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Teaching Practices

It’s been almost two weeks since I’ve even really thought about my blog. It’s terribly cliché to say that I’ve been a little busy, but I’ve been a little busy.

Starting Monday of last week, we were responsible for creating daily lesson plans for different teaching methods that we’ve been learning and then the next day we have to execute them in front of a class of students.

There are four main methods in the technique that we’ve been learning, called the Communicative Model, and they all focus on teaching communication relevant to the students by setting up the context of the setting with modeling and illustrations, repetition to remember the phrases and then a functional aspect where they would use the language learned in a practical way. When we were taught Korean with this model, the words and symbols made sense without our teacher speaking a word of English, and it really reinforced how effective the method can be.

For the first week, we were in a school and teaching mostly older Prathom students, which is the Primary level age. Since Thailand doesn’t require students to attend school after the age of 14, it’s relatively rare to find a class in a small town or rural village with many students older than this, and any high school level classes (Mathayom) are relatively small, and apparently attendance rates drop as much as 50% after this age.

Looking back, that week was surprisingly painless. The first day was kind of a shock to everyone’s system and I’m pretty sure that we all forgot some part of the method or another and generally felt like we weren’t that effective. However, we learned from our classes and were able to create lessons and materials for the next 3 days with relative ease. Every day was a different class, so the method and the material were all relatively new and the classes were old enough that for the most part they wanted to learn, which made our job even easier. The hardest part for me was really drawing the picture cards, for the most part as long as I can create an accurate cheat sheet that I tape to the board and actually follow, remembering the method isn’t the hard part. Coming up with pictures that stayed in the context of the lesson (what are you afraid of and why) and not having them look like a 3-year-old drew them took way too much time.

After another Saturday night on the Island where I spent way too much money, but had an amazing time dancing with this group of really fun Thai girls who I wish I could have understood more, we got right into our second week of teacher practices.

Teaching lesson #1 Leave your stress at the door:

Seriously.

This week was a little more difficult, and there were times when I would leave the school and want to dig myself a hole in the ground to disappear into. Hearing feedback from the others in the course that I wasn’t the only one who felt their lessons didn’t fully go as planned was a little bit of a relief, but I’ve placed so much on this that failure is not an option. Not only that, but since we could all see the light at the end of the tunnel, the stress of finding a job was really starting to get to me.

I’m sure my friends were worried with all the stressed out and emotional e-mails I sent, followed by “nevermind!” and “Man, I’m a little crazy, right?” But I was a total basket-case and didn’t feel as though I really had anyone to talk to that would ease my mind. (I later learned that sometimes, if you open up and let them, people will surprise you by how supportive they can be.)

Classes were harder because the children were younger, some of them really didn’t want to learn, and some of them were frustrated by how easy some of the dialogues were. Mostly though, it was me not being fully present that may have made my lessons suffer, and I realize now that all of this was for naught, and I should have just let everything go and allowed myself to become completely absorbed in planning and teaching my lesson.

The children were really excited that we were there, and everyday after class they would all run around with notebooks or scraps of paper and have us right our names down, sign our autographs or just joke around with them. My favourite part of going out to that school, though, was watching the kids during morning assembly. We weren’t able to watch the assembly at the first school, but here the children would have morning exercise, dancing and doing exercises to music or busting some serious moves hula hoping.

On the final day, after learning 4 different method types, we were left to our own devices and told to create our own lesson plan, have fun with it, but follow some basic guidelines. This turned out to be the biggest lesson of all, because it’s what every teacher does on their first day in their own classroom, and then has to move up from there. I think that two out of four of us left feeling that they had done a good job and that the students had actually learned something. After discussing with our teacher-observer, pretty much all of us learned that we had made some pretty fatal mistakes.

I, for one, knew half way through the class that what was going on could be defined as a trainwreck. But I continued on, changing my lesson plan slightly so that the students could grasp the meanings and confidence to say the phrases, hoping that something was sticking in their impressionable little minds and that I wasn’t totally wasting their time.

At the end, we joined the two classes and our teacher played a giant group game of Simon Says and then handed the winning student a “Thank You” card that we had written out for all the students. One of the students, my favourite little cutie, (I know, I know, you’re not supposed to pick favourites, but it’s hard!!!) handed out these little coloured origami cats to all of the teachers. It seriously melted my heart and made me want to hug him and steal him and keep him forever.

After tests, course evaluations and handing in our reflective portfolios, complete with our lesson plans, any work or teaching for the course was over. We’ve all received our certificates, and the boys have gotten on buses for their next respective destinations: home to Alaska and traveling around Thailand. I’m super sad to see them go, but I’m going to hang out here in Ban Phe for a little while, but that will be explained in my next entry, once I’ve fully figured out what I’m going to be doing.

Christmas and goodbyes

While I’m sitting here with less than 5 hours until I leave for the airport, I can’t help but feel a little emotional about the past week.

