Yesterday I was the solo English teaching at Bangkhonthiinai – khon diaw as they say in Thai. Tod was otherwise engaged, Ken was at home waiting for a plumber to come repair a leaky drain, and Markus was with Tam in Japan. It reminded me of the “early days” of my teaching, when I was often the only person there.
One lesson I had to relearn yesterday is to tune out the background noise when working with the children. It seems that a group of children that age are incapable of working quietly unless they are being specifically engaged by their teacher. Sometimes I cannot work with the entire class at once and instead need to work with smaller groups or individuals.
Homework – gaanbaan – is a case in point. It takes a minute or two to review each child’s homework with them, but without that time to check and correct pronunciation, spelling and penmanship, the homework is wasted effort. But while I’m doing that, the rest of the children are talking, playing around, and constantly needing to be told haam kuey, khian dai! (Stop chatting; write!)
During one exercise where a group of children was practicing what to say when someone tells you they have a test or a competition (“good luck!”), the classroom suddenly went from ebullient to silent. I turned around: sure enough, Ajarn Yai was standing at the doorway. It takes the principal to bring order to my classroom.
For awhile Tod and I had requested that another teacher be in the room to help maintain discipline. That lasted for a few weeks but has faded away. I don’t blame them; when I (or we) am teaching it creates an opportunity for the regular teachers to get other things done. Still, the incessant din in the background makes it harder to the children to learn because they don’t hear or pay attention to what’s being said.
Thailand’s version of “No Child Left Behind” – George W. Bush’s education policy that mandates testing of U.S. students at various grade levels and teachers will tell you results in them simply “teaching to the test” instead of educating the children – is the Sixth Grade National Test. The sixth graders at Bangkhonthiinai will take their test on February 13th and last week I was given a copy of the English language section and asked to review it with the students.
Next week, in fact, we’ll do a special cram session just for the sixth graders. Reviewing the test as a native speaker, I find some of the questions a bit… awkward? For example, in one question there is a cartoon showing a man who has just bumped into a woman. The woman says, “Ow!” The man’s response should be which of the following:
- Excuse me!
- Oh! I’m Sorry.
- I’m very sad.
- I feel bad.
The best answer is number 2, but I’d argue that number 1 is completely appropriate, too. Maybe I’m just overanalyzing the test – I did that in elementary school, too – but I’m not sure it is measuring what’s really important.