I’m not going to lie to you, I was quite hung over this morning. We all were. After two days of classroom practical training and relentlessly adoring live children to teach, we were all ready to blow off some steam. And we did so, in fine fashion, with a little pool party last night. But amazingly, the lethargy and rough edges vanished when we arrived at the school. The energy of the children made us instantly forget about ourselves and we were instantly strong and powerful again.
In Thailand, the well known term “English Camp” refers to a full day or multiple days of English training for children. It is a structure that is largely fun and games and the use thereof to teach language skills. We sing, we dance, we play; the instructions, recitations, and conversations are all in English. Our English Camp was tantamount to a day off for the children and teachers of the school…lots of fun, but hopefully some English skills rub off in the process.
The kids were wonderful in the classroom the past two days, but here they were even more so. Personalities soared and inhibitions vanished. There were eleven of us (including Jack) to manage and lead 160 kids. For the most part, the Thai teachers did not participate in the day’s activities (unless Jack dragged them up on stage to get a laugh), so we were responsible for the day’s management.
We started by dividing up the children into teams, five in total and we divided ourselves up amongst them. The children all made name tags which was a riot. Every child (or adult, for that matter) in Thailand has a nickname. And these are usually not related in any way to their real name (e.g. Mike for Michael). My favorite boy in the school, for example was called “dog”. There was a “Night”, “Prae”, “Yok”, “Korn”, “Aom”, “Tomso”, “PaPhrin”, and a “Clash”. One of these days I am going to have to learn how or where they get their nicknames.
The children were also tasked with coming up with team names and making a poster. My charges were “Team Man U”. There was also a “Team Awesome”, a “Team Dancing Monkey”, a “Team Star Black”, and a “Team Sexy Buffalo”.
We had all the students from P1 (~grade 1) through M3 (~grade 9) together, so it was interesting to watch the dynamics. Some of the elders picking on the youngsters, some protecting and helping out – just like any playground in the world, I suppose. But they all got along really well and it was quite touching at times.
Cap’n Jack was the day’s emcee. He quickly endeared himself to the children while asserting his authority without any of the children taking notice. I think this was a really good format for us to see Jack in action with children. Occasionally he had poked his head in all of our classes over the past two days and helped out where people needed it, but we have never seen him ‘teach’. So this was a nice opportunity for us to see how his teaching of adults (us) differed from his teaching of children. It didn’t a whole lot, which probably says a lot more about us and our maturity level in class than his skills.
Jack was fantastic with the kids, employing various tried and true tactics to get all the kids to fall into line, sit down, be quiet, listen to instructions, set examples, etc. We, the newly minted teachers, played a dual role: Jack’s demonstration monkeys and leaders of the activities with the children. He’d bring us up on stage and get us to demonstrate some activity or game, then off we’d go to the children again to lead them in the exercise.
The games we played were all engaging and group oriented. One game called ‘Man and Monk’ involved two students standing with one another, one posed like a man, one posed like a Monk (in meditation). Then it would shift to Man and Monkey, in which one child would act like a monkey and climb on the man’s back. Then Man and Princess where the man would get down on one knee in front of the delicate princess and try to woo her. Then Man and Monkey, then Man and Monk, then Monkey, then Man, faster and faster and faster….forcing the children to listen to the words and interpret them in actions.
Another game involved two students standing apart from one another with hands over their heads touching in between them making the rough shape of a house. Then Jack would yell out “three houses, two dogs” or (some such configuration) and the children would have to organize into groups of eight with six forming the three houses and two on their knees inside the houses. And so on…
Jack also played a game called “Bring Me…”. This game is simple, Jack tells the children what to bring him. For example, “bring me something blue” resulted in me carrying a child in a blue shirt to the front to Jack. “Bring me a flower” resulted in all the kids running out in the the school yard to look for flowers, yelling and screaming, pushing and shoving like children do. “Bring Belinda some food” resulted in her holding about a dozen plates of lunch and “bring John a shower” resulted in him getting doused by at least ten bottles of water.
