed and enjoyed the ride but still worried that my skirt was going to get caught in the wheel or that I would fall off backward.

I missed the sunset today but there is a storm coming. From my balcony, I watched the lightening approaching, pretty cool. I also had a nice chat with my neighbor and she said she would hang out with me some weekend; we could go into Chon Buri together or go to Pattaya together. I researched dive centers today. One sounds great in Pattaya (basically my backyard). I’m excited for the weekend!

The ants were gone Tuesday; I am on the lookout for their next reappearance. Tuesdays are one of my crazy days with lots of back-to-back classes. A bell has started ringing at the end of the periods, still no passing period. The bell is a nice chiming tune, except around lunch time it is “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” and at the end of the day it sounds like a clock chiming the hour. Everyone is on Thai time, classes start and end when they happen to start and end. The bell seems more like a formality. Every day I have to sign in, everyone signs in according to when the person before them arrived. Even though I arrive at school at 7:45 every day, my sign in sheet says I arrived at 7:10, because the person before me arrived at 7:05. It’s another formality.

I have tried doing presentations in several of my classes. The students seem to think they are presenting to me instead of their classmates and their classmates seem to think they don’t have to listen. There is a lot to teaching besides just teaching the students English, like teaching them how to listen. I was talking with one of my coworkers and she finds it frustrating even though you spoon feed the students they still want you to give them the answers. And we have, they just have to say it themselves. In my social studies class the students each got part of the chapter on population, each group had to take notes and present the notes. The groups listening had to take notes. At the end we had an open-note quiz on the whole chapter. Most of the students could not even answer the questions about their chapter. It was quite frustrating. Seems I will have to lecture about the chapter, not that they listen to me either. So much for trying something different, I will have to train them more.

Henry gave me dinner on the house again, I feel like I didn’t give his daughter that much help to get two free dinners. I am very thankful for being well fed. I swung by the Tesco Lotus and got the candy I have seen my students eating. It’s called Ole, and I got the strawberry flavor. It tasted like strawberry candy, it was a hard candy but the center was filled with sour powder. That was an unexpected surprise, I was not ready for it. I also successfully did laundry today. It was really easy, you just put in the coins and the washer senses how much laundry you have and it starts all by itself. Just like in China, there is no dryer, but at least the washer is automatic. However, Thailand is much hotter than China so I anticipate my clothes will dry faster. In China, it took days for clothes to dry and they started to smell because they were damp for so long. Though, as in China, I think my clothes will stretch out here. I think it has something to do with hanging them up while they are still damp. But, I am loving the sports clothes I brought from Eddie Bauer and L.L. Bean because they were mostly dry when I took them out of the washer since they are made of quick drying fabric.

As I was walking down my street to school Wednesday morning, one of the teachers stopped on her motorbike and offered me a ride to school. I tripped over the gutter in the street and decided that a ride would probably be nice. I realized after getting on that I probably should have ridden sidesaddle because my skirt went up way too high. But I was glad I didn’t because this teacher was the typical Thai motorbike driver, she was weaving in and out of traffic, a couple times I thought we were going to hit a car. We arrived safely at school.

At the morning ceremony I found little holes in my newly washed shirt. I really hope it is not from the washer, the washer in China put holes in shirts too. It would be upsetting if Thai washers were like that to. Or the shirt is just old and old shirts get holes in them. Or there is something in my closet snacking on my shirts. For breakfast I think I had fried egg with ketchup and hot dogs over rice. The breakfast woman was trying to get me to try new foods. The reason I get the fried egg and chicken is because I actually know what it is. Breakfast today was a mystery.

Wednesdays are quiet days for me; I only have two classes, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The afternoon class was poking fun at my accent. We were playing telephone and charades, many of the students could not understand what I was telling them. Apparently, kitchen sounds like chicken, look sounds like mook, and kick sounds like click. Maybe I need to articulate more when I whisper. Or maybe my students need to work on their listening skills. When playing telephone in teams many of the students skip other students to be the first one done. It undermines the point of the activity, which is speaking, and listening, yet when telephone is played as a class many of the students get bored. It is an interesting catch 22.

I was craving sweets after dinner so I went to the Tesco Lotus and got some Thai knock-off Oreos. They tasted like normal Oreos except they were tiny, like bite-sized tiny. I dipped them in a peanut butter to go cup that I brought with me back from America. One thing I missed in China was peanut butter. They have peanut butter in Thailand but in very tiny containers for a very high price. Their Nutella is even more expensive. Mayonnaise is relatively cheap compared to the other two.

