Matthew Jones is a 2017-2018 Fulbright ETA placed at Watbot School in Phitsanulok,
Thailand, where he teaches prathom students. Matthew is from Salisbury, Maryland, and completed his B.S. at Salisbury University in Elementary Education with a minor in English for Students of Other Languages (ESOL). In his free time, Matthew can be found traveling around Thailand with other ETA’s, laughing with his students, or riding his bike all over town while sweating profusely. After the completion of his Fulbright grant, Matthew plans to return to the United States to teach primary school students, and eventually pursue his graduate degree to receive his administration certification.
As I boarded the plane on that early September morning, nerves controlled my body. I was anxious for the unknown of what my new life in northern Thailand had in store for me. I had a million question racing through my head that simply could not be answered. As I found my seat on the plane and begin talking with another ETA who was on my flight, my nervousness quickly changed to excitement. Kaela and I quickly began discussing how we thought the next year would unfold. It was settling exchanging thoughts with another person who was in the exact same situation with you knowing they had the same worries and questions. After twenty four hours of traveling, we finally made it to Bangkok.
The month long orientation that all ETA’s had to go through was such a breath of fresh air. Myself, alongside the other twenty teachers, sat through hours of Thai language classes, Thai culture classes, and listening to the stories of the previous ETA’s who had just completed their year long journey in Thailand. All of this information was greatly appreciated and interesting to hear, but a part of me was still nervous about being halfway around the world trying to teach students who have no English speaking proficiency. No matter how many questions we would ask in those information sessions or to previous ETA’s, the answer given always ended with, “but everyone’s experience is so different so it may not be the exact same at your school.” After being in the province and teaching for three months now, I completely understand why they added that extra blurb to the end of their answers.
The first few days in Phitsanulok I took my time to try to acclimate myself to everything and everyone around me. I just wanted to fit in and not be seen as a “farang” to everyone around town, but I have come to accept that I will always be called “farang” or “teacher”. At first, “farang” was very unsettling to hear; since calling someone a name in American based off their culture is very disrespectful. Now, I have come to actually not mind it one bit! I now always know if someone is trying to talk to me or get my attention. These two words are now heart warming because I now hear them and know, instead of an insult, they are an attempt to reach out and practice English. I see it as an opportunity to smile and wave or start conversations with those who are complete strangers.
I have learned a lot. I came to Thailand to gain a very different aspect into how a classroom can be managed. I have seen things I want to incorporate into my classroom, and hopefully shown the teachers of my school some techniques they can incorporate into theirs. Overall, I have learned that teaching is teaching no matter where you are or who the students in front of you, are. As an educator, my goal is to make learning fun for my students and to instill a drive of learning so that it never ends. Even though my time here in Thailand is short, I have so far found much joy in teaching in a different setting where things may seem odd or the children do not understand what you are saying. By being their teacher, my job is to teach them something, and by seeing me not giving up, I hope all my students learn never to give up as well.
As I began my very first school week in the province, I was still unsure of how I could effectively teach and manage a classroom full of little children who could not speak English. Thoughts flooded my mind of what strategies I had learned in my four years of college that might work here in Thailand.
|The daily view of morning assembly from the main school building|
As time passed, each class seemed to get easier and easier. I wanted from day one to set a routine within the classroom so that the students knew what was expected of them each day as we ran through the lesson. This routine consisted of an American slang word, reviewing different emotions, a welcoming song, a phonics song, a small review game, then introducing the new vocabulary or lesson we would be doing. By incorporating a routine that was repeated class after class, the students knew what was happening next, until the lesson for the day was introduced. I have found that by having this routine set in stone with all nine of my classes, we start the class off on the right foot each and every day. I also kept in place the students routine of standing to greet the teacher when I enter the classroom. I felt as by instilling the greeting within our routine, I am keeping a habit of theirs so that class is not something completely foreign to them. Also, by starting and ending class with, “Good morning teacher” or “Thank you Teacher”, a smile sweeps over my face to make for a great day.
|My P1/2 class celebrating after we got a message all the way around the circle |
without any mistakes during the Telephone game!
Throughout the weeks at school, we were learning all different sorts of English from phonics, to our body parts, to colors and days of the week. While it all may seem like sunshine and rainbows, some days are way tougher than others. For instance, one day I was walking to class with my backpack filled, papers in hand, ready to start teaching about our bodies. I was about five minutes early so I peaked in to see if they were ready, but the students were having class with a monk so I quickly stepped out to be respectful and allowed him to have his full time with the students. About five minutes went by and the monk came out of the class smiling and I sincerely smiled back. As soon as I stepped into the classroom, the shrieking sound of crying children flooded my ears. My first thought to myself was, “What in the world! Did the monk tell them English class was going to be horrible today?” As I scanned the classroom just to take in thirty students sobbing their eyes out, I tried to think of any tool for managing a class that had thirty students all crying at once. Standing there confused, I quickly learned that this was what all my professors meant when they said somethings we just can’t teach you, you just have to figure out how to solve them on your own.
Within a few short seconds of standing in this classroom, I knew I had to respond quickly to get these students to calm down so that my class could still happen. I scanned my classroom for my little “classroom warrior” to see if I could go to him to ask if everything was okay. “Classroom warriors” were explained to us during orientation, and are basically the students who have your back when class is simply not going the way it should. Of course, on this day for this class my little warrior was not there to help. I started by trying to get the class to just take a deep breath and calm down; that did not work. I then started going up to each of them, patting them on their backs and telling them it was going to be okay; that still did not work. In this moment, I had never felt more stuck and failed in a Thai classroom. I felt like I could not control the students or settle them down. It was in this moment that I felt like I was not making a difference in these children’s English capabilities.
|Sometimes you just have to stop class for a quick selfie|
This ten minute moment of utter chaos all settled down when a Thai teacher walked by, stuck her head in the classroom, told the students to go wash their face and settle down (well I think that is what she said, it was in Thai!) and to come back to class. After that class, I sat in my office and just reflected on the past hour of my life. What a crazy experience I just had that will more than likely stick with me forever. Then I thought to myself, what would I had done if that Thai teacher never came in the room? I quickly realized that in the teaching world it is necessary to find those teachers who can be your mentor. They are there to lean on when you need that extra help and share ideas with one another when you think an awesome lesson could be taught. Teaching is a collaborative profession where sharing ideas makes for a lesson or unit go from good to great. I find it very challenging sometimes to reach out to others teachers here in Thailand, as well as in America, to ask for help just because I am afraid that it makes me look weak. Now, after my experience here in Thailand, I know that by leaning on others to help you out when you honestly have no other ideas of what to do is okay!
|Myself with my two wonderful host teachers that have helped me |
endlessly make Watbot my home away from home
After reflecting on my time here in Thailand, and thinking about the reason I came here, I can say that I have learned a lot. I came to Thailand to gain a very different aspect into how a classroom can be managed. I have seen things I want to incorporate into my classroom, and hopefully shown the teachers of my school some techniques they can incorporate into theirs. Overall, I have learned that teaching is teaching no matter where you are or who the students in front of you, are. As an educator, my goal is to make learning fun for my students and to instill a drive of learning so that it never ends. Even though my time here in Thailand is short, I have so far found much joy in teaching in a different setting where things may seem odd or the children do not understand what you are saying. By being their teacher, my job is to teach them something, and by seeing me not giving up, I hope all my students learn never to give up as well.
|My P2/2 students working in small groups to complete their life size drawings of the body|
|A group of P3/3 students showing off their amazing skills|