There’s a bit in the first Mr Bean film where, having been mistaken for a world-famous art historian, Bean is shoved in front of a microphone and told to deliver a half an hour speech on a famous US painting. He bluffs his way through it, yet this only results in his audience believing in his mastery of the subject even more so.
This is pretty similar to how I feel having to deliver a speech every morning here. A couple of weeks ago headmaster Pilot had the idea of making me say a few words in front of the school’s opening ceremony every day rather than every so often, so now every morning I’m shoved in front of about 250 kids shortly after waking up with no idea where to begin or what to say. So generally, my speeches will involve me sheepishly walking up to the front of the crowd of schoolkids, all eagerly staring at me, and I’ll say the following:
ME: “Good morning students!”
STUDENTS (in unison): “Good morning teacher!”
Then there will be a slight awkward silence where I try to think of an interesting thing to talk about that will please both the teachers and the kids. Eventually I’ll give up and revert back to the same question I say about 10 times a day anyway:
ME: How are you today?
STUDENTS: I’m fine thankyou!
More awkward silence. By this point I’ve gone through everything I know, and I have no idea what else I’m supposed to be saying.
Seeing this, Bubpha will give me the signal that it’s time for me to stop talking.
The kids clap.
Naturally this same scenario played out this morning like it normally does, but since Bubpha had indicated to me that I should talk about my weekend I at least had something else that I could go onto. Of course, since I was in Lop Buri this weekend it meant that I spent the next 5 minutes talking about how much I love monkeys, but the kids seemed to find that funny, plus they understood what a monkey was without Bubpha having to translate it. I was happy that I’d finally managed to make a speech that lasted longer than 30 seconds too – even if, like Mr Bean, I’d managed to pull it off without really realising it.
Bubpha told me that there were inspectors coming to Watphachi School today so, much like every British school that panics whenever the word ‘Ofsted’ is even mentioned, the teachers were mostly preoccupied with putting up nice displays and making sure the kids were all nice and polite. Despite this, I saw no evidence of inspectors at all throughout the day, the one exception being when I was waiting for a class on the third floor and saw Pilot and some other faces I didn’t know measuring trees on the far side of the school’s field. Personally I think this prompts more questions than it answers.
My afternoon lesson with Prathom 3 involved teaching them pronunciation of the alphabet for probably the third lesson in a row. Over the last few weeks I’ve realised that a lot of the kids in Pratoom 3 (Prathom is the Thai equivalent of England’s school ‘years’, by the way) tend to do nothing but sit quietly whenever I ask them a question. At first I thought that this was due to a fear of public speaking, but Bubpha told me today that the whole class is very bad at English and that nothing she tries to teach them seems to stick. Apparently they’ve had several different English teachers over the years yet are less experienced than some of the younger classes, and nobody seems to understand why.
My response to this was to suggest emphasising to them the basics of the English language, hence why the above photos show me holding letter and picture cards so they can study them further. Even during the lesson, however, I wondered if this was even an effective method of getting through to the class. You could probably tell a whole Thai school how to correctly pronounce the letter ‘Y’ and that it’s the first letter in the word ‘yellow’ multiple times, but it doesn’t really mean that they have a knowledge of how to use it outside of a classroom – they simply know how to answer the right questions at the right time. There are quite a few times whilst teaching here that I’ve wondered this same thing; I get that my purpose in the school is to help the pupils pronunciate and have a better understanding of the English language, but it feels like once they step out of the school grounds in the afternoon, that level of ‘understanding’ doesn’t leave with them. I’m probably simplifying this, since at the end of the day I’m not really a teacher – I’m an ‘assistant’, one who has had no experience in teaching within a classroom prior to this. But, as much as it sounds like that “How can I REACH these KIDS!” episode of South Park (I’m loving the weird TV and Film analogies today), it would be nice to know if I’m actually having any sort of lasting effect.