Thursday was an average day. I have a decent sized break of four class periods in the middle of the day. I used that time to brainstorm lesson plan ideas for the rest of the semester. I didn’t get too far but I have an idea of the direction of where my classes are going which makes me feel more confident. Now I understand the importance of all the lesson planning, it does wonders for your confidence knowing you have thought everything out beforehand. Giving the lesson plans a direction feels even better.

I think the heat effects my eating. Some days it is just too hot and I don’t want to eat. Today was one of those days. I passed a Thai teacher on the way back from my class and he says “Teacher, it’s too hot.” I agree Thai teacher who I do not know, it is too hot. The sun was brutal today. I forced myself to go to lunch even though I was not that hungry. The people in the noodle shop know me by now, I’ve been going there for lunch for the past three weeks. Today one of them gave me a bowl with orange things in it, she explained what they were (in Thai). One of the orange things was shredded, there were a couple of orange balls that looked like peeled grapes, and an orange flower made from a pastry in a cup. The orange shredded thing tasted like sweetened coconut, it was so good. The orange peeled grapes tasted like sweetened vanilla (though one was so strongly flavored it tasted like soap). The orange flower was sweet, sticky, and spongey. I have no idea what I ate but it was really good.

I saw one of the other English Program teachers in her class, she was trying to get the boys in M3 to behave. One boy was dragging the other boy across the floor and all the boys watching were laughing and egging them on. She was standing there telling them to get up off the floor but they were ignoring her. I am thankful that does not happen in my class and wild classes are not only my problem. I have been getting better at maintaining the classroom. My classroom management is far from perfect but I have been getting better. The students are required to stand a greet the teacher at the start of each lesson. Many times the students did not do that for me, now I have been waiting until they greet me before starting the lesson. It remind them (and me) that I am the teacher.

I had M1 and M4 at the end of the day. M1 did not want to greet me when class started. They all sat sullenly in their seats, only a few stood up, one girl was watching Cinderella on her iPad. I firmly waited until they all stood up and greeted me. They also liked the activity I had planned today, they really got into it and it was great hearing them use English. We were playing a game with adjectives. I had one boy use 5 adjectives to describe himself; he said “not beautiful, fat, short, stupid, brown.” His list was the saddest list I heard from anyone. After M1, I went to M4 but no one was in the classroom. This usually happens when the students were held late in a previous class. One of the M1 students told me that M4 “go home” sure enough M4 did not show up for their lesson. Apparently this is common on Thursdays because Thursdays are like a mini Sports Day.

I had dinner at Henry’s restaurant. He told me his wife wants to fatten me up before I go back to America so she makes me lots of food. I’m not complaining because I am usually hungry after school. Teaching really works up an appetite. Why does everyone want to fatten me up? Thai women are much skinnier and smaller than I am. On my way home a man on a bicycle stopped to chat with me. He can speak English but he said he has not spoken it in a while because he has had no one to practice with. He asked where I came from and I said America, he said he could tell because of my “Yankee accent.” Later, I was reading on my bed and heard a leaf skittering across my balcony. I freaked out because I thought it was another of those giant bugs. I had Skyped with my parents Wednesday evening and they told me that bugs come with the warm climate. Why was this not mentioned before I left?

Friday I stopped by a street vendor for breakfast since I have class first period on Friday and don’t have time to go to the cafeteria for breakfast like I usually do. I had a fried egg omelet, there was some sort of mystery thing mixed in with it that tasted like a cross between a mushroom and onion. It wasn’t bad but it certainly wasn’t good; I don’t think I will be eating that again. I am really hoping to have some of that fried dough I see on occasion. Yesterday was a meeting that I missed. Apparently, I was teaching so it was no big deal that I missed it. My coordinator gave me an umbrella which was handed out at the meeting. I now have a big orange umbrella. One of my coworkers went to the meeting. She said it was all in Thai so she couldn’t understand anything and she felt left out.

My first class was a little bit of a challenge, not an unruly challenge though. Today was the first time I have had this class since the semester started, and on all our three day weekends Friday is usually the day that gets cut out. Needless to say, I won’t be seeing much of them. They are M6 but their English level is really low. I walked into class and there were five girls sitting in the back of the class. I asked them where the rest of their classmates were (it’s a 35 student class), they looked around and said “toilet.” I highly doubt that 30 students were all at the toilet, more likely they had all decided to skip class or were coming late from morning assembly. I continued with the lesson.

A little over halfway through the lesson four boys came into the room. One of them in particular caught my attention, he seems like the kind of student who likes to give his teachers headaches. He had a better grasp of English than his classmates did (not a very difficult task seeing their lower level). When I asked where everyone was from, they all answered Thailand and he said Liverpool; when I asked how they get to class everyone answered with the standard bus, walk, motorbike, and he said helicopter. One of the questions they came up with was “why do you want to learn English,” most of them said because it’s fun, they enjoy it, they like it, and he said because teacher is beautiful. It will be an interesting semester.

