My class is as structured as an improv game. I’m not saying it as a good thing or a bad thing, but just as a fact. My goal is to teach conversational English (the Thai English teachers focus on grammar and writing). My textbook provides the topics, but not much in the way of conversation. There are listening activities on a CD that I can neither play on my laptop, nor connect to in my classroom. I come up with lessons and activities, and they change depending on the class level, interest, attendance, and of course the always surprising cancelled class.
What am I teaching today? Occasionally, I have no idea. Sometimes 15 minutes before class I come with an activity. Sometimes I start an activity and it falls flat, so I change it. Or I have a few days of lessons planned, and then class gets cancelled. Sometimes I can’t get the class to focus on an activity so we do rote memorization instead. And sometimes I get to class and the students say, “Teacher, game!”, and their cute smiles make me agree.
But I love it! I love having the freedom to teach whatever I want. My brightest class is so proficient in English that they are going to perform short skits. My lowest class are best at repeating simple sentences. One class is very artistic and they excel at projects where they get to draw a picture to go with their lesson.
Classes are cancelled all the time. I feel like my schedule is set in Jell-O. Sports Day, Christmas, New Years, visa runs, illness, and test prep have all superseded English class. Sometimes I arrive to class to find an empty room. Last week they were getting costumes for the parade. This week my Thai co-teacher informed me that one of my classes was cancelled. However, I needed to talk to some students about failing the mid-term, so I went to class anyway. Turns out that the students informed the co-teacher that class was cancelled because they wanted to work on an art project. I ended up un-cancelling class by giving the failing students extra review and a re-test.
All students must pass. No student can get below 60%. If they do not attend and do not do the work, they will still get 60%. If I don’t give them a passing grade, it will just get adjusted on their report card. However, I am supposed to help them pass. If they are truant, I am supposed to notify the co-teacher. (When I did, she told me they skip her class too!) If they are failing, I can provide them with extra projects to make up the grade.
The top students must get good grades. We have been specifically told that the students in the top two classes must get top grades so that they can get into university. To do this, we may have to doctor the marks. Some teachers were even directed to provide the answers to students during big exams, so that they do well and that the school gets a good reputation. I guess that’s one way to achieve success.
Are they lazy or “low”? This has been the debate after my recent mid-terms. (They may be called dumb here, but at home they would be more politely called “low”.) After half my class failed the mid-term, I realized that I needed to do a better review with them. (A quarter aced it, so I knew the test wasn’t too hard.) So, before the test we reviewed the only 12 verbs on the test. I had each student write a sentence on the board and had the rest copy them down. Or at least I tried. Some students just won’t do it. They say “Yes, teacher,” and then do nothing except fail the test. Twice. These ones I label as lazy. Other students I can see trying very hard, but still fail. One student really struggled to write down the sentences, and on the re-take of the midterm he passed but fell below 60%. I am not going to make him suffer through anymore assignments. I’ll just give his mark a little boost for effort.
Sometimes I think they don’t understand, but then they come up with little gems like this.