No Good Deed Goes Unpunished!
This narrative picks up where I left off at the end of Proctor-ologist. I was bound and determined to express my opinions about improving the quality of English instruction (and education in general)
here at my school. I’m a firm believer in going right to the top when you want to accomplish something. In my case it meant making an appointment to meet with the school Director. Although this school does not teach a Catholic curriculum
(99% of the students and staff are Buddhist), it is a Catholic run institution. The Director is one of three Brothers of the Order of St. Gabriel here. He makes some teachers here nervous. That’s probably because he is very direct
in his conversations with you. Personally I’ve gotten along just fine with him since my first day here. I happen to like direct conversation, without a lot of the equivocating. The Director in turn has always admired my willingness to go
the extra mile for my students. He has commented favorably on my outreach efforts. So I was confident of getting a fair and open hearing for my observations.
The simple act of making an appointment to see him seemed to shake up things before I ever even met the man. Apparently his secretary got on the horn and told the head of the English department that I had made an appointment to see him. It wasn’t
long after that I received an urgent phone call from Miss E., the aforementioned department head. “Why do you need to see the Director? Is there a problem? You should always come to see me before seeing the Director!” Wow this lady
was as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof! I told her to relax. There wasn’t any problem. I merely wanted to share some of my thinking with him. I would be happy to share these ideas with you as well. Let me come over to your office and
show you some notes I made. When it comes to important meetings, I like to make “talking points”. This keeps me from staying on track. I sometimes worry that I will start babbling. No doubt some of you think that babbling is my standard
way of communicating! Hey, as I’ve said before I have never considered myself to be a writer. I just sit down with an interesting idea that’s come into my head, and what follows is strictly off the cuff. (Sorry about
the occasional mistake in grammar or spelling!)
So here is what I wrote up for main points that I wished to discuss. I will add commentary in italics.
Labor Omnia Vincit
Challenges and Opportunities
Living up to our full potential
It never hurts to present things as “challenges” rather than problems.
1. ACL has tremendous resources at hand to achieve the goal of educating students to their full potential. It is blessed with a fine teaching staff. The teachers here are dedicated professionals in the finest sense of the word.
In Thailand it is important to avoid losing face, so I immediately complemented the institution. Actually I do believe there is a dedicated teaching staff here.
2. Despite our best efforts, many students are not learning as well as we might hope. This is evident in our daily classroom routines. It is especially clear when looking at less than stellar exam results. What can we do as educators to improve the situation?
That is a tremendous challenge to a teaching staff that is already straining to meet current obligations, and yet it is a challenge which must be met head on if we are to be successful in reaching our goals.
Okay, everyone is working their butt off, but every teacher here moans about poor performance, not just one lone Farang! It’s time to actually look at the problem, because it is NOY going away unless we take some action!
3. Labor Omnia Vincit. The school’s motto should be everyone’s inspiration, both teachers and students. Success never comes without hard work. We need to implement the spirit of this simple motto into the fabric
of our school. Students must know that the only way to succeed at their studies is to work diligently every day.
It seemed a good idea to base my suggestions on what already exists as the school’s stated philosophy. I actually agree with them wholeheartedly.
4. Education is a contract between teachers and students. Both sides need to meet their “contractual obligations” for real learning to take place. As teachers we “agree” to: prepare lessons that are designed to help our students
to master specific objectives, to come to the classroom with a positive attitude, and to mentor our students not only in the classroom, but outside as well. We agree to work hard to help students who are having difficulty, but who want to learn.
Students must “agree” to: be quiet in the classroom, and not create disruptions that interfere with the ability of other students to learn. They must agree to pay attention, to take notes and to ask questions when necessary. They
must agree to study the material they have been taught, and to complete assignments when given.
4. Motivation is the true “Key to Success” in mastering any skill, including learning. There are many methods of motivating students. The ideal way of course is through inspiration. Children naturally want to learn. They are curious about
everything! Early childhood education ideally nurtures this natural desire and focuses it by giving children “tools” to learn. If successful, these early years cultivate the desire to learn for the simple sake of learning.
Learning becomes its own reward.
Students need to understand why they are here at ACL. They need to understand the importance of what they are learning. They need to understand that what they learn here will affect their lives,
especially their careers. A wonderful way to illustrate this would be to have a Career Day. We would invite professionals from many disciplines to tell the students about how important their education
was in getting them to their current positions. Ideally, these professionals should be ACL alumni: Doctors, nurses, engineers, business people, architects, scientists, government officials, teachers, etc.
4. Discipline is a prerequisite for success in the classroom. It is impossible to accomplish much when so much time is taken up simply maintaining order. Ultimately in a sense we serve as “parents” for our students. As such we have the right
to expect that our “children” obey us when we ask them to behave. To simply shrug our shoulders and say, “Yes discipline has always been a problem” is not useful, in fact this leads a “self fulfilling”
cycle of chaos. We are adults. The students are children. Adults should control the behavior of children. It is simple as that!
ACL is unique in that the educational structure of the school rests firmly on a moral foundation which is based on the philosophy of the Brothers of St. Gabriel. Those moral teachings must come into play in the classroom! The Morning
Assembly Prayer sets the right tone for the day, but this spirit must be honored in the classroom as well.
(Please read School Daze Part 2) I also thought that appealing to the Brother’s moral concerns was a smart way to go about this.
