Monday, August 27, 2012

From Idiom to Avocado

I spent the last half of the week teaching my classes animal idiom.  I listed off animals like cat, dog, bull and fox and told them what it means to be called one of these.  The girls seemed to appreciate being called a fox though I got one boy to lower his head when I called him a dog.  He was smiling when he did it, fortunately.  A few classes came up with a few more animals than I could think of and we managed to have fun with it.  I also talked about body part idiom such as keeping an eye on you, over my head and being nosy.  They got it.

A friend of mine, a Singaporean who teaches English at my school, wanted to show us a church school he is associated with in a village north of here.  We agreed to drive up with him Saturday.  We didn't realize it was going to be two hours before we left.  Nor did we know that the road is quite steep and curvy in places.  Despite that, Nee managed to make the drive without concern.  The village is a combination of hilltribe people and Taiwanese.  The latter arrived several generations ago when so many Chinese left for Taiwan and other parts of the world during the Communist diaspora.  In the village, the hilltribe are mostly laborers and the Chinese run tea businesses.  We arrived to find a mixture of traditional Thai and Chinese homes.  Thais generally build their houses above the ground where the Chinese like them at ground level.

Our friend introduced us to the pastor of the little Baptist Church which is responsible for the school.  He was a middle-aged energetic fellow who greeted us with a smile and fruit and avocados he had picked from his garden.  As I sat there observing the conversation I realized that my friend could speak English and Chinese, the minister spoke Chinese and Thai and Nee spoke Thai and English.  I happily ate the avocado as the conversation revolved around the table.

We were given a tour of the garden around the church.  There were avocado trees with fruit larger than softballs and as creamy as a Haas avocado back home.  We saw dragon fruit, bananas, and various greens.  Some greens had the flavor of nuts while others were spicy, a bit like the nasturtium flowers I used to eat in California.  Next door we saw tea.  He gave me a flower to eat which was a bit bitter though flavorful.  What always amazes me about Thailand is that it can grow just about anything you can imagine.

On our way home, we stopped at some tea shops and enjoyed hot tea as the rain fell like cats and dogs, to use an idiom.  I drove back as I love driving mountain roads and we finished the day with a delicious dinner of fish and pickled pork.  Though I miss being in my home country, there are many pleasures to be found here, from the complex and noisy of Bangkok, to the peaceful of the high country. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Actions Do Speak Louder

And so another day ends in the never ending adventures of Teacher Roy.  This morning, having recovered from my cold of the weekend, I went to class prepared to give them a great experience.  I was going to teach them Yellow Submarine and then move on to Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  My bag was filled with story props and my backpack with my computer and notebooks.  And then it happened.  I went to my first class.

My first class started out noisy and never stopped.  My microphone kept dying whenever I said two words, so I tried talking loudly.  I walked around the room to remind them that teacher was working and talking but students turned their back on me to talk to their friends.  This went on for about ten minutes when I felt my temper beginning to rise.  I told them several times to be quiet and to let me talk to no avail.

I come from a family of yellers, screamers and cursers and I have have my moments of acting in such a way.  Today, though, I decided to take a deep breath, step to the front of the room, cross my hands in front of me and say nothing.  The front row saw me and hushed, and then the next and the next.  My heart was racing and I could feel the sweat dripping down my back.  Finally only the back row of boys were talking until their classmates told them to shut up.  I stood for another minute and spoke.

"Today you have hurt my feelings.  I spend a lot of time preparing for your lessons and you have not given me a chance to teach you.  Today I am not going to teach anything as you are unwilling to listen."  They looked at me in silent horror and I remained silent.  I then packed up my things and stood in the corner of the  room near the door.  I asked them how many of them wanted to learn English and most of them raised their hands.  I said I was there to teach them but as they were being so rude, they were going to have to wait another week.  We sat together for a few more minutes and then I left.

A couple of the boys insisted on helping me with my bag and guitar I had brought for the class and I let them.  My next class was only two doors down.  I had another 20 minutes until my next class.  Two more boys came to apologize while other classmates stuck their heads out the door.  I spoke to them calmly and civilly and stayed where I was.

When the next class came open, boys rushed out to help me with my bags again and we went on.  That class went on splendidly but my mind was still on the earlier class.  Fortunately, I was able to sing my song and tell my story, but lacking energy, I did both quickly and then played videos for the rest of the class.  They seemed to not mind.

The rest of the day went well though I did manage to accidentally use a permanent marker in my third class and several boys rushed out to get alcohol to wash the wall.

Perhaps I should have stayed in the class and continued to teach.  However I didn't see that I was going to be successful and perhaps this was a lesson for them.  I heard later that they told my fellow teacher who had the class after me that they had hurt Teacher Roy's feelings.  She said she gave them a lecture about manners and went on with her class.

