It’s been a week since I moved to Yangtalat. Never has a week felt so large before. Large with emotions, changes. Even of the great first weeks of my life (moving into Stew at Middlebury, settling down in my new apartment in Madrid, orienting myself to Bangkok), this one is certainly significant in a distinct and separate way from all the others.
This week, I began my first post-graduate job as a High School ESL teacher. I moved into my first house, small and yellow with pink wood trim, sparsely decorated save for the quick moving splashes of green gecko that streak across the walls after mosquitoes or dark corners. I received my first worker’s ID number and scanned my thumbprint to clock-in and clock-out on an 8-4 schedule. I wear ties and ironed shirts every day. I feel like I am caught halfway between actually being an adult and playing some elaborate game of dress-up, in which I dress like what I think an adult teacher would wear and I say the things that I imagine they would say. A solid impersonation, probably just below my New Zealand accent for believability.
And of course with the grown-up-person’s job comes the grown-up-person’s solitude, going home after the school day to find that it is just that: me and the geckos. I live a three-minute walk from the school, so when school is not in session, it is deathly quiet. Well except for the screaming geckos and the rooster who lives on my roof. And the street dogs, but for the most part the only noise I hear is myself softly (…loudly) singing Whitney Houston songs or practicing Thai or reacting to American Horror Story. But I like this solitude. Every decision is wholly my own: what I eat, when I shower, if I shower, what I do after school is over. I’ve lived my life in places of great noise—to turn that down for a while seems like a happy escape. Or maybe a delusional experiment. I’ll have to keep you updated on that front.
AS far as teaching is concerned, my schedule seems manageable. I teach three-four classes a day to different levels of 10th (M4) and 11th (M5) graders. Each grade of ~300 students is divided into 9 different levels of ability (1 being the worst, 9 being the best). So if I have a class labeled 4/1, that means I’m teaching a class of 10th graders who are not very proficient in English. By whatever standards of proficiency my school’s English teachers have established as “fluent,” which of course is up to great debate since many of the teachers don’t speak the greatest English, BUT I DIGRESS!
They’ve been well behaved and a little quiet so far, but I imagine they’re probably a lot zanier than they’re letting on. Which is good, because so am I. This first round of lessons has focused on introductions (Hello! My name is ____. I like to _____. I don’t like to _____) and getting to know me. I’ve got about half of them on board with calling me Kru G (Teacher G). The other half stares at me blankly when I ask what my name is, a silence I can only seem to alleviate with a vigorous pointing at my chest, after which point they say “…teachuh?” “YES TEACHER VERY GOOD!”
I know if someone yelled at me in Thai I would react in the same way. I know this because people are constantly yelling at me in Thai here. In response, I smile and they laugh and hold my elbow or pat my shoulder. This is how I’ve met almost all of the staff at Yangtalad Wittayarkan school. They are all very kind and are constantly asking me things like “You happy?” or “Do you love it?” to which I smile and bow and then they clap and walk away. Most days, I feel like a circus hippopotamus, waddling around in a bright pink tutu—hard to miss and always fun to laugh at. It’s hard to get used to what a laugh means in Thai culture versus that of its use in American culture—in the United States, if someone were to laugh at you when you spoke, you’d feel ashamed or embarrassed, but here it’s a sign that they think you’re doing a good job and that they appreciate you.
And really, it is clear that a lot of teachers are going out of their ways to make me feel welcome and included into this new family, either by attempting to speak English with me or bringing me delicious rice dishes for breakfast or treating me to winding lunches of grilled shrimp and Som Tum. I can’t wait until the day when I’ve learned enough Thai to have meaningful conversations with all of them—they seem fascinating but because of the language barrier, it’s near impossible to delve very deeply into any of our histories or reasons for being where we are.
For now, I am content to be where I am, with supportive teachers and a group of fellow ETAs that are just a quick bus-ride away from Yangtalat. After spending a lot of time talking about how I’d be a teacher when I grew up, suddenly I am one, with attendance sheets and discipline issues and sweet smiles of young kiddoes trying to digest everything I say.
It’s weird, but I think I kinda like it.