Some blessings come as great disguises.
One of the English teachers at my school was absent for the past two days, which meant I covered all of her first and second grade classes in addition to all of mine. It also happened to be testing day for first and second grade Thai students in English Speaking skills. I had my work cut out for me, to say the least.
Here in Thailand, first through sixth grade is called “Pratthom” (pronounced prat-ohm). There is typically more than one class for each grade. I tested Pratthom 1/1 (“One Slash One”), 1/2, 2/1, and 2/2. Yes, they literally call the class “Pratthom One Slash One.” The students in Pratthom 1 and 2 range from six to eight years old. The assessment is based on the Cambridge International English Curriculum, a standardized English language curriculum the school uses.
Initially, I thought it would be stressful giving a standardized assessment for the first time to approximately 80 students, one at a time, the same questions over and over. Fortunately, it was quite the opposite. As a foreign teacher, classroom management is incredibly difficult. I can count on one hand the amount of times my classes have been quiet, sitting in their desks, full attention on me as their teacher, in the past six weeks of teaching here in Hat Yai, Thailand. “Well, Amanda, we’re certainly not in Kansas anymore” tends to run through my mind often.
During the tests, I had the student’s full, undivided attention for more than five seconds! Actually, for a few minutes. One student at a time would meet me at a desk in the hallway, wai me, and say “Good morning Teacher Amanda.” Some were anxious, others curious, and some wanted to race up and down the hallway as if they’d just eaten five cups of sugar. That’s entirely possible here, as sugar is added to most every food, but that’s a story for another time.
I saw them each, for the first time – really saw them. The true color of their deep, dark brown eyes. Their childish grins and nervous smiles. Their little idiosyncrasies and unique gestures. At moments they saw me, also. The connection that is made through eye contact is undeniable. I learned about their families, what they like to eat, and who lives in their homes. I saw them for the little angels they are, separate from their classmates and separate from the school structure. No one else was there to manipulate their responses or change their thought patterns.
I felt myself so engaged watching them think, seeing the thoughts run through their minds while they were trying to formulate words in English that I could understand. It was quite magical for me. I haven’t spent much time around children in my 33 years. As a matter of fact, in the past I’ve been quite intimidated by them. This experience changed my perspective of these small humans. As if it broke down a layer of the barrier that feels like it has been up since I met all the students on my first day of school. I took one giant step closer to each child and felt my heart expand. If this is what teaching children does, count me in.