We Don’t Need No

I’ll start this entry with an insignificant confession: I am already home, writing this at my kitchen while simultaneously innocently stalking my neighbours and eating a sweet curd product that doesn’t have a translation: google sūrelis and maybe you’ll get something comprehensible.

In other words, I’m not in Thailand anymore, however, I do want to keep that weird chronologic order of my entries and so before I tell you some stories from India, let me share with you, life-long learners, my thoughts on teaching. Since my official purpose here in Thailand was to teach kids, it certainly deserves a blog entry, I reckon.

To use a clichéd saying, one learns a great deal by teaching. What have I myself learnt through being an educator? Quite a lot indeed.

For example, I’ve learnt that it is extremely difficult to google even the most innocent concept without encountering anything sexualised. That in Thailand it doesn’t make any sense to draw a chimney when you’re sketching a house. It doesn’t make sense to say “there are four seasons in a year…” (there are only three in Thailand), and to draw a cow as black with white spots on it (or vice versa; don’t mock me). Also, I’ve learnt that even I can slow down my talking and can even write legibly! My handwriting still resembles some 8-year-old’s scribbling (that is, if you looked at any of the sheets I’ve corrected, you’d guess the comments on that sheet were written by another student), however, as the year progressed, my students were asking me to rewrite what I’ve written on the board fewer and fewer times. Though I’m sure I’ve still messed up someone’s spelling skills due to my unclear writing, especially that “r” looking like a hunchbacked “n”.

Also, I’ve learnt that to me “to loosen it up a little bit” means changing the exercise font from the default one to Comic Sans. It has progressed from Calibri to Comic Sans to Kristen ITC (and Ravie for special occasions). Finally, I think it’s simply impossible not to think “WTF?” to yourself when the kid recites “…this little pig had some beef”.

However, this is where I would like to hit a more serious note. Two notes, to be more exact.

First – and I truly hope all people working in the education field have thought of this – teaching an academic subject is not all that there is to teaching. What do I mean by this vague sentence?

Any sort of education, to my mind, is more about the “between the lines” values than grammar, history, or physics. Surely, any subject is important, but what is being conducted to the students indirectly also counts, and counts a lot. Interestingly, it becomes about something you don’t do as much as about something you do. For example, if I, as a teacher, do not comment on some student making a joke about a certain minority, I see it is a bad “between the lines” education already. The same goes for gender roles, identity issues, and, well, a number of things. That’s why I felt quite lucky being able to make a difference, no matter how small it might seem. I would refuse to put a male police officer’s picture while teaching my kids the professions part of their vocab and then always put a woman’s photo by the word “nurse”. This is how my English books were, and it took me some years to fully comprehend how ridiculous and sexist that was.

Let me give you another example of this “between the lines” teaching. In my film class I would explain certain new words to my students so that watching a movie would be educational in more ways. The word I was explaining was “to date” when I had to quickly readjust my example. I started my sentence by “if a boy likes a girl, or a girl likes a boy…” and then there was a micro second pause, where I realised I was forgetting something, “ or a boy likes a boy or a girl likes a girl, and they want to be more than friends..”

A silly and complicated example, you may think. Nonetheless, being a teacher – or simply being a person who is conscious of this – you can either reinforce the status quo or put effort to change it. Quite indirectly, between the lines, but, hopefully, to an extent successfully.

The second (promised) note is the one I will finish this entry with (yes yes, it’s bad to end a sentence with a preposition, I know). As for an introduction to the point I want to make, I will tell you a very brief story. Eh, it’s not even a story. But anyway.

I was filming one of the numerous school events we had and saw a pretty hilarious thing. One of the kindergarten kids, before descending the stage, ran up towards the stairs and then slid on the floor for a couple of seconds before actually reaching the stairs. Just a simple slide it was, something kids do. However, being surrounded by kids has been teaching me various things as well as sparking plenty of reflections, and this time, after watching this kid, I thought this.

What the hell happens to us when we grow up??? Doing things like sliding on the floor become – and this is the saddest part – unthinkable. It moves beyond us being ashamed to do something like this. I think we become conditioned not to even consider behaving like this. Well, when you have your woollen socks on and the floor is rather slippery, maybe then you feel that urge to slide down your kitchen floor. But otherwise – does the life crush us so much that we forget how to misbehave in such simple and innocent ways? I’d say it’s all about the rules and regulations we enforce onto ourselves (and caring about that adult image), yet whatever the causes of such sad growing up process are, at the same time it is fascinating that you can get so much from working in a school environment. To be more like a kid again – it is ultimately the kids who can teach us that.

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