Boy, is teaching people in a different language hard! It has been getting easier with each week, but is still by no stretch of the imagination easy. The difference between where I am now and where I was 3 weeks ago is that I actually have a grasp on how much English my students actually know. This allows me to plan ahead for them more successfully, rather than being surprised by their level of knowledge the hard way. Unfortunately, it is still difficult to lesson plan every day for a set of six different grade levels with six varying degrees of ability. Actually, I should rephrase that. Each grade has a varying ability level, but the spectrum of ability within each classroom is even more severe than the spectrums between, so making plans for a specific class here is incredibly difficult. The age range in every class is at least 3-4 years, and in one or two of my classes is upwards of 5-6 years between the youngest and oldest student. Needless to say, when you have a student from Burma who is twelve-years-old and speaks Thai as his second language and English as his third language, and a student from Indonesia who is six-years-old and is still learning the written fundamentals of her own first language in the same class, it can be tough to make an engaging lesson that accommodates all 25 students. So yes, it is still a tough job, but it is getting easier and easier.
I’ve been picking up particular Thai phrases that are helpful in school from the kids. Even though most of the time the young students just stand in front of me and spout Thai at lightning pace, I eventually can grab a phrase or two that they are trying to tell me. I would cautiously recommend to anyone considering ESL as a career that they become proficient in world languages before jumping into the career, however. I’m at the point where my face and presence are regular enough to the students, and the same in reverse, that I have an individual connection in some way with mostly all of the students. There are inside jokes and tendencies that I have developed with many of them (almost all of them in Thai or just with body language, because it would be too difficult in English to be funny to them). My Sixth grade class was even able to ask me when I’m going home to America, and when I drew out the days we had left on a calendar they all started complaining that it was too soon and that I needed to come back –Or at least that’s what it seemed like. Again this is all in very broken English-Thai conversations–.
I’ve been trying to learn the names of my students more effectively as well. The task was so daunting at the beginning that I almost ignored it altogether. There are just too many students, and the names are just too difficult to pronounce. But this last week I committed to memorizing the names of my sixth graders, which is the smallest class, and I was able to do it! So I moved on to my fourth graders, and I’m getting close. If I can keep up the pace, maybe I’ll have this whole school memorized before I leave. The problem is, that will likely only make me miss them more when the time comes for me to go.
The weird stage I’m at right now is in coming to grips with the impermanence of my time here in Chiang Mai. Although I miss home so much and want to be back in America, I’m terrified by the idea that it could be years, decades, or even until the day I die before I have the chance to see these people again. What it takes to fly to Thailand is just more than I have the capability to do a second time financially. Maybe someday though, it would be great to come back with my family and show them the place I called home for a few months. So I’m here in this seventh inning stretch, where I miss home and want to go as soon as I can, but I love my home here and want the trip to stretch on forever…
Despite all that, I can’t forget that I’m not here on a vacation. I’m here to do a job, and my job is to educate young, underprivileged Thai students and S.E. Asian refugees in the English language. When I remember that I’m here helping people, it makes it easier to continue forward during those nights when I just want to sit and miss home. The lesson planning, the early mornings (comparatively), and long days all come together for an incredibly rich experience.