Just last weekend, I had my going away party with all my wonderful friends. The highlight of my night though was definitely a mixed CD compiled by one group of friends of all the cheesy songs that shaped our friendship up until now. Like the time we realized that we could convince a guy friend to sing pretty much any song during karaoke, so we picked Madonna’s “Girls just wanna have fun.” While I’m not bringing the actual CD (with the most hideous pictures everyone could find, cut-out to make the most amusing collage, of course) I have made a playlist on my iPod, so I may laugh and cry when I listen to it on planes, trains and boats during my travels.

But this past week was truly about spending time with my family. Christmas is generally the time of year for that, but somehow it always seems to be lacking in my family. So this year in order to make the most of it, we all packed into the van and headed to my grandparents house in the country and simply enjoyed everyone’s company.

There is something about driving down Canadian highways that simply makes me happy. It makes me think of that Death Cab for Cutie song, Passenger Seat, in the sense that I can truly just empty my mind and enjoy the ride and the views of the countryside. The highways carved out of rock, the small towns with the exorbitant amount of Christmas decorations, and the nighttime ritual of watching for deer once we actually enter the country (and of course, my dad constantly reminding my mom, “high beams! Low beams!”)

Then we were lucky enough to have a white Christmas. I was so happy to see for the last time a legitimate snow, complete with shoveling and snowmen before I leave.

My brother and his whiskered snowman

I took pictures and video to show those who may have never seen snow before, and my aunt even suggested that I print a picture to hang on my wall to cool me off when it’s so hot I think the thermometer might break.

So with plenty of warmth in my heart for my friends and family, memories of winter when I feel nostalgic, and everything packed in my bag (and I mean pretty much everything, I’m going to regret bringing half the stuff I have, I can just FEEL it) I’m off.

Next, I’ll be writing from a hammock in Thailand.

So here’s the big picture:

Just as I predicted these last few weeks have been a whirlwind of research, planning, shopping and hair pulling. I’m over budget and can’t seem to find enough time in the day. So there are some (minor) things that are just not getting done before I leave. Some of them I have to do while I’m away (i.e. refund my return ticket), and some of them are just not going to get done (i.e. getting my scratched glasses lenses replaced).

However, I now have a very flexible plan in place that is going to determine what happens with the next year of my life. I’ve decided to take an in country TEFL course with TEFL International.  This specific company has many different locations that I could have chosen from, including Phuket and Chiang Mai in Thailand. I could also have chosen to go to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, or even Buenos Aires, Argentina.  I chose to go to Ban Phe for the course staring on January 30 through February 24. 

Why Ban Phe? Well, not only is Ban Phe the organizations head office, but seems to be the most rural in Thailand. The lessons include practical teaching sessions with students from the surrounding village, including children monks. The fact that it’s the most rural is somewhat appealing to me because I don’t want to be distracted by all that there is to see and do in Phuket. I also want to make sure that I’m seriously dedicating my time to everything that I’m going to have to learn and study while I’m there. The course is an intensive 4 week program, and from what I’ve read and heard there is a lot of “take-home” work that I’m going to have to prepare after class. Yes, I can probably do it on the beach, but as far as night life or tourist traps go it sounds like there just isn’t much. From what I’ve read about Ban Phe, the only thing it’s known for is being the place to catch the boat to Koh Samet, (where I may just have to spend weekends). It’s seriously just a village. I hope that I’ll be able to better immerse myself in Thai culture and customs in this small fishing village than I would have in tourist centric Phuket.

Also, I’m kinda hoping that I’ll be able to visit Phuket, and its surrounding beaches, in the weeks before the course that I’m going to be randomly wandering around Thailand.

So here’s the plan: Next Wednesday I’m headed to my grandparents for an early Christmas, driving home on Christmas, then getting on a plane on December 27. New Years on a beach, possibly attending the most epic rave ever… on a beach – The Full Moon Party (I’m either terrified or excited), then recovering on the beach at Kho Phangan for a few days at our resort, which is actually called “The Sanctuary” (scuba diving/snorkeling, sunrise/sunset yoga and plenty of massages will most definitely be a part of those days) then heading to Bangkok, Chiang Mai and then wherever the wind blows. (It all depends on who I feel like joining after Sasha leaves. Tears will ensue at this time.) I just have to make sure to make it to Ban Phe by the 29th for the orientation dinner.

Speaking of goodbyes, I’ve already started and it’s making me seriously emotional. It’s hard to believe that I’m going to be away for a year or more, and not only am I saying goodbye to loved ones, but I’m saying goodbye to my city. Silly things like streetcars, signs in English, the guy at my corner store who makes my coffee before I have to ask, knowing where I’m going without having to think about it, coming home after work to a house full of people. I’m having a lot of “last” days.

In other words, I’m a big sappy mess right now. I saw a friend for the last time before I leave today because she won’t be able to make it to my going away party this weekend, and thank god she is not a sappy person, because otherwise I would have started bawling on the street as I walked away.

It’s worth it though, while I’m both terrified and excited wrapped up in one big ball, I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’m seriously going to miss my friends and family, my dogs, and the familiarity of home, but like I said when I was planning on going to South Africa, part of living is the anticipation of the unknown. I had written then that I hoped that I would always be living in a constant state of anticipation for the next great thing, and that reminded me that what I’m doing is what I’ve always wanted to do: Live.

As one great friend put it, my friends will still be my friends when I get back.