05 January, 2017

It’s the Little Things


Linda Mathew is a 2016-17 Fulbright-AMCHAM English Teaching Assistant (ETA) at Rajapracha Nukroh 8 School in Nakhon Si Thammarat Province. She is from Long Island, New York. She graduated with her BA in Elementary Education and Psychology and later completed her Master's in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). When she's not lesson planning, she enjoys trying out new food and exploring her town. After her time as a Fulbright ETA, Linda plans on teaching English in New York, or wherever her wanderlust takes her. She hopes to one day write children's literature to promote understanding of educational systems from around the world.

It’s the little things.

I sit here with the rain drumming outside my window, tired from all the brainstorming I’ve done for my upcoming lessons. The past few weeks have definitely been tough ones. I have made many accomplishments that have me beaming with pride, but to another extreme,I have also found myself questioning my abilities, giving into frustration and feeling like a failure. I think this is the most relevant description I can give when it comes to putting my feelings into words.

Being a Fulbright ETA requires us not only to teach, but to be cultural ambassadors. With my teaching background, it’s sometimes difficult not to be so hard on myself about the educational aspect when the cultural educational aspect is important too.

There are days where I feel so defeated that I can’t comprehend what I am doing wrong. During my self-reflection process, I had to define what it meant to be a failure. After taking time to dissect what was dictating my emotions, I realized that it was things that I had no control over that were bringing me down! I realized that harboring negative energy was not very culturally parallel and that by focusing on the little things, I would find myself in a better place. After all, the big picture is made up of all the little things! I had to embrace the sabai sabai* lifestyle a little more and let go of wanting to control everything. The sabai sabai lifestyle is similar to having a “go with the flow” attitude. This cultural norm that I am trying to adopt into my lifestyle has drastically improved the way I see and approach my ability to teach and interact with my community.

I would often find myself feeling defeated when after spending hours on a lesson, a student could (maybe) say one vocabulary word. Full of defeat and frustration, I would trudge on with the lesson, doubting whether I was even making an impact. Then one day, I was calling out names via name tags (for attendance), when a student beside me said, “Teacher, Aartip, ::cough:: sick.” It was exactly the way I taught them feelings and in the most appropriate context. It may not have been all 28 of my students, but it meant the world to me.

My school's field trip

It’s the little things.

“Good morning teacher,” followed by Anubahn (kindergarten) students running with open arms ready to clasp themselves around me. When I’m free, I try to teach the kindergarteners a song or two. Whether it’s teaching them the “English” version of “If you’re happy and you know it,” or animals with “Old MacDonald,” their enthusiasm is what energizes me! After naptime, I walk to one of the kindergarten rooms as the children wake up from their slumber. Once the teacher says, “get ready for songs with Teacher Linda,” the children bounce up to wash their faces and line up to sing with me. Even the students from the other classes run in to join the party! Feeling this kind of love while singing the simplest of songs is hard to beat.

It’s the little things.

Anubahn Love

Being a part of my community has been something I’ve been so excited to do. With my limited Thai, I was told to introduce myself to the whole school during Parent Teacher Day. Nervous, I found my way to the microphone to fumble out the Thai I had been practicing over and over again since I stepped off the plane to Nakhon Si Thammarat. “Sawatdeeka! Chan chue Linda na ka. Chan gum lung rian pasa thai dtae puut pasa thai dai nid noi. Kor tot ka mae rue puut pasa thai mak. Bpen kru pasa angriid na ka. Ma jaak Amerigaka. Chop sawn ti rongrian Rajapracha Nukroh 8 na ka. Kopkunmak naka.” Very loosely translated, “Hello, my name is Linda. I am learning Thai but I speak very little. I am sorry that I don’t speak a lot of Thai. I am an English teacher and I am from America. I like to teach at Rajapracha Nukroh 8 School. Thank you.”

As embarrassed as I was at my mediocre Thai, I didn’t realize what an impact that had with the parents. After a few claps and giggles, I later found out that parents expressed being more comfortable with approaching me outside of school because I “spoke a little Thai.” I even got a thumbs up from a dad sitting in the crowd as I sat down!

It’s the little things.

Huge turnout for Parents’ Day! 

Classroom management has never been my forte; throw in a language barrier and I figured I might as well wave my white flag now. As I took the opportunity to learn more about my school and the way classes are, I witnessed my students acting just the same in their other classes. It’s refreshing to realize that troublemakers are universal, and it’s not just in Teacher Linda’s English class that boys rough-house and girls giggle in the corner. Obviously, I can’t express my feelings with the students in their language, so facial expressions have been my only support. One day, during a very rowdy P4 class, I stopped talking and expressed my discontent with their behavior through my silence and piercing eyes. Then from the front of the class, a whisper,


I couldn’t help but burst into laughter and say, “yes, angry,” feeling more triumphant about his use of vocabulary than anger.

It’s the little things.

I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to go through the holidays without my family and friends.

I was feeling a bit sad and lonely, but my community didn’t allow me to wallow in those feelings. My host teacher and family took it upon themselves to research and find a local church and attended the entire service with me. At dinner that evening, she turned to me and said, “In America you would be eating dinner with your family, so today, you will eat dinner with your family.”

It’s the little things.

My Thai family

The pace of life here is pretty different from the hustle bustle New York lifestyle I am used to. People do their own thing at their own time. I had always approached teaching with the mentality that I had to finish everything that I planned. Adding the fact that I only see my students once a week for maybe an hour increases pressure exponentially. I am learning to take things slower and acknowledge that every interaction
be it big or smallis an exchange of ideas, knowledge, energy and culture. 

At the end of the day, 

it’s the little things that bring a whole lot of happiness.

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