They say time flies, faster than anything you’ve ever experienced or known before, they say don’t blink because moments will be missed, memories lost, they say seconds can feel like a lifetime but a lifetime, seconds, and yet, the clock still ticks on, ticking ticking ticking without our consent or approval. We do our best to make the most of every minute, to be mindful and in the moment, to be aware and alert of the things engulfing us, yet life still continues, jumping from experience to experience, with us begging, pleading, for it to slow down.
And pleading I’ve been doing. My time as a kindergarten teacher at a school in Thailand has come to an end, an experience that ended just as quickly as it started. For the past six months, I have only responded to the name “Teacher Andrea” (and not the correct pronunciation), have handed out approximately 1,000 cups of milk, have sang and danced my days away, have complimented children based on their supburb coloring skills more times than I count, have screamed (at least on the inside), have wanted to pull my hair out (oh wait the children did that), have braided hair (or at least attempted), have laughed, almost cried, and more importantly loved. Even on the days that were mundane, on the days that I was homesick and was desperate for home, on the days that felt like they would never end, I still, through it all, loved.
I have loved every minute of this experience, knowing that this experience is one that I have waited my entire life to experience. This was something I have always wanted to do and I am proud that something in me made me do it, letting go of everything I knew back at home to adopt a new life in Asia. Like any new experience, there certainly have been struggles, setbacks and plain and simply moments of utter despair. But of course there were going to be, and I was ready for it.
During my time as teacher, I was a K1 homeroom teacher in a private Thai schoold to a group of 16 Thai students, 16 adorable, reckless, intelligent, maddening students. The school was located in a business neighborhood of Bangkok and consisted of children from fairly affluent families. In Thailand, kindergarten starts at the very late age of 3, so here I was playing mother goose to the smartest three year olds I have and may ever meet. Since I do not speak any Thai (unless you count knowing how to order Pad Thai in Thai as “speaking”), I was required to teach them English using hands on activities, pictures and repetition. The intention at this age is simply to build their vocabulary and to immerse the children in English. Even if I knew Thai, I more than likely wouldn’t be allowed to speak it to the deck deck (Meaning: students, in Thai), as they wanted them to be speaking strictly English.
While this may seem like an impossible feat, the children already had a good, solid foundation of English. Many of their parents speak English, amongst other languages, with them at home, therefore their English was very advanced for their age. So advanced in fact that I often forgot that they were native Thai speakers. I guess dancing around to songs from Frozen and One Direction played a part in that forgetfulness 🙂
Lessons were organized by week, organized by topics. One week was technology focused, another week, transportation, another week, weather, and so on. Despite my urging desire to give homework to the students ( I didn’t want to be known as the “easy” teacher of course!), I was only able to distribute worksheets within the classroom, helping the students along as they practiced writing their names and class name.
Now, although I did not give homework, the students were still required to take midterm and final exams. Yes, that’s right, three years old taking exams. Most of the children handled the stress of it with grace (far from my exam experiences) however there was one little boy who felt the weight of the world on his shoulders from the test and simply was waterworks for the week of testing, crying silently numerous times. Was quite sad to watch, to see a boy at that age take the test to seriously.
Now, do not let me lead you to think that I was alone in this, for there was one Thai teacher and one Thai assistant helping out in the class. Between the three of us, we essentially were responsible for 5 kids a piece which in Thai schools is not something you take for granted. Thai schools normally have a class size range of 20-40, so if you can imagine that, 16 was a godsend.
My main intention when coming to Thailand, other than traveling and immersing myself in the country, was to actually improve my management skills. As a former PR/Marketing Manager at a German Bier Hall, and with a desire to continue to learn how to be a better leader and mentor, I figured that learning the skills associated with teaching would help me hone in on those qualities. I pictured myself pacing back and forth around a classroom full of eager and excited learners, helping them see the world differently and asking thought provoking questions that they surely would think about for the rest of their lives (or the semester at the very least). However, I soon came to find out that my moment to shine was not in the form of day long lectures and discussions but rather in one jam packed hour. That’s right, between the hours of 7:30am when I had to be at school and 4pm when I was allowed to leave, I only taught for an hour a day. The rest of the day was filled with nap time, activities, lunch time, bathroom visits and a one hour lesson in Thai. Not exactly the teaching experience I was looking for.
However, as most things go, we learn most from the experiences we least expect. After a rather long adjustment period for me, I slowly began to know the kids. And not just know them by their names or how old they were, but really know them. Know that Namo loves dinosaurs and that he will ALWAYS ask for the dinosaur pencil when we are doing worksheets, know that Pei Pei likes Pi and that they can be found most times holding hands, know that Tonnam wants to be a doctor when she grows up, know that Puppup wants to be a solider, know that Pungya will wear her Frozen Princess dress on casual Friday EVERY Friday, know that Toei will have to go “Poo Poo” at 12:30pm on the dote every day and I will have to use the bum gun to assist her (don’t ask), know that JJAy will have a runny nose no matter how many times you wipe it, know that Ayres lost her father while she was at school, that she will never really know her father and the heartbreaking thought of that, and know that PK lives every day like he is Spiderman, hopping and jumping about with his hands permanently fixed in the spiderman way, ready to shoot out a web. THESE are the things you know, THESE are the things you learn. And understanding these little personalities, these little humans, makes the one measly, simple hour WORTH IT. To hopefully, really truly, have an influence on these children and show them how great the world that they live in is. To show them that they can be whatever and whomever they want to be, because the future is theirs, all theirs, and their dreams can come true because I believe in them, because the world believes in them, because we NEED them.
I have had many many wonderful moments with these kids, moments that have brought laughter to my life, happiness to my heart, and even, occasionally, tears in my eyes. But the one moment that stands out amongst the rest, the moment that I will hold close to me forever and always, is when I taught little 4 year old Carrot to repeat the words “I am going to rule the world!”, when she repeated it over and over and over until she herself thought she was the ruler of all that is and all that will be. To hear her words, to suddenly feel the rush of confidence and excitement she exuded, to watch her understand what those words meant and to see the smile that spread across her face as she said them, I felt as if I was watching the future of humanity, of the world unfold, and in that moment, I felt at peace, knowing that we as a people would be alright.
I am not cut out to be a kindergarten teacher, in no way shape or form. In addition to the respect I had for teachers already, I especially applaud those that work with such youngins every day. The patience, the passion and the creativity needed are endless, and so to you, I salute you.
Now, that is certainly not to say that my teaching days are over, and in fact, I would feel rather uncomfortable making such a bold statement. I do enjoy teaching and I am very passionate about mentoring, however a piece of me has really missed PR and events, in ways that have actually surprised me. I will be going back to the states for the summer, ensuring that I am there to celebrate the weddings of people very special to me (and of course I would never miss an opportunity to drink champagne), however after that the plan is unknown, the road, unclear. I am humbled by this experience, grateful and indebted to every person I have met that has guided me, translated for me, helped me, assisted me and even just smiled at me, as I am who I am because of those memories, those moments.
But, before I throw in my Thai towel, and in typical Dre fashion, I have one last adventure here in Southeast Asia…I will be heading to Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) for the next three weeks trekking, exploring, and exciting of all, volunteering at a meditation/Buddhist center for monks, nuns, the disabled, children and whomever else needs the services of the retreat for a portion of that time.
In the words of Carrot, I feel as if I am going to rule the world
Or at the very least, my own little world 🙂