One of the questions I get asked most often is what I do each day at school, so I hope to explain some of that in this post. When I’m not eating my weight in pad thai or going off to an island on the weekend, I teach 1st-3rd grade at Sriwittayapaknam School (no, I still can’t pronounce it), a private preschool-6th grade institution with around 1500 students. I’m told it’s the most expensive school in Samut Prakan province, and I believe it. The two six-story buildings are immaculate and more high tech than a lot of schools in the U.S. All the Kindergarten and preschool classrooms have flat screen TVs, and a lot of those teachers have iPads to play songs and videos.
Anyway, I’m still getting the hang of being “Teacha Jenna,” but here’s a brief look at what I do each day:
7:18am: I run into school, already covered in sweat, and clock in with the fingerprint machine just before my mandatory 7:20am start time. I try to remember to bow to the other teachers as I pass, which serves as my “good morning.” I head to my small office on the third floor, drop my bag, and guzzle down a can of NesCafe Espresso. The sweetened condensed milk-filled iced coffee sold in the street, which might as well be called “liquid-diabetes with a hint of coffee” hasn’t been cutting it.
7:20am: If I haven’t brought a yogurt with me, I head to the “canteen,” where lunch ladies serve up breakfast and snacks as familiar as French fries and as unfamiliar as spicy dried seaweed. I usually go for a chicken and sticky rice in a plastic bag. Thai people eat constantly, and school is no different. Students get tons of breaks for snacks throughout the day.
7:30am: Just off to the side of the canteen is the courtyard where students have an assembly every morning. Everyone sings the national anthem, students recite the school creed, and a teacher gives a speech. The assembly is all in Thai, so I tend to daze off in a 7am stupor.
7:40am: My fellow foreign teachers and I head to our office to prepare for our first lessons. This usually involves me googling “esl games, limited resources” and hoping for inspiration.
8am: I head to my first class of the day. I currently teach 1st-3rd grades, which are called Prathom 1-3. If it’s first grade, it usually involves 50 minutes of scream-singing and overly dramatic dancing. If it’s second grade, I get ready to play lots of Tic Tac Toe with vocabulary. And if it’s third grade, I prepare myself for dazed looks as I attempt to teach grammar. My students can be pretty rowdy and hard to control, but you really can’t be mad at an adorable 6-year-old for too long. I usually have about three 50-minute classes each morning.
11:30am: Lunch! I get a free lunch every day, which has been surprisingly good so far. Students only get one (yes, one– I’m looking at you, crazed American parents) option for lunch. Sometimes, all I really want is a sandwich, but the rice and noodle dishes are growing on me. Teachers are required to take on tasks outside of teaching, so the foreign teachers and I run an “English Club” three days per week during lunch, where we play games with students in English or watch English cartoons. After lunch, students have 10 minutes of meditation to calm down before their afternoon classes.
12:40pm: I head to another class. I think I’m in the minority among my teaching friends in that my students are relatively advanced English speakers. Most have been learning English since preschool, so they know basic commands (stand up, sit down) and vocabulary. However, they have a hard time putting together sentences or understanding my directions. If I’m being honest with myself, I know most of the reason I’m here is for my voice. Most teachers want me to drill pronunciation for 50 minutes straight, but I try to spice it up with games, songs, and general silliness. I realized that I might have taken it too far when I started saying the vocab word “pizza” with an Italian accent. The Thai/English/Italian accent my students produced was hilarious.
1:30pm: A student says, “Good morning, Teacha Jenna” in the hallway during my break. I try to tell them for the fiftieth time that it is “Good Afternoon” and receive a blank stare.
1:50pm: I head to another class, and students take out their name tags. Most Thai parents give their kids English nicknames that are easier to pronounce than their longer Thai names. My favorite name by far is my second-grader Coffeemate, made even more amazing by the fact that she sits next to a boy named Cocoa. As I said on a recent Facebook post, Tang, Punch, and Ice need to form a Spice Girls style girl power pop group if it’s the last thing I do. Cake, Panda, and Pinky are some of my other favorites. I heard “Beer” is a common nickname, but I’ve yet to meet one.
3:20pm: I’m free! My fellow foreign teachers and I make the 10-minute walk (which mainly consists of waiting to cross the street) back to our townhouse and collapse in our air-conditioned bedrooms.