My last two classes were my more advanced classes and I was teaching them about proverbs like a stitch in time or, my favorite of the day, actions speak louder than words.  In both classes I wrote the proverb on the wall and then stood silently in front.  Both times the classes became quiet.  I then explained the proverb.  I think they got it.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Tell Me a Story

Teaching conversation to me is a bit like teaching someone to breathe.  I have done it all my life without much thought and coming up with new ideas each week is still a challenge to me.  A few weeks ago, Nee found a website for a US company called Effortless English, not that I am advertising the fellow but he does have some interesting ideas.  One is something he calls the Question and Answer story.  An example of it is here on Youtube.  My understanding is that if you have the vocabulary in your head and some basic grammar, the next step is learning to understand and answer questions to wake up your conversation brain cells.

Loaded with that, I attempted to tell a story.  The first time it bombed.  They didn't get the idea and I wasn't sure I did, either.  I tried to get them to respond in the same way I saw in the video.  When I made a statement, they were to say something like, "Oh Wow!" and when I asked a question they were to shout out the answer.  Trouble was my story was terrible and I wasn't sure where to take it.  Still, the technique was starting to get through so I persevered.  As I have 14 different classes, I get to try out my ideas again and again until I start to see some progress.  The school gives me no curriculum or plan to work from leaving me free to do as I please so long as I am able to keep the class relatively quiet and I have something to grade them on.

Talking to other teachers, I found that Thais don't know western fairy tales like the Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks and so on.  I used to tell these stories to my sons and they enjoyed them as little guys, and Thai kids enjoy simple stories, which lead me to my next step.  I decided to present an interactive version the Three Little Pigs.  Teacher materials for such things don't exist.  I was going to have to improvise.  For several days, I pondered how I would use for props as I prefer something three dimensional than just my own voice.  Then I saw my landlord's son walking to school with a box in his hand.  My landlord is also a pharmacist and he seems to go through many boxes each week, though I have not seen the volume of customers to justify it.  I decided to get some boxes.

I cut them into pieces and wrote various words and pictures on them.  The idea was to hand out the signs and then call on the student holding the sign to stand up at the appropriate time.  My first attempt was in one of my more challenging classes.  I hadn't seen them for three weeks due to endless special occasions here at school and the last time I saw them, the drove me crazy.  I handed out the signs and gave the Big Bad Wolf to the kid who annoyed me the most.  He loved it.  I went through the story, asking questions, pointing to this sign and that and the class loved it.  As I started a bit late, I had to cut the story off early and they were actually disappointed.  Thus, I felt like I made a breakthrough.

I still have much work to get my storytelling down and incorporate questions and answers but this seems to be a good path. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Conversations with Teacher Roy

Each morning starts the same.
Student - Good morning, Teacher Roy.
Teacher - Good morning.  How are you?
Student - I am fine and you?
Teacher - I am fine.  Where is the assembly today?
Student - Silence
Teacher -
Student, smiling - Yes.
Teacher - Where?
Student - Yes.

Many conversations seem to go that way. Otherwise, they giggle and run away.

Today we had an assembly.  Depending on which teacher I ask, I either had some or no classes today.  Though I was prepared, I also thought that my classes were tied up in an assembly learning all about AIDS.  I was also required to attend one hour of one only to sit in the back, listening to it all in Thai.  As I was leaving the assembly hall, I was told that I had a class to teach.  I was already 10 minutes late when I arrived.

With a class of 50 or so, you need to have a microphone.  I had forgotten mine and had to run down to the first floor from the third to get it.  When I got back, I plugged it in only to find that the plug was dead.  Often I have to twist the wire and mike base in varying directions to get it to work.  Sometimes I am successful though not today.  Yesterday, I was trying a technique I learned about where I make a statement and then have the students answer me, standing and yelling the answer.  The theory is that by giving simple statements and asking simple related questions, they will be able to improve their conversation skills.  My voice was already shot from yesterday where I had a mike.  Today, I had to do it my class of 50.

Some days I feel a bit like a Baptist preacher, walking up and down the aisles of the classroom, getting the audience excited and yelling.  It gets my heart beating and covered in sweat.  As it was a new technique, they were a bit shy at first.  Then I had a breakthrough and they seemed to get it.  I only spoke for a few minutes and then concluded to say I would continue the practice in all the future classes.  My goal is to teach them conversation skills.

In the meantime, during much of the day, a young lady in my freshmen class kept running up to me with her prepared speech for a contest she will be attending in Bangkok tomorrow.  I cleaned up her grammar and helped her with pronunciation.  The speech had, unfortunately, been written by another teacher who didn't have as good a command of English as my student and she was frustrated with it.  I said, "just speak from your heart.  You know the subject and you speak very well."

With that, she went off to practice for another hour and then came back to practice.  Later I saw her walking out to the parking lot, almost skipping, in her anticipation to go to Bangkok.

That is a typical day for me of communication.  My dream would be to get at least 10 % of the students to speak even half as well as my Freshman girl.  I just hope my voice can hold out.