(This is the continuation of my blog about an average day in a Thai school. Click here if you missed part one.)
We don’t take attendance for each lesson. The classroom teacher has already done this at the start of the day. Outside of each classroom there is a statistics board. It tells you how many boys and girls are normally in this class and also how many are present today. Our classes have an average of 45 students. We then have about four classes for each grade. At some high schools they might have ten classes or so per grade and up to 60 students in a class. This may sound very overwhelming but luckily for us, the students are usually very disciplined. The seats are often in rows and many teachers will traditionally teach by rote. This usually involves them standing at the front of the class reading from a book or getting the students to read aloud together from their books. Using this tried and tested method makes it easier for us to control the classroom. The students are not encouraged to raise their hand or to contradict or question something the teacher did.
Some years ago, the government asked all the schools to stop teaching by rote and to take a more Westernized version of teaching where the classes are more child centered. Obviously, this has some merits as we were now asking the students to think for themselves rather than being told what to think. The tables in the classroom were often pushed together so that the students could do group work. However, I think the government soon realized that you couldn’t change the way of teaching overnight. Not only did the students not know how to do project work, but the teachers were puzzled how to teach. However, a number of years have now passed and we are now seeing more child-centered classrooms. I guess the only teachers still teaching by rote are the older ones who have the opinion that if it isn’t broken then it shouldn’t be mended.
Although I think it is great for the country that we are now teaching students to think for themselves, it has also seen at the same time a watering down in the classroom of discipline and respect for the teacher. Some teachers still have the illusion that all students must have automatic respect for them. The same goes for society as a whole where children are taught to be respectful to their elders and to never question their authority or knowledge. However, by allowing free thinking in the classroom we started to see students wanting to know why something was done in a particular way. It didn’t change overnight of course, but we now see more two-way interaction in the classroom and lateral thinking. However, grandparents not used to their grandchildren questioning their decisions and orders, just saw them as naughty children.
I think some lessons have been learned here. You cannot just bring in a practice used in the West as it might not work here. You have to adapt it for local culture and customs. Although are teachers say that our students are naughtier these days, they are still a lot better than most students in say America and Europe. Visiting foreign teachers always commented on this. If a student wants to leave a class they will have to ask permission first. On their return, they have to wait at the doorway for permission to enter. If they come to the teacher’s desk during the lesson they have to kneel on the floor. This is because it is disrespectful to stand higher than a teacher who might be seated. At the end of each lesson, I always find it amusing how the students stand up and chorus a “thank you” to the teacher for teaching them. It doesn’t matter if you had just given them a particularly hard test or told them off for not doing their work properly.
Our school has three lessons in the morning. We don’t have enough room at the school for a canteen so the students eat their lunch in the classroom. As we also have many students, the lunch break is staggered during the morning. First to have “lunch” are the kindergarten students who stop to eat at 10.15 a.m. They then have a nap for two hours. Next come the junior school who stop for lunch at 11 a.m. Then the senior school at 11.30 a.m. School lunches are usually very good and there is a three week rotation of menus. The food is often served with either rice or noodles. The students don’t have a choice but as teachers, we can choose the menu from either the junior school or senior.
Once all of the students are seated in the classroom then they all chorus the lunchtime grace. The all know this off by heart as they have been doing it since they were in kindergarten. It basically gives thanks to the farmers and cooks for growing rice and cooking their food. It ends by reminding the students of the people in the world that don’t have enough to eat. It tells them not to waste food. Once the students finish eating, they put any waste food in a bucket, their plates in an enamel bowl and their spoon and fork in a plastic bucket. Then, the duty students have to take these down to the kitchen. The plates and bowls are washed by the kitchen staff but the duty students wash the utensils, which are then brought back up to the classroom. Each student has their own set.
Each day students have to take turns to do duty. This usually involves keeping the classroom clean. We have janitors at the school but they don’t enter the classrooms. So, the duty students are responsible to keep it clean. They will sweep the floor, mop it and also do other duties like empty the rubbish and take the recycle paper down to the recycle area. The duty students for that day also have to do other things like collecting homework and taking books to the teacher. The students clean the classroom at the start of the day and during the afternoon break. Each day, one class also has to take turns to sweep clean the playground after lunch break. This encourages them not to drop any litter.
The lunch break lasts until about 12.20 p.m. Many of the younger students go down to the playground to play games. Many of these are recognizable by students around the world. These include marbles, tag games and jump rope. Some of the older boys might play football or basketball. However, we don’t really have much space in the playground for all 1,200 students to play. But, it doesn’t really matter as it is so hot and many students choose to stay in their classrooms to chat with their friends or read school books. The school organizes lunchtime clubs and activities that the students can take part in sometimes.
The kindergarten students don’t come out for the lunchbreak. After they have finished eating, they then settle down to have a siesta. The teacher puts down mattresses on the floor for the students and each one also has a pillow and a blanket. The kindergarten classes are all air-conditioned so it can get chilly. Before they go to sleep they have a meditation session to calm them down and prepare them for sleeping. The students sleep for about two hours in the middle of the day. Unfortunately I am not a kindergarten teacher so I am not allowed to have a nap too!
At the end of lunch the school bell goes and all of the students have five minutes to quickly line up outside of their classrooms. Now the duty teacher will give some announcements. Sometimes she might remind students not to run in the corridors or not to be so noisy near the kindergarten classrooms. Every day students seem to lose something and if something is handed in – like a wallet with money – the duty teacher will make an announcement. They also mention the name of the student that handed in the lost property. Everyone then applauds that student.
The afternoon session has three lessons which are finished by 3.15 p.m. This is the short break where the duty students have to clean their classrooms. A number of schools let their students go home at this time. However, our school has a compulsory “homework lesson” which starts at 3.40 p.m. In theory, the teachers help the students complete their homework so that their parents don’t have to help them when they go home. However, in reality the teacher often teaches something new so it just becomes an extension of the school day. Lessons finally finish at 4.45 p.m. and the students can go home.
The kindergarten and junior primary students go home earlier in order to prevent traffic jams in the small lane outside of our school. You can imagine the chaos if all 1,700 students left at the same time. The students wait for their parents in their classrooms. Then from about 3 p.m. the school loudspeakers are turned on and names are called of the students whose parents have arrived to pick them up. If a parent comes to pick up a student they have to show the duty teacher the student’s i.d. card. Many of the older students walk home by themselves. However, they are not allowed to leave the school premises by themselves. They first have to line up at the school gates and then all leave in one long line. One of the teachers on duty will escort them through the town and help them cross a major intersection. After that they are on their own. Duty teachers have to stay at the school until the last student leaves by about 6 p.m. A long day for many people.
If you are interested in reading more about Life in a Thai School or you want some advice on teaching in Thailand, then please visit our site at www.ThaiSchoolLife.com. You will also find tips there on how to visit a Thai school or a Thai scout group.