If you were to ask me what I love most about this teaching job, aside from the obvious answers like the kids and the fact that I’m in Thailand, I could probably sum it up in one word. Tangents. As in zooming off on them without a care in the world and with little chance of safe return. Sure I write lesson plans and I even have every intention of following them – after all my kids have exams to pass – but it doesn’t always work that way. I may begin on present continuous tense but there’s always the lurking possibility, as happened the other week, that I’ll get there via a discussion of the Battle Of Agincourt, digital insults and why Western people don’t think it’s such a swell idea to decorate your bike, clothes or skin with swastikas.
Anyway it was such a tangent I embarked on at Suratpittaya this week, one which is now consuming rather more of my time than intended, but I must confess I’m loving every second. Matoyom two are currently studying present tenses through a section in their books concerned with animals, mostly zoo animals. As part of the lesson I had them look at a list of animals and distribute them through a three-columned table based on where they’re found – In A Zoo, On A Farm, In The Wild. Nice and simple, a bit of fun and an excuse to get them talking about animals for a while. I added an extra question for early finishers as well – “What’s your favourite animal and why?” – and received the expected array of responses:
“A cat because it’s pretty and playful.”
“My favourite’s a monkey because they’re cute.”
“I like dogs best because they’re really clever.”
Then it came bouncing back at me – “Teacher Paul, what’s your favourite animal?”. Hmm, time to think on my feet here. They’ll be expecting an interesting answer since I usually goof around with them, what can I go with? “I like flying spider-sharks because they can kill anything in the world.”
“Teacher… Flying spider shark…? What…?” Oh-ho, it’ss time for some fun…
“Yes, the flying spider shark.” Cue a hasty sketch of a spider with row upon row of jagged teeth, a dorsal fin on its back and enormous eagle wings. “That’s what they look like, they’re very dangerous animals and can kill anything. Do you know the Statue Of Liberty? Well here’s how big the Statue Of Liberty is next to a flying spider shark”. At which point I scribbled possibly the worst representation of the statue in history, being dwarfed by my creation.
“Haha teacher, not real. Too big” What’s this? My kids don’t believe me, their own teacher? I’ll have to see about this.
“Have you heard of dinosaurs?”
“And where do dinosaurs live?”
“Teacher, no dinosaurs now, all dead.”
“Exactly. And what killed the dinosaurs…? I think you’ll find it was the flying spider shark, deadliest and most ancient of all creatures.”
And so it was that during the course of the class the scribble on one side of the board slowly grew to an entire factsheet, a veritable flying spider shark Top Trumps card:
Eats: Buildings, people, mountains
Famous for: Killing all the dinosaurs
Favourite colour: Blue
But it transpired that not even my exhaustive knowledge of the physiology and psychology of these dread abominations was enough to convince my skeptical charges of the existence of this terrible threat to their young lives. “Teacher, you are pretending. It’s not real.” What more could I do? My skills at Photoshop are somewhat limited so visual proof was out of the question, perhaps I could find a corroborating story, something from an independent source which would drive the final nail in the coffin of their doubt.
And can I just say – I love the internet. No matter what it is you need, the net is there to save you at a moment’s notice. Need third-party back-up for a truly ridiculous claim? Look no further than an automatic newspaper story generator…
So there we go, it’s as good as fact now seeing as it’s been reported in the paper. Thais aren’t too big on questioning authority most of the time so hopefully this one will pass by their impressively well-functioning bullshit detectors (Carl Sagan would be proud of them). If they demand a picture then I have a get-out clause – I pointed out the eight massive eyes and told them “They’ve got the best vision in the world, by the time they see something tasty it’s as good as dead. That’s why no-one alive has ever seen one, only heard descriptions on the dying breaths of those mortally wounded and left to rot in favour of larger prey.” Even still, I may see if Em can knock up a decent sketch for me.
Hee-hee, this is fun. If the flying spider shark enters Thai mythology in the coming years I’ll know my time here was well spent…