Like most other places in Thailand (including this internet cafe), people remove their shoes before going inside, so we teach barefoot. There is no air conditioning, so the windows and doors are always open, which invites moths, butterflies, and wasps into the classroom. The kids easily ignore the guests so I have taken a cue from them and tried to remain calm if any decide to visit the room.
Our three classes vary in size and energy level, but are all extremely adorable. The 4th grade won't let us leave without giving every single one of us a handshake and a high five. The 5th grade meets us with hugs and kisses on the cheeks when we arrive and when we leave. The Thai culture is extremely averse to public touching so it seems that some of the younger students take advantage of our willingness to show them affection. The 6th grade stands up when we come in their room and shouts "Good morning, teacher. How are you?"
The school is in a very poor area and seems to lack basic organization and resources. We often see 5th graders stroll by or play bocce ball outside while we are teaching the 4th grade. Many of the students have holes in their socks and dirty uniforms. However, what these students may lack in opportunity, they certainly make up in character. Although I find the lack of organization in the school a little baffling, I feel so happy to be there and so excited to interact with the children. They are all so sweet and are genuinely thrilled whenever they've successfully completed an assignment. It may not be an easy job at a perfect school, but I know that my teaching skills and cultural understanding will grow immensely while here. I can only hope that I may be able to make the slightest difference for the kids.
I have also been teaching English to young monks a few nights a week. They are all between the ages of 12 and 21. Most of them will probably not be monks for their whole lives but in Thailand they believe that all men must be monks for some period of time or they will have bad luck all their lives.
The monks wear bright orange robes and are not allowed to touch women or to touch any object that a woman is touching. This has caused problems for me a few times because I keep forgetting that I can't put my hands on their notebooks, pick up their pencils, or tap them on the shoulders. There are three levels of learners - beginning, intermediate, and advanced. The intermediate group is the largest and the advanced group can speak almost fluently.
We had a good time last night teaching directions vocabulary to the beginners and intermediate learners. We built a small maze out of chairs and then one student would call out directions on how to get through the maze (turn left, walk four steps, stop, etc.) while another student walked through with his eyes covered. They loved the game once they'd gotten comfortable with it and I think it helped them remember the words.
Another great part of teaching the monks is that we teach at a temple. It's beautiful and a very relaxing environment. There are gold Buddhas in the room we use as a classroom and there are three dogs that sleep on the floor between the tables every night. It is a very unique teaching experience. Even though we are supposed to alternate teaching days, almost all the volunteers go to the temple every night because the students are so fun and interesting. I am sure it is one of the things I will miss the most from this experience.