Teacher Tim and the Sticky Wicket
By the time I got into ESL teaching here in Thailand a certain nationality had largely spoiled things for American pedagogues. I don’t mean they had corrupted or debauched Thai students, or turned them against Yankees. What I mean is that this group (which I see no need to name at this point, except to remind historians that Charles DeGaul once called them “perfidious Albion”) had usurped all the interest in sports that the Thais, a naturally gregarious people, had displayed over the previous years. The Thais were simply mad about rugby and cricket and other gnomic activities that a good ol’ American like me was very hard pressed to understand.
In class after class I would endeavor to inculcate the finer points of baseball and American football, by using phrases like “grand slam”, “sudden death”, “seventh inning stretch”, “strike out”, and that grand old maxim “kill the umpire!” I sang “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” to my students, explaining afterwards the importance, and sheer joy, of obtaining that box of Cracker Jacks. I recited “Casey at the Bat” for my students, and earnestly attempted to get them to put themselves in the Mudville team’s place. Tears came to my eyes as I narrated the moving events leading up to that immortal request: “Give ‘em one for the Gipper!”
And in return these, these . . . louts (student is too good a name for them) came back at me with questions like “What’s the difference between scrums and rucks?” and “Does the state of the pitch really affect the game?”
By golly, these are questions that no self-respecting Yankee Doodle Dandy like me can even begin to contemplate, let alone answer!
When I would wax poetic about the feats of Mickey Mantle or Bronko Nagurski, my pupils would dismiss them out of hand and insist on knowing more about nonentities like Don Bradman or asking if rugby union were really invented at Rugby School in Warwickshire. Pah! My lesson plan would be completely off-sided.
But I have never been one to take defeat lying down. Crying maybe or pouting in the corner, but definitely not lying down.
And so I sought out someone who could explain the intricacies of these baffling physical activities. It wasn’t hard to do; in certain parts of Bangkok you can’t throw a crumpet without hitting an expat. I threw mine, followed by tea and cake, and we settled down for a cozy little chat amidst the roti vendors and mendicants in a soi off of Sukhumvit.
Much of that conversation has mercifully passed away from my memory like a fever dream, but what I can reconstruct ran something like this:
“Well, old boy, I say, fifteen players on the field, dontcha know? Eight forwards, seven backs. You move the ball ahead with a maul, what? You must try for the drop goal at all costs, old bean. Then I believe the batsman takes his stance, waiting to be dismissed. The pitch is one chain in length – make a note of that, Yank! Your wicket should have three wooden stumps and two wooden bails. Creases are painted on to the pitch to determine the limit of the bowler’s approach. Tries are scored between the goal line, if I’m not mistaken, and the dead ball line. Blimey, that’s about all. Pip, pip, cheerio!”
I returned to my ESL classes sadder, and certainly no wiser. My head felt like a takraw ball.
And then the Thais went bonkers for soccer.
I couldn’t interest my students in horse shoes, shuffleboard, jai alai, or even mumblety-peg.
I finally bowed to the inevitable and began using soccer examples in my lesson plans, putting up photos of Beckham and Pele and other soccer luminaries. At least this was a game that had sane and clear cut rules. And soccer riots. My students seemed especially interested in the last – avidly following the body count after each major competition. The little ghouls.
It wasn’t long before my older classes wanted to discuss the subject of performance-enhancing supplements. Steroids and such. Were these a good thing or a bad thing for professional sports? For once I was able to turn this interest to my advantage as an English teacher. I bushwhacked my eager young charges by asking them about performance-enhancing supplements for education – brain food. What could they take before a test that would enhance their memory and performance?
They listed three things that were certain to increase their test scores:
1. Grilled duck livers
3. Green tea
In the spirit of scientific inquiry, I sprung for these three items at the end of the school year for my entire Matayom 2 class, before they took their final exams. It was a very small school, so there were only 12 students.
I can report that everyone passed, and proceeded to Matayom 3.
I have since attempted to live on grilled duck livers, durian, and green tea, in order to increase my own brain power. Results have been mixed. I do feel smarter, but I think the flatulence is definitely preventing me from mixing with others who have the same improved IQ as me . . .