A Break

January 15, 2017

Chiang Mai, Thailand

It is Sunday, and I’m laying on a king-sized bed alone in my lovely room here at the school in Chaing Mai. The sunlight is pouring through the large, double sliding glass doors, attenuated only by the sheer curtains that I have drawn to keep the heat at bay. I do have air-conditioning, and it is keeping me quite comfortable. My room is painted a soft yellow, with a brilliant white ceiling. The floor is marble tile, and gleams perfectly, as the housekeepers mop it each and every day. I have a desk, chair, cabinets for my clothing and supplies, a small refrigerator, and an electric kettle. The private bathroom is huge, with a shower as big as a walk-in closet. Outside, I have a small veranda surrounded by greenery and backed up to the crystal-clear swimming pool. It’s all very luxurious.

My plane from Bangkok landed about 10km away almost exactly one week ago. And already it seems like an eternity since I picked up my luggage and arrived at the school. My classes are fast-paced and even though we have breaks between each, it seems difficult to keep up with all of the information that is being thrown at us. We each have two teaching assignments every week. That means writing a lesson plan, collecting materials, submitting them to the instructor beforehand, then standing in front of a group of Thai students who are there to learn English from teachers who are nervous, under prepared, and sometimes trying not to break down and cry while running away. Our teaching practice is scheduled from 5:45 – 8:15pm each day – three classes with a break in between. That gives us all day to dread what is to come while trying to focus on the instructors who are heaping another pile of knowledge upon us.

On top of the regular class schedule, which runs from 11:30 until the end of the last teaching practice, we are also required to complete four written assignments during the course. The first consisted of four worksheets that needed to be filled out in detail. They took me over 12 hours to finish, which took up most of my Saturday and a good portion of this morning. We are expected to know (or at least be able to look up in textbooks) the finer points of grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary. We have to describe in detail how we will approach teaching these to students, the methods we will use, the problems that we anticipate and how we plan to deal with them. We are using terms like “lexis”, “concept check questions”, “elicitation”, and “clines”. We’ve been given a chart of phonemes (yeah, I never heard of them, either), which are symbols denoting each of the basic sounds contained in human speech. To me and many of the other students, they look like hieroglyphics. I guess they will be useful, assuming that our students understand them.

My classmates are from all over the world. Several British and Australians, as well as Chinese. Two women from Bangladesh, at least one guy each from India and France. Girls from Argentina, Eastern Europe. And a few Americans, though some have already been teaching abroad for years already. In my group, only two of us have actually flown here from the States. Nick, from Arizona and I both are now unemployed and homeless, waiting to see what opens up for us after the course. Overall, my fellow teaching students have been very pleasant company. We seem to be building a camaraderie to survive the rigors of the course. We all bitch and moan about how much we have to do in so little time, cajole each other to keep at it, check in with one another to see if help or support are needed.

I’m waiting to meet a few others at 4pm at the front gate. We have requested a songthaew (basically a pickup truck with a covered bed with bench seats on either side) to take us into Chiang Mai so we can go to the Sunday night market. There, we hope to sample some good street food, check out some sights, and perhaps see a few unique items. Basically, we just want to be outside the walls. I did get out a little yesterday, when some of us walked about a kilometer down the road to a little cafe run by Steve – a British expat -, his Thai wife, and their ten-year-old daughter, Jasmine, for whom the restaurant is named. We had a proper English breakfast – eggs, sausage, bacon (well, the English version), beans, toast, and coffee. Steve also teaches English, and sees a lot of new students from my school every month. He and I chatted for a bit, and he told me if I would like his help in finding a teaching position, he’d be happy to assist. So, we’ll see where that leads.

My schedule is such that I’m a bit pressed for time, and my writing has suffered for it. But I’ll attempt to get a few stories out. Because there are so many things to tell. Until next time…

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