Broadening my horizons

I’m an English teacher, specifically a TEFL teacher. That’s what I’m trained in, that’s what my contract says – that’s what I do. Well that’s the way it’s meant to work anyway, but over the past two days I’ve taught English, Drama, Computing and Science, not a bad record if I do say so myself 🙂

My normal schedule includes 18 classes of English and 2 of Drama every week. The Drama isn’t what you’re probably imagining – costumes and “Alas, poor Yorick”s and all that. Sadly it’s just another name for an English class specifically focused on getting the students speaking English in a natural manner, usually through roleplay situations. Mind you I will be throwing a bit of Shakespeare into the mix this year if I can get it past the powers that be.

Science and Computing were a favour for my colleague and compatriot Mel, whose brother unexpectedly appeared in town for a week and is off sightseeing. Normally the prospect of working extra hours for no pay (yeah, my school sucks) would appal me but Mel’s covered for me before and, to be honest, I kinda liked the idea of those classes. I’ve long though that one of the biggest mistakes of my life was studying Philosophy at uni instead of a science or computing-based course.

Anyway, yesterday morning I walked into the first of the science classes and it transpired that Mel had mentioned nothing of his holiday to the classes. I was met by a sea of open mouths and shocked stares…

“Teacher Paul?
“Yes, Teacher Paul”
“But no Teacher Paul, Teacher Mel! Teacher Mel!”
“No, it’s me”
“But period 1 Science, not English!”
“I know, but Teacher Mel is on holiday so I have you for Science and Computing”

Stunned silence then…

“Yaaaaaaay!!!”

Evidently they’re not fans of Mel’s rather more discipline-heavy style of teaching and prefer my “you treat me right, I treat you right” attitude. Nice 🙂

Happily the classes all went well. Computing was a breeze, if rather dull – take the students to the computer lab, fire up a browser (after a quick lecture on how all Microsoft products are tools of the devil), log on to a typing test website and have at it. Their typing skills ranged from impressive to comical (6 words per minute with 9 mistakes over a single paragraph…) and there was little for me to do but kick back, keep order and, well, surf the net for news about the recent first steps in the creation of artificial life. I’m a nerd. Sue me.

Science was a little more stimulating. The topic was electricity and the lesson plan consisted mostly of a discussion about the various sources and uses of electricity. The kids seemed pretty shocked when it sank in that pretty much everything they saw around them was there thanks to our harnessing the power of electricity – factory-made clothes, pens, air-con, water  pumps, the works. Building on that fact, the second half of the lesson was to draw a picture of what life would be like without electricity.

Now Thai kids aren’t the most creative thinkers in the world and at times this can be extremely frustrating, especially when you give them a fun activity and all they can come up with – in the span of a full half hour at least – is a drawing of an electric fan with a cross over it and an accompanying picture of a handheld paper fan. However some kids totally nailed it and gave me a good laugh.

Mook covered her paper in fantastic little anime schoolkids, all with sad faces due to the tasks they were doing – washing clothes in a basket (label: No washing machine), cooking on a log fire (No microwave) and, my personal favourite, talking to each other via two cans on a string (No mobile phones!). A real surprise was Tony, my devil-child. His portrayed a similar landscape of sad, sweating figures (no air-con) although with a strange pile of sleeping characters at the bottom.

“Why are they sleeping?”
“No, no sleep. Dead.”
“What? Why are they dead?”
“No factory for medicine, no labs, no X-ray, many dead”

Awesome. Despite half the Western world being taken in by shams like homeopathy, reiki and the like and developing a distrust of anything science-related here’s a trouble kid in educationally sub-par Thailand who understands that without modern medicine we’d still have 40-year lifespans and most of us wouldn’t have made it past childhood. That had me grinning for a while I must admit.

So after next week it’s back to the usual mix of English and Drama but I’ll be jumping at the chance to pick up alternative classes whenever I can. I got a fever and the only prescription is more classes…

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