At lunch I bumped into the same teacher at the noodle shop that I ran into there before. He acted as a translator between the woman at the noodle shop and me; what I had yesterday were traditional Thai desserts. Then, he showed me the rice shop around back of the noodle shop. He even introduced me to the cook, and told me how to order pork and lamb fried rice (I’ve forgotten already, yikes). The cook let us sample some pumpkin bread, or at least pumpkin bread is the closest thing to what we had. It was made from pumpkin but it wasn’t a strong pumpkin flavor, it was more subtle; and it was soft and spongey, like the inside of a dinner roll without the crust. The teacher has decided that I need to expand my food palate and I need to go to different food places.

M1 and M3 were very unruly today. They wanted to play games but not the games I had planned. Everything sort of fell apart, I stopped all games when students started screaming and standing on desks. Instead of games I had them write sentences. It was boring for everyone, now I have to grade the sentences. Ten of the 25 M1 students did not do the homework I assigned them to do. In Social Studies, M3 seemed to listen and take notes better when I was the one giving the lecture instead of their peers. More work for me and less fun for them. I really need a stroke of creative brilliance to figure out how to get these students motivated to learn and use English and pay attention in class.

Saturday, in an effort to make friends, I agreed to go to Central (a mall) with some of my coworkers. We didn’t leave until 1 so I had the whole morning to myself. I slept in then wandered down the street looking for breakfast. Breakfast was pork. The woman sliced it thin and heated it up, then she added onions and a bunch of other stuff, including lime. I also got rice and chocolate milk to go with my breakfast. It was okay, the flavors were quite complex. The worst part was when I got some in my eye, it burned and I had to flush it out with water. I think it was a one-time purchase, my curiosity has been satisfied. I spent the rest of the morning reading.

My coworker and I took the green bus into Chonburi and then the red pickup to Central. I passed it on my way to the beach last week. On our pickup ride I heard a small “hello.” I looked around, not seeing anything, thought it was my imagination. Until I heard it again. Next to us on a motorcycle was a small girl and her family. She said hello again. I waved back and she got a huge smile on her face. One thing I miss about teaching the younger students was their confidence. They wanted to use their English to communicate because it was exciting for them to use these words and have a foreigner respond. The older students are more concerned about having the words be correct than with communication.

Central was all deked out for Christmas: lights, tree, and Christmas music. Apparently it has been that way since the start of November. My coworker has a fear of seeing her students outside of school. She was constantly on edge because here students could be anywhere. It was quite funny when we heard, “hello teacher,” turned around and there were her students. I purchased a USB reader for my camera memory card so I have access to my camera’s pictures now. We ate at a restaurant in the mall. As we were waiting for our food my coworker points out some of my M3 students. We were inside the restaurant and they were outside so they didn’t see me. It was a strange feeling seeing my students outside of the classroom and out of their uniforms. For dinner I had spaghetti and ice cream. I was feeling a little homesick. The ice cream was so delicious. It was a chocolate marshmallow sundae, there were chocolate pieces, marshmallows, whipped cream, and brownie bits in the chocolatiest ice cream I have ever eaten.

It started to rain as we were leaving. All in all it was a good day with my coworker. I enjoyed getting to know her a little better. She told me I am the same age as her younger sister and I am tall like her sister too. We are both lonely being away from home and we are both frustrated with our students. She has some of the same problems with her students that I have with mine. These problems are not just me, but everyone. It’s the students not my teaching. So now what can I do with them? She also told me a lot about the midterm, I guess they want it to be multiple choice. I don’t understand the logic of giving a multiple choice exam for a communication class.

Sunday was a church day. I had gotten chocolate banana muffins while I was in Central on Saturday. They were delicious for being Thai chocolate banana muffins, almost tasted like America. Church was similar to last week. We had a different translator this week and she held the microphone farther away from her mouth so it was harder to hear her translation. It is interesting to see the difference between church in America and this church. This church is all people who have converted from Buddhism. Christians only make up 1% of Thailand’s population. After the service I went to lunch with some of the other foreigners. We went to a chicken restaurant. It was so good! I had crispy chicken with noodles. I wish it was closer so I could eat it whenever when I want. It was a good food day. I napped the rest of the day while it stormed. It was a good storm, thunder, lightning, and lots of rain. It seemed to cool everything down but the rain brings humidity. I spent the rest of my evening writing multiple choice questions, and lesson plans.

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