Friday, December 11, 2015

Welcome to Sakolrajwittayanukul School: Part II

I can't read it in English...surely not in Thai!
      I'm glad that you've returned to see how my previous entry will continue. After attempting to explain the chaos and the inability for students to fail, I concluded with the lack of educational standards in Thailand. As I have also mentioned before, it seems that my students are free to attend class as they so please. I have yet to witness any repercussions for missed classes. The students sit outside – lounging on benches under the trees on campus as Thai teacher walk past – neither faction batting an eyelash at the other. The trust bestowed upon the students is admirable I suppose, but when does this compromise the integrity of the daily school schedule and their education? Can a 17 or 18 year old student who are aware that they can't fail and whose only concern is leaving for college truly be expected to attend class? Much less a class for a foreign language that they may never use? To put this in perspective, I had 12 of my 55 students attend class today. Some days my classes are absolutely empty. There are even students on my roster who I still haven't met and I've been teaching here for well over a month now.

A decent amount of students (out of 55).
      This occurrence is exemplified on a daily basis in one or more of my classes and perfectly illustrates the hypocrisy of Thailand's society. Saving face and respect are extremely important here...let me rephrase that...the facade and illusion of respect. No Thai ever wants to have the finger of blame pointed at them, nor will they openly place blame on someone else. Doing so seems to permanently burn bridges, regardless of how close the prior relationship was. So teachers in Thailand hold quite a high status (refreshing when compared to the States) and are treated respectfully as least on the surface. The hierarchy established between teachers and students is clearly evident. When seen – whether on campus or around town – students will acknowledge my presence and greet me. If spoken to, students will respond in the best manner possible to every question I ask. In the classroom, I am greeted by students who stand, bow, and remain standing until I give them permission to be seated. Students do not enter or exit the classroom until permission is given; they hover in the doorway as if in Limbo. In my office, students remove their shoes, approach my desk, and kneel down before speaking with me. These actions seem entirely alien. Most of which I consider unnecessary, but I do understand it's part of the culture. It's the false pretenses that I take exception with. Demonstrating these actions which seem respectful is one thing but actually being respectful is completely different. Wouldn't being present for my class be a great show of respect?

      Should I even suppose that a change take place? There are a handful of factors working against me. The most noted of which is the behavior of the natives who have set the precursor that attendance doesn't matter. You see, the Thai teachers themselves do not show up for class periodically for unknown reasons. And if they do, you can't expect it to be at the scheduled time. Being late for class by 10, 20, or 30 minutes is commonplace. Being late for any group meeting or departure can easily run an hour behind schedule. So I imagine that students who encounter this time after time honestly believe that it's justifiable to skip a class or two. Why wouldn't they? Our actions speak infinitely louder than our words.

      In closing, I'll leave you with a few final observations of my school day...
  • We have the most lush coconut and banana trees strewn about campus. I never would have thought I'd live in a place such as this.
  • Initially I was confused at how this school is structured. The best way that it's been described to me is that Sakolrajwittayanukul has a private school within its public school. For a substantial increase in tuition, a student can be "upgraded" to a classroom with electricity, A/C, a marker board, a computer, a reduced class size (~30 students), and the opportunity to attend special-focus classes. What a nice privilege for those who have the means, but imagine being a student who can not. They sweat in a dark, dusty classroom lost amongst a sea of their peers while witnessing the entitlements that their family can't afford.
  • Finally, I'm certain that this is a teaching issue one would only encounter in Thailand. During any given moment in class, you should be prepared to have birds, snakes, or any of the numerous stray dogs meandering through campus interrupt your lesson by entering the room. The students are desensitized to these occurrences and although I'm not yet, it's best to just go about your lesson.
The Farang in front of the ocean of students.

      So perspective, right? Life is all about what we've learned, witnessed, or experienced. New horizons equal new insight which can be beneficial if we ever desire to view our past from an alternative vantage point.

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