Whenever people ask me what it was like to teach at Benchamatheputhit School in Petchaburi, Thailand, I tell the same ole story every time:
It was my first week teaching high school students – ever. And granted, most of my classes were with the younger crowd: 7th, 8th and 9th graders, nervously awaiting my next command in PE or Health Science. But there were a few English Language classes I taught to the older, more hormonally-challenged lot.
Several years prior, I didn’t have to worry much about getting students’ attention in Japan, where the majority of the class were exceptionally respectful adults – and the kids sessions I taught were just lovely little 5-8 year-olds. No big whoop.
But a heaving class full of talkative sweaty teenagers, bubbling over from sugary snack breaks and extra-spicy (pet mak mak!) lunches was a completely new phenomenon to me. 37 of them, fully engrossed in a crescendo of wide-eyed Thai gossip. I tried the silent treatment. But they seemed to appreciate the gesture. Clapping? Nope, that’s more for the wee ones. Screaming? Hm, that somehow just didn’t seem to go with the yoga studio voice I’d been honing for years. The anxiety started to build . . . I could feel my breath control slipping away . . .
Looking back on it, I was going through a pretty rough time in my personal life during this week. Part of the reason I left San Francisco was to hide away (from a psychopath!) in the warm Buddhist arms of Thailand, where I dreamed of studying meditation and Thai Massage. Everything had sort of . . . fallen apart. Including my classroom management.
Oh no, is that a tear forming?
Yup, it was. I started to tear up. From what I recall, I didn’t let the kids see it directly. I quickly turned around and started writing on the board. As soon as someone noticed it was a “Homework Assignment” they went quiet right quick. Miraculously, they started writing and asking pertinent questions, just as the bell rang, sending them to their next victim (haha!).
On the way out the door, one of the students (I actually really loved her sass, she reminded me of my high school days) actually noticed the remnants of my momentary emotional whimper.
“Teacher! No! What happened?!”
“I’m just having a hard day. Don’t be late for your next class.”
By this point the whole class had gathered.
“Teacher Joanne! Sorry! Teacher, you heart, you love!”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. At that moment I imagined what this scene would have been like if I were teaching in America or the UK – I would probably have a butterfly knife halfway through my ribcage by this point.
“We quiet! We sorry! You from heart, we love you!”
And then they hugged me.
Yes, that was my reward for being a poorly prepared teacher. My students hugged me. And it was awesome.
So, I’m grateful. Grateful for that story (cuz it’s a classic) grateful for those heart-led students (who were quiet for most of the remainder of the semester, surprisingly), and grateful for Thailand being so damn Buddhist. It makes for some truly lovely kids (that’s my theory, anyway) 🙂
Here are a few choice shots of my students for your enjoyment . . . may it warm your hearts!