As some of you may know I have recently embarked on a new endeavour. I am taking my Early childhood Education program via Algonquin college. As an assignment I had to write a teacher reflection on an experience that influenced my desire to work with children. Here it is...
In 1997, I quit my job as a Registered Practical Nurse, and took a leap of faith, into the unknown. Although, I was not a teacher, I moved across the globe and became an English teacher in Suratthani. This town of 60,000 is situated 12 hours south of Bangkok, Thailand. It is not what you call, a tourist destination but it is a great little city to live, if you want to immerse yourself in Thai culture.
The only qualification that landed me the job, was a certificate, which I earned over a weekend. I call it my fast food, TESOL course. This experience of living in a foreign land, and learning to do something, I had never done before, was enriching. It changed me, from the inside and out. I discovered a passion for working with children, the diversity of culture and how to effectively work with others. Living abroad opened my mind and in essence became my school of life.
Mathus, the school itself was a private school, which hosted after school English programs and weekend classes, to children from kindergarten to high school. I was set to teach 4-6 year olds. Each class had a name and mine were The Starfish and The Shrimps.
My orientation to Mathus was very short. It consisted of a day where I was introduced to my students, had a tour of the school, the small resource library and my classroom, which was very basic. It’s white cement walls held a whiteboard, a corkboard, and a shelf with a small boom box. There were no desks, no chairs, only a clean, laminate floor.
The teacher’s office was small. It barely fit the 5 foreign teachers (4 Canadians, 1 American) and their desks. In Asia people are used to living and working closely together. As a Canadian who was use to personal and working space, this was as an adjustment. Not only did we work in a tight space but we were the only 5 foreigners out of 10, living in Surat at the time. We worked together and were each other’s playmates. Wherever we went Thai locals approached us to practice their English and to simply fulfill their curiosity, of us foreigners. We nicknamed our office, the fish bowl, because it had a wall to ceiling window, where Thai adults and children would peer in to have a peek at the “falangs” (foreigners). This experience taught me much about acceptance and patience of others and cultures.
I was a new teacher, and filling in a brand new position, with brand new students. There was no curriculum, and from the get go, I had my work cut out for me. The learning curb was steep. I put my heart and soul into learning how to teach English to Thai children. I spent hours reading books, and searching the Internet and practiced what I learned on my students. I found a great joy in my students and learning from them.
I used the Let’s Go series as a curriculum guideline and followed my student’s lead for further direction. It became obvious that a good teacher encompasses many qualities; patience, compassion, observation skills and a passion for building upon what was previously learned . I came to understand that a class structure with interesting delivery was needed to keep my students engaged; otherwise the children ran circles around me, talked over me and basically did not listen. None of these children spoke English and I did not speak Thai therefore we expressed ourselves with smiles, frowns and hand gestures.
The school Thai system teaches their population by rote. Children sit at desks all day, memorizing text and repeating what the teacher says. They wear uniforms and girls keep their haircut to shoulder length and the boys shaved at the sides and a little longer on top. In my Western viewpoint it all seemed very military like. English class at Mathus was quite different from what they were use to, and they loved it.
Our class structure was fun, opening with circle time, followed by a review, an introduction to new material and games to solidify, and bring everything together. I had fun creating flashcards and interactive ways where the children could be empowered in their learning. I discovered the value of phonics and overtime the results started streaming in. The children, who once only spoke Thai, started speaking some English. They also started to read. These accomplishments drove my passion further, and I fell in love with my students, and the process of learning from one another.
To this day I still remember many of my students, and one especially comes to mind. Her name was Pang, her dark brown eyes sparkled with defiance and was a discipline problem. She talked during lessons, hit and bit other children and was a little terror. I found it difficult to stay patient and learned that teaching brings you deeper into yourself. You are always having to self-evaluate, and do those things that cultivate patience, and appropriate actions that support your students. In this time, I started to deepen my yoga and meditation practice, which I found helped foster those qualities that make a good teacher.
Although, I had a personal yoga practice, Pang continued to be a challenge. I worked with P’Nong and Pang’s parents to find solutions to help her, be successful in class. We tried the classic time outs, but those only alienated her and confirmed her feelings of being a bad person. One day, I decided that I was going to bombard her with positive reinforcement, that I was going to build her up with compliments, and encouraging words for positive behavior. Guess what? It worked. Pang became a model student and she grew in confidence and thrived. We became special friends and thanks to Facebook, we are still friends, to this day. Pang taught me how believing in someone with positive feedback can help someone
My days as an English teacher, in the heat of Thailand, will forever be in my heart. It is this experience that propelled me forward to leave my nursing career and to open a home daycare. I am now taking the ECE program with a dream of opening a center that will foster the growth of children and their parents. I am driven to continue living with a passion for children and their families.