Score was kept and for every right answer to a question, winner of a race, first team to sit down, etc, points were awarded. These children are quite competitive and very enthusiastic. They have no idea about prizes for the winners (and frankly everyone got a prize at the end), but they sure wanted to win. The past few days in the classroom, there were times when students would put their heads down on the desk and pout when they weren’t called on or when someone else beat them to an answer. Today, it was team competition on a big scale and it was furious. The cheers that erupted from one team or another when awarded points were deafening sometimes.
During lunch, I sat down on the floor of the hall and instantly had three kids on my lap. Then 5, then 9, then 14… Then, surprise of all surprises, they gave Teacher Mike a massage for about 15 minutes. It was excellent. Massage is a big part of the culture in this country and it hasn’t skipped this generation. Of course, they also were tickling me and making funny faces, taking pictures and trying on my hat. But it was excellent to sit on the floor and wrestle with these children for the lunch hour.
In the afternoon we played some more games and finished with one involving bottles of Baby Powder. All the children sat in a circle and the baby powder bottles were passed around when the music was played. When the music stopped, Jack had the children holding bottles of baby powder stand up. The were instructed to hold the bottle in their left hand and pour some baby powder into their right. Then they were told to put the powder on themselves. Which, for the most part, they happily did.
The next round, those holding the bottles of powder were told to put the baby powder on the person sitting to their left. Which they did with even more enthusiasm. Then all the children were told to put the baby powder on Teacher Mike. I will have talcum in my ears for the next six months and by now the air is thick with baby powder, but everyone is loving it. Then the kids holding the powder were told to put the powder on their Thai teachers. This was excellent….the ultra strict task masters were running full speed across the football field to the safety of a classroom with 50 kids running them down. It was a nice moment for these kids that usually get no opportunity to act this way with their teachers. But alas, the teachers intuited that it was coming and had positioned themselves with a head start and did, in the end, outrun the kids.
At the end of the day, the goodbyes were difficult. Hugs from the children would last 20 seconds, sometimes more. More autographs and exchanges of Facebook pages. And the kids presented us with stacks of cards…beautiful, hand made cards thanking us for being such great teachers, professing their love for us, or begging us to come back. This was a very hard moment for some of us to leave behind kids with whom we had just shared three exhilaratingly tiring days.
And now, it was time for a massage. Our group headed straight for a massage parlor nearby to our hotel and had the booze from the night before and the stresses of the week aggressively worked out of our bodies. Sean and I shared a room and were apparently the loudest enthusiasts in the group because everyone else in the parlor could hear us encouraging our masseurs on, moaning and laughing. Our masseurs convinced us that in order for the massage to be effective, we had to experience pain else there would be no release and relaxation afterwards. We loved it. All of us loved it. It might not have been the best massage I’ve ever had, but it was certainly one of the best timed.
On our way back to the hotel, we were casually told, “oh, by the way, you all have jobs and some of you will be leaving in the next day or two.” This was a shock to us all. Jack had hinted to me a few days earlier that previously they had ‘graduated’ some of their students early because the demand for teachers was so high. But I didn’t expect this. Students were presented with contracts, well, pseudo contracts, to sign that neither outlined the school they were to teach at or the level(s) they would be teaching.
For some this was a relief, living on a shoestring with everything they have in a backpack. A Job. A paycheck! Woo hoo. But for all of us, it was a tough thing to internalize that our little band was being broken up. We had all thought we would be together for at least another week. Even the schedule given to us by Entrust TEFL told us that those getting jobs would be leaving the next Friday. Now that was out the window – whole week early.
The questions came fast and furious. Where am I going to work? This one was usually only answered by a town name. What is the salary? The average is about 30,000 baht per month ($1,000US).
When do I start? What kind of school is it? What grades will I be teaching? How many classes? Is it a big school? Where will I live? When do I leave? None of these had answers. So there was a feeling of unease that settled in alongside the relief that some were experiencing.
It was an amazing day, but its joys and exhilaration were tempered with being confronted with a great deal of unknowns.
The next few days would hold many surprises for most of us.