If children, for whatever reason are unwilling to behave properly, then it is our obligation to discipline them, not only to teach them an appropriate lesson, but to respect the desire of other students who wish to learn. The nature of what kind of discipline
is appropriate and effective is a matter for discussion. One thing is clear; merely banging a stick on a desk, or even occasionally on a student’s bottom is ineffective at maintaining order. As it is now students do not respect our authority.
Other measures are clearly needed, including: a strong lecture from the Brothers on proper behavior, a school policy that has real consequences for students who misbehave, and if needed,
bringing parents into the picture. Parents work hard to pay for their children’s education here. One would expect that they would not be pleased to know that their child was behaving badly.
If you have never set foot into a Thai school, you have NO idea how utterly chaotic it is. So much of a teacher’s time is taken up with trying to maintain a minimum of order.
5. Learning is a step by step process. It doesn’t matter whether the subject is English, Thai, science or math. Each step provides the foundation for the next. Without a firm understanding of step # 1, there is little point in going on to step
# 2, since step # 2 is based on the assumption that you have mastered the knowledge in step # 1.
This is not “rocket science”, right? Strangely it is a starling idea here.
Many students here have not mastered fundamental English. Without that knowledge they flounder when we try to teach them material that is far beyond their comprehension. We need to assess the abilities of students and teach them from where they are, not
where we wish them to be! Many Mathiyom level students here need to go back and master skills which are usually taught at the Prathom level. Simply pretending that the students are learning when in fact
they aren’t will only perpetuate the problem. It is far better to for students to truly learn a few things, than to check of on a paper that they have “covered” a large amount of material. If remedial instruction is required
to bring students up to standard, then this is simply what must be done. We need to adapt our curriculum so that one step is mastered before proceeding to the next step.
Now of course I am getting to the heart of the matter. These were
“nitty-gritty” changes that I was calling for. The entire educational process is based on being able to tick off a box that says a unit has been “covered.”
6. For students to learn, they need a good “toolbox” of study skills. These include: listening carefully during class, taking good notes, and practice…..lots and lots of practice! I’m sure other teachers could easily
come up with many important study skills. Many students, once they have written something in their notebook, never look at that material again……ever! We need to structure review and practice into the students’ routine. Something
that we might consider is a study skills camp. This could include such topics as how to do research in the library or online.
7. Well begun is half done! If our students are motivated, disciplined and have the tools to learn, there is no doubt that they will be successful, not only here in their studies, but throughout their lives as well.
8. We need to sit down, not only as educators and colleagues, but as members of the ACL “family” to come up with strategies for success. A brainstorming session would undoubtedly yield many wonderful ideas.
Okay let’s sit down together. I welcome all of your suggestions.
9. In no way does what I’ve talked about imply any criticism of ACL. As I have said at the very beginning, the teachers here have worked long and hard to give the students the best possible education. No one is “to blame” for anything!
But I think we can all agree that the school can do even better at achieving its mission. I personally look forward to a long and rewarding career here at ACL.
This is another attempt for face saving. I also link my future to that of the school’s success.
I really didn’t know quite what to expect when I finally presented these ideas to the Director, but I was pleased that he seemed to endorse my observations and suggestions. He was delighted that I was actually thinking long and hard on how to improve
the quality of education. He immediately called the head of academic affairs down to join us and told her to arrange a meeting of the English department. He wanted me to make a presentation based on what we had just discussed. By the sour look
this woman gave me, I could tell already that there were folks here who would fight tooth and nail to avoid changing the status quo. In their minds, the mere acknowledgement of a “problem” meant that someone was responsible for said
problem. Therefore all problems were never to be mentioned, let alone discussed. Welcome to Thailand and Cover Your Ass At All Costs! This was going to be quite the meeting!
Well it’s Friday morning, and after a good night’s sleep I can reflect on yesterday afternoon’s meeting. Despite my good intentions (and we know the road to Hell is paved with plenty of those) I have made a resolution that I should have made after my first experience teaching in Thailand. Just keep your fucking mouth shut, smile even though the ship around you is sinking, collect your well earned pay and go home. Einstein once defined mental illness as performing the same
actions over and over, and expecting different results. I may not be the brightest boy on the block, but I’m sane enough to know when I’m defeated. I really wish I could have recorded my meeting. You really have to experience the
Thai version of Orwell’s Newspeak in its full glory to truly appreciate it. Here’s how I all played out. The Brother Director made a wonderful introduction, saying how impressed he was with my concerns, and that he thought there
was a lot of truth in what I had to say. I then gave a succinct and well spoken if I may say presentation. Needless to say the silence was as thick as pea soup. “Let’s have some questions and comments” said the Director. What
followed was pure Newspeak. There are NO problems here. The students are doing just fine. There is NO trouble with discipline. Everyone is doing just peachy on their exams. We cannot possibly change the curriculum in any way. The only problem
is of course that you (shudder) Don’t Understand Thai Culture! Yes, when confronted with logic, that old chestnut gets pulled out. Shooting the messenger is a time honored practice that is
the Thai way of avoiding confrontation. Okay folks, if that are the way you want it, so be it. I will continue to do my personal best in the classroom. If student’s pay attention and learn, that’s fine. If they don’t
give a shit and learn nothing, that will be equally fine. As long as the money goes into my bank account each month, I life will go on. In the Land of the Blind, the one-eyed man is well advised to just mosey along in silence.
No comments as I am out all day today….sorry!