Thursday, July 4, 2013

On Progress (Part 1)

Truly, an exciting and inspiring week has transpired. For as much as I want to share all of it, I feel overwhelmed and intimidated to even attempt to encapsulate all of it for you in word form. However, I will do my best. It will certainly be a long entry, covering a wide array of topics- both situations I experienced and my subsequent thoughts on them. Related to this, I had an insightful conversation with my friend, and fellow PCV, Lucky, about what purposes blogging serves. For her, she said that it made service less lonely, not necessarily because it shares the experiences with those back home, but rather it helps in making the experience more real. I, in turn, was able to identify reasons why I write that I don't think I had "vocalized" (read: typed) before. Writing is a matter of reflection for me, which is critical to the learning process. Reflecting isn't just re-playing the moment, situation, or day, but rather takes various forms- categorization, dialogue, consideration, admission, and encouragement. To me, all of these play key roles in the learning, growing, and loving cycle. That being said...

The first wonderful thing to discuss is my kids. During my first few weeks at school, many teachers inquired about my impression of Thai children. I told them they seemed like very good kids and were eager to learn. I received many puzzled looks in response. Now, after having been their English (co)teacher for a couple of months, I remain steadfast in my original assessment. I have had nothing but considerable interest and respect paid to me and the English classes in which I instruct by the students. There is legitimate fascination just boiling over everywhere in the school, with kids running up to me whenever they see me and exploding into English jibberish, spouting any/all English they know, just for an opportunity to communicate with me and practice.

For as many puzzled looks I received two months ago, I've now also received just as many "Jay, you're popular!" Viewing this situation from my Western lens, I'm really just thinking, "Well, I'm not militaristic and I value the diversity of our kids, while treating them as equals to teachers, having fun with them, and never harming them via word or hand." What I'm actually say varies between "I just like playing games to learn" to nothing at all, but giving a smile and a shrug.

I don't at all mean to imply devaluation toward Thais, Thai culture, or their education system by any means with my previous paragraph. It has worked for them and their culture for generations, and likely will continue to do so for many generations to come, regardless of any "development" work at which I may do/successfully complete/utterly fail. I am merely a different form of teacher than either my colleagues or students have ever experienced, and these differences generally lend themselves to be viewed positively by kids.

Case in point, this week we had a blast with the kids. Teaching about body parts, we had two really fun activities lined up- drawing monsters and tracing outlines of bodies to label and present as a lesson "final project."

Hard at work drawing monsters!
We drew and shared monsters based on vocabulary about the human body. A teacher would state, for example, "Three heads!" and kids would have to draw three heads. The next teach would say, "five eyes!" and the process would continue on until a monster was created.

Hard at work drawing... Monsters ;)










The final project, of sorts, was insanely fun. As I watched it all transpire, it was very evident that the students had never had such a learning experience (due to the required amount of time to fully explain the assignment, the laughter and fun had). As their teacher, it made me immeasurably happy to watch them use all the resources available to find answers, write and speak in English, and clearly enjoy it.





I know the kids already expect a fun time when they see me enter the classroom. Additionally, regardless of the fact that we speak two completely different languages, through body language, laughter, and broken English and Thai, we are able to convey a mutual respect and love for one another, something that appears to be lacking in the Thai education system. They know I will always support them, not just in learning English, but any and all endeavors they undertake, and that I want to help guide them to be the best person they can be.

As a Westerner, it's easy to envision that one special teacher who fit this role at one point in our life, and I know many teachers who are I'm lucky to consider my friends that are the epitome of "role model," people that make me feel thankful they are indeed the ones molding American youth. However, I find it quite possible that Thai kids have not ever had this kind of educator in their lives, and that saddens me. I understand this is a Western concept, but I still strive to be that person, as I wonder what it might mean to my kids. Ultimately, I hope, and expect, that my presence and influence here goes far beyond that of merely teaching kids, "I have two eyes," or, "I pooped in the bed," and students think back to what I may have encouraged them to think or do- learn English to influence others's lives and play the same games that Kru Jay taught, run as hard and fast as possible all the time just to feel the wind and the rush course through your body, not even pretend to hit others because it hurts (so much more than just physically) to be threatened or hit, or to always question the status quo.

This is where Peace Corps is the most valuable- personal change. So many people join PC to "change the world," myself included, but change starts with individuals, and having the opportunity to work and interact with students and teachers alike so intimately grant volunteers a precious chance to influence a great number of individuals through cultural exchange and dialogue. Just by knowing you, talking to you, running with you, hugging you, you leave an indelible mark upon them. Also from Lucky, I end this entry with graceful insight from her blog:

              "The footprints we leave in the lives of others do not just stay there; they latch 
              on and imprint our memory onto countless others who meet the individuals we've
              encountered.

              Whitehead, a western [sic] philosopher of the modern age, believed that after we
              pass on from this life, the life we had just lived retains its meaning and force. There
              is an eternal quality to our consciousness. When we pass, all of our actions and 
              intentions are superimposed eternally onto the history of time, permanently steering
              the future of existence.

              We are never forgotten.

              In essence, we are always living, even after death, through the teachings we profess
              and the passion we infect in others. Since the wisdom we pass on is always alive,
              the extent to which we influence the entirety of existences endless and seamless."

Not hard to imagine all the little footprints that are being created on a daily basis here.





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