Friday was the final day of school – or nearly the final day, depending on whom I asked – at Bangkhonthiinai. Wanting to take the opportunity to see the children before the end of the term, and a final chance to see the graduating sixth graders, I drove down to Samut Songkhram province with Kobfa, Ken and Markus.
Left: First and second grades, with one sixth grader on the right.
Our arrival was eagerly anticipated and we soon had all fifty students crowded into a single classroom, antsy to play bingo. We made the pretense of practicing English for a little while, but it was Friday afternoon and nobody had any patience for that. Ken and Markus arranged some games of bingo and “A calls B” while I assisted Kobfa in reviewing the English proficiency test the sixth graders had taken the previous week.
As with last year’s batch of sixth graders, the girls generally did pretty well and the boys were goofs. Sadly, just listening to the three boys it is clear that they’re smart and with some extra time and tutoring, they could perform much better.
I’m continuing my effort to get students involved in practicing their English or, for the younger ones, just staying in touch with a farang in the hopes it encourages their interest in studying English. When I left the school officially in September, I had distributed my address card and encouraged people to write. It wasn’t until I received only one postcard from a student that I realized that maybe they don’t have access to writing materials and stamps. They come from very poor families and I doubt that writing letters is a part of their everyday experience.
So this time I arrived with two-baht postcards, a nifty and inexpensive sheet of paper that is blank on both sides and preprinted with the postage. Considering that the postage is two baht, the cards themselves are essentially free. This is a really good deal and is designed with the exact same target audience in mind of which my students are members. I printed my return address on them and then distributed the postcards to students (above) with the explanation that they could use these to write to me and that I’d return all letters that I receive.
Below: Explaining what to do with the postcards.
Some people mistook that to mean that they should immediately fill out the cards. By the end of class I had to direct a few students to put the cards in the letter box.
One student sheepishly approached me after class and said he had already lost his postcard. I gave him another.
We’ll see how this works. I suspect I’ll receive a flurry of postcards this next week. Will they respond to my responses? I think I’ll send a blank card with each response I send, to prime the pump a bit.
Below: The Thai concept of grangjai – not wanting to obligate or impose on someone – in action as the teachers present Kobfa and I with a gift basked of fruit. Later, one of the sixth graders, co-president of the student body association – made a brief speech thanking us for our volunteering at the school.
The teachers, who are still without a school director, once again invited us to resume English teaching. Maybe when school starts again in June or July, we should make an effort to go there once a month. Weekly is no longer workable, but once a month – especially if we worked specifically with the upper classes – would have some good impact.
Hopefully the graduating sixth graders (above) will stay in touch. The girls have written a few emails, one more consistently than the others. She has the most potential of all of her peers and I’m confident she’ll go on to do great things.
The most fun was the lucky draw. I’ve been saving up various promotional tchotskies that Tawn receives from his clients – calendars, not pads, a backpack – and those were used for a raffle. This is really fun for the students and it was amazing because even pretty simple things were really a big deal for these children. The Thai belief in luck was noticeable as some children had their hands together at their heart as they prayed that their name would be called.
One third grader would call out his own name – “Anurak!” – at every draw just before the name was revealed.
We made sure to have enough items for everyone, and once we had pulled all the names we put them all back in to give away the final few big items.
Finally, an hour after school is normally supposed to end, the last items were given away, the goodbyes were said, and the students stood up and sang the “Goodbye, My Teacher” song, below. Very touching.