An important three years of my life came to end this month. Well actually, it ended last year but it was due to end this month. My students in my previous school – the class I taught every day – finished school.
They were a group of forty six girls that I taught from their first day. They started as little angels and became some of the most challenging, smart and often infuriating kids you could ever imagine. But I became very close to them. I tried to be honest with them, I told them how I felt about their behavior, how I felt about the school, what my own strengths and weaknesses were and what I thought was important for them to learn.
That might sound pretty elementary but in a Thai government school, it was a novelty for the kids. Over three years we shared many ups and downs. On one occasion, another group of teachers pressed very hard for the school to refuse me a new contract when my current one expired. In a moment of anxiety I told my students I might be leaving. The message was misconstrued and as I went to leave my hotel room (we were on a summer camp at the time) I was blocked off by an entire class of weeping kids asking what they had done to make me leave. It was a very humbling moment.
I managed to get my contract for the next year (the teachers who pressed for me to be released couldn’t actually produce a good reason other than their dislike of me) and taught the class for another term. Shortly afterwards I had to resign for personal reasons. With about two weeks to go, I decided to give my class a ‘special’ lesson with some tips for the future. I told them:
1) Be very careful with credit cards
2) Don’t trust boys
3) Don’t trust politicians
4) Don’t learn English because your teacher shouts at you, learn it because it’s the international language
Again, there was hardly any rocket science involved, but the girls really responded. Thai government schools are very much based on the concepts of authority and submission. The students are treated as children who cannot think for themselves. Whenever I had a chat with the students, whenever I asked their opinion or told them mine, their interest was stimulated. I often encouraged them to criticize someone or something. They were reluctant at first but after some nudging a lot of them really srated to have fun.
On my last day at school, the girls presented me with some great gifts. From candy to shirts. My best gift was a small photo of each student. Every single one of them gave me a picture of themselves with a message written on the back. I keep them in my work bag at all times.
After I finished at that school, I came to a bi-lingual school. Foreign teachers now are a dime a dozen and though the school is far more modern in its curriculum and attitude to foreigners, one thing I do miss is the special rapport with the students. Sure I have good students that I get on with, but it’s just not the same.
Anyway, my students at my old school have finished now. Some of them will come back for high school, most will go elsewhere. Many of them still e-mail me, apparently they have a gift they want to give me. Whatever it is, it will mean a lot to me. Teaching is certainly not the best paying or most prestigious job I’ve ever done, but it’s certainly the only job that I’ve ever really missed.