Teaching in Ubon Ratchathani Province

Source: Official facebook page of ATYAP
When I first heard of the ATYAP program and its three weeks of voluntary teaching at Thai schools, I thought of small, under-resourced, rurally-located schools with students of barely any English knowledge. I mean, at the team meetings, they told us that some kids couldn't even afford socks to wear to school. Whilst some ATYAPers did end up teaching at severely impoverished schools, I can't say that was the case at Ubon Witiya Khom.

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Bruh, that's a helluva lotta students. 2,400 to be exact. 

The kids at my school had socks. They also had microphones in most classrooms, some smart projectors, computer rooms, two giant fields for sports, a marching school band and a school cafeteria the size of the Rod Laver arena. I'm not even kidding.

Just look at the size of this thing. Lunchtime is utter chaos.

But considering the number of students that the school was accommodating for, there was no such thing as too big. 

Each grade had around 300 students which were divided into 9 classes per grade (approximately 40 students in each classroom). In Australia, it's illegal to have more than 30 students per class but clearly, class sizes of that scale weren't possible at Ubon Wit (even with more than 100 teachers on staff). 

Teacher Roanna teaching the "We Are One" song at English Camp
One thing you should know about Thai people and Thai culture in general is that they are very very welcoming and generous towards guests. I remember vividly our first day at the school. A ceremony was conducted for us at the morning assembly where we were introduced to all 2,400 of the students. We then moved to the meeting room where the students put on traditional performances for us ranging from Thai dancing to live music. 

Honestly, by the end of the official welcome, I was a gazillion times more nervous than before due to the pressure of feeling like we needed to deliver something amazing for the welcome we were getting. I almost wanted to apologise for being an unqualified, young university student. Oh, and also for being Asian because judging from the amount of times I was asked where I was really from, they were expecting Caucasian Australians. Pro-tip for future ATYAPers: be prepared to explain your family's migration history at least 30 times if you aren't Caucasian in appearance.

Source: Official Facebook page of ATYAP

School in Thailand starts at 8:15 am but students are usually there earlier. At exactly 8 am, the King's song comes on over the speakers and everybody, young and old must immediately stop what they are doing to pay respect to the King. The first time it happened, we (the ATYAP teaching team) had no idea what we were expected to do. It was only after the School Director stood up and cleared his throat that we got his hint and stood up as well. This was probably the first in a long line of cultural gaffes we were destined to make at Ubon Wit. 

There is morning assembly every morning at 8:15 am and despite seeing it with my own eyes five times a week for three weeks in a row, I will never get over how incredible a sight it is to see 2,400 students lined up in military precision on the football field. I took so many photos of this that the cleaning app on my Samsung SIII would remind me to delete duplicate photos off my phone at least twice a day.

At the morning assembly, students are led through a morning prayer by the school leaders, sing the national anthem and perform the school chant. Then, depending on what day it is, either do some morning aerobics, Muai Thai routine, the scout's salute or Thai dancing. I firmly believe that the school took perverse joy in seeing their Australian guests embarrass themselves by fumbling through the Muai Thai and Thai dancing routines since they made us stand at the very front to participate. Cultivating teacher's respect is a lot harder when your kids have seen you punch yourself in the nose whilst trying to execute one of the more advanced Muai Thai moves. 

Uniforms also change depending on the day. On Mondays, more senior teachers have to wear the official yellow uniform of the government. Tuesdays are the standard uniform, Wednesdays are PE clothes (on Wednesdays we wear trackies), Thursdays are scout and Fridays are standard. Can I also take this moment to point out that the scouts uniform is seriously the cutest thing that has ever existed on the planet because they've got these little striped caps and neckties and teensy little pins which you have to keep straightening because they get all wonky when the kids run around and their shoes are ll polished and the boys have their shirts tucked in but there's always little folds of white which keep escaping from the back because they can't reach and..... *digresses into incomprehensible blabber due to unmanageable levels of cuteness*

Ack! Don't you just want to pick them up and give them lots of hugs??
Speaking of scouts, there was one day where I rocked up to school with all my lesson plans prepared and then the Year 3 teacher approached me and told me that the kids were going on excursion for the day to the park. So off I went and it turned out to be a little scouts day thing where the kids did station rotations, chanted some rules concerning behaviours and safety, performed funny little dances, visited the temple and had a mini presentation assembly where they were given their scouts hats. It was such a fun day. 

This was also the day that I acquired my "Shadows". Their names were Mac, Nat and Fifa and they followed me everywhere gabbering away in Thai even though I told them I only understood English. Mac kept holding onto my hand possessively and shooing the other kids away when they tried to do it too. He pointed to his best friend and told me that the kid's name was also Mac. He then proudly pointed to himself and said Mac 1 before pointing to the other kid and saying Mac 2 and he seemed so happy that he had managed to communicate this that he kept giving me this gap-toothed grin that I couldn't help but grin back and I seriously just wanted to bring him and his little gang back to Australia with me and spoil them with tim tams and excursions to the zoo and .... *digresses once again into a bout of incomprehensible blabber due to unmanageable levels of cuteness*

Teaching was a lot different from what I expected. For one, I was expecting to get across a lot more content. But this was before we found out the size of our school and that we would only get the same class maximum twice a week. Since there were seven of us at this particular school (Roanna, Sharon, Austrie, Darren, Kimmi, Hwei-See and I), we each assigned ourselves a grade and had to run all the classes for that grade. We would occasionally jump into each other's classes if we had the time. The limited three weeks period meant we could only touch on phonics, Australian culture and bits of conversation. It wasn't enough for us to drastically improve their spoken English but I guess the point of us being there was for them to get some exposure to an native English speaker so that they would at least have the motivation to continue studying it. 

Oh and can I just add that shit son, classroom management for a class of 40 year 3's is freakin' difficult without any assistance; especially when the kids are hyperactive, demon monkeys with tendencies to climb on you disguised as cheeky little nine year olds. I have gained so much respect for primary school teachers as a result of my time at Ubon Wit. WHERE DO YOU GET THE ENERGY / MENTAL STABILITY TO DO THIS FULL TIME LIKE I DON'T EVEN KNOW?! Not even monks have this much patience. 

On that note, I'm just gonna wrap up here since all this school stuff is taking a lot longer than I thought it would. I've still got a lot of ground to cover such as the night we made fairy bread for 900 kids, running English camp and our epic last day at Ubon Witiya Khom. I'm not blogging with as much humour and sarcasm as I usually do but to be honest, it's been a rough day leaving Thailand behind and all that and I'm still in this weird sort of denial bubble where I keep expecting an ATYAPer to knock on my door to ask if I'm up for the markets tonight. It was a whole month guys and I just feel really lost and confused about what's next. 

Next up: More teaching and then what I did when I wasn't teaching

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