Odds and Ends
You can collect a lot of detritus over the years, as an ESL teacher.
There are old attendance records, lesson plans, homework that never got returned to the student, forms that never got filled out, etc. In a tropical country like Thailand, a box full of this kind of stuff is an open invitation for bugs of the creepy crawly
variety to settle in for a long stay.
But even Thailand has now joined the digital age, and the mountain of forms and documents of yesterday has gone the way of the dodo bird and free checking accounts. Teachers now keep track of attendance on computer, and students are often assigned homework
to complete on their pc’s.
Thus it was that I threw out the last of my ESL teaching folders, all crammed snugly in a cardboard box that had been lurking under my bed for many moons.
I first cautiously poked the box to alert the spiders and scorpions that I was making an unscheduled visit. Then I began sorting through the yellowed, tattered papers.
There was my infamous lesson plan to teach a class of Mathayom 6 students to write limericks. I started them off with “There was a young man from Chiang Mai.” Also, for variety, “There was a young woman of Loey.” A sad reminder
that I was never able to get my students to understand the structure of a limerick, let alone compose one. I had held on to that lesson plan over the years, in the hopes of finding a class who would enjoy my fey comments on the man from Nantucket,
or the Old Woman of Dong – but I was wrong. Edward Lear would not have prospered, had he come up the river to teach in Ayutthaya two centuries ago.
Why had I kept the attendance sheets for my ESL class from 1998? I can’t even remember who these kids were. Blue pencil marked them present, red pencil marked them absent. Sadly, as the school year progressed, there were many more red marks than
blue. At the bottom of the box were a dozen or so pencil nubs, one half red, the other half blue. Sheesh, I’d gone through a lot of those pencils keeping track of kids who were never there! A very apt allegory about my own life –
had I been present, or absent? Better cut it out; that kind of thinking leads to madness . . .
Here was a First Aide pamphlet in English, from the Thai MOE. In case of snake bite, the student was to “be held to lay down and no positioning to make it worse”. And much more of the incomprehensible same.
Ah, here is a list of words my students had wanted to learn; I well remember that miserable day in Nonthaburi at the junior technical college. Molten sun pouring in the window, ceiling fans turning ever more slowly, my one good shirt dissolving in a pool
of sweat, and the lethargic students slipping into comas right before my very eyes. In desperation I finally asked them to write down any English words they wanted and I would explain them. This brought them back to life, slightly. The list ran
Hell the pink
Outside of the last one (which turned out to be Superman) I was unable to figure out what real English words they were talking about – so I guess you could say the lesson was a bust, but at least they stayed awake – which was more than I
A note from a student: “Khun Khruu, please explain my reason for this lateness from the rain amounts that running in the street. My family in many of way to keep store of many from having wetting.” And strangely enough, I understood that
note perfectly; the student was asking forgiveness for being tardy because the monsoon rains had flooded the street where his family had their shop and he had to help with the sandbagging.
My daily schedule for the 2001 school year:
• Up at 7am
• Catch bus by 7:30am
• Arrive school 8:15am
• Eat rice porridge w/students until 8:45am
• Flag raising and national anthem
• First class 10am
• Correct papers at my desk until noon
• Lunch w/students and teachers until 1pm (the yellow stains on my schedule remind me they had a dy-no-mite yellow curry going on there)
• Second class at 1pm
• Third class at 2pm
• Fourth class at 3pm, but no one ever showed, so I worked the crossword puzzle in the Bangkok Post
• Coached kickball out in the courtyard until the busses came at around 4:15pm
• Looked busy at my desk until 5pm
• Take bus back to my room and stand in show for 20 minutes
There are several busted plastic rulers, a plastic pouch that once held something that needed to be protected from the elements but now is empty, and many, many English tests on cheap gray paper. A rusted protractor. A faded photograph of Miss Yamida,
a teacher of Japanese at one of the schools I worked at; I had a crush on her and wanted to ask her out, but the principal said No Dating of Colleagues. My letter of resignation from a parochial school – I can’t remember now if I
quit that school or was fired or what . . .
Tiring of the dusty, half-forgotten memories, I tip the entire box onto a pile of burning palm fronds out in the front yard. Then add some grass cuttings. It is all gone in a puff of smoke. The Thai gf tells me to change my shirt; we are going out to
the Korean grill tonight. I’m glad for the diversion. Introspection is a waste of time in Thailand, where the sunset lasts no longer than the blink of an eye.