After waking up exceptionally early this morning – perhaps out of nerves, perhaps simply out of pure jetlag I sallied forth from my 6th floor apartment in search of my university. After an impromptu tour of the campus the day before (the same day I landed in Thailand) on Denali’s motorbike (yes we were both wearing helmets), I had a general idea of where I needed to go and had even spied my department building, but it was only a vague understanding at best. Luckily the man in the red bus that agreed to take me was easy going and didn’t mind driving around campus in search of the building, and teaching me Thai on the way! (drong bai – straight ahead, lee-o sai – turn left, lee-o kwah – turn right, kow pat – fried rice).
First rule about being a teacher: Expect the unexpected and when it happens – laugh to yourself and roll with it. I’ve been told this advice in one form or another from training sessions, fellow teachers and former teacher on countless occasions. It is one thing to be told this and another to experience it and in many ways then I am happy that I was not spared any waiting on when that moment might come.
I spent the morning in the teachers lounge meeting fellow teachers – Thai and foreign, as well as looking through my books and figuring out what I was supposed to be teaching in a couple of hours (Section b of lesson 1). This semester I am teaching four classes: two sections of ENG 101 and two sections of ENG 201, each with roughly 40 students.
After a light lunch I headed off to my first class attempting to appear more confident then I felt and feeling very much like a teacher with my handful of books, papers, folders, etc. I’ll admit standing outside my class really odd. I mean here were all of these kids sitting in desks waiting…for me. But as the hour was approaching I braced myself and strode in, placed my books and papers and bag confidently on the desk, took out the audio CD we were supposed to used, turned with purpose to the computer system to set it up and realized I had no clue how to go about making it work…still having a couple of minutes I fiddled and clicked and pushed buttons but to no success – time to improvise, something else would have to fill that time. I put the CD from my mind and turned to greeting the class and then to reviewing the household objects they had learned last week.
But so far the challenges of my first day seem relatively minor, luckily it got more interesting - halfway through class I came to realize that I had completely misunderstood the situation. While I thought the students had already completed a week of class, bought their textbooks and completed the first weeks homework, this was in fact not the case (to no one’s fault but my own). What this meant was that meant that the pages and material that I had thought had been covered, and the vocabulary that I was assuming was review was all new – Time to change the game plan and back track. Material was reconsidered and combined. Some were dropped altogether. It also meant that I had to collect money and have the students fill out book slips at the end of class for them to pick up their textbooks.
After arriving ten minutes early to my first class I found myself rushing to find the building of my second section of 101 with two minutes to go – I seem to be fast loosing the air of assured teacher. I finally located it and the correct stairs to the third floor (that took three attempts). I even found the classroom (I’m now 5 minutes late) and there were even students in it. The only problem was there was also a teacher in it…hmmm…there was nothing else to do but to cautiously open the door and to inquire as to where my class might be. Apparently, I came to realize, the classroom I was originally assigned is high coveted as it is one of the few with air conditioning (instead of a fan) and there were already two teachers vying for it (just after I enter another teacher enters to lay claim to the classroom.) Looking through my pile of papers I found that there were two different classroom numbers market down and so I left the two others to duke it out over the air conditioning and hurried down a flight of stairs to a classroom this time full of students but missing a teacher – me. What’s teaching without a little adventure? Signing out in the teachers lounge after both of my classes were over I ran into a lovely teacher who had written me a letter about the ENG 101 situation and how I needed to have everyone buy the books and condense down the lessons to get them back on track…aww well…
Aside from unexpected challenges and improvisation the day was exhausting. I have newfound respect for all of my teachers. I look back and cringe at all those times when teachers asked us questions and I remained silent or when I talked to friends in the back of the class!
From my three hours of teaching I would say its empowering, while at the very same time incredibly daunting and terrifying. I feel somewhat like a puppy that has been inadvertently let off the leash, I mean I’m barely little more than a student myself (6 days not a student to be precise) and suddenly I am up in front of the classroom striding back and forth in an exaggerated manner to illustrating using my feet “for walking” instead of “to walk” and asking why my students might prefer to live in a houseboat (“so I can travel the word”) or a ranch house (“so I can sit in a garden and hear the songs of the birds that sing to my heart”). Overall it is a decidedly odd feeling to suddenly find myself a teacher.
I am off to look over the lesson for my 8 am class tomorrow and to dream up ways in which my entire lesson plan might have to be thrown forcibly out the third floor window in to the sweltering Thai air and what I’ll have to do to replace it! It should be exciting!