Wednesday, June 30, 2010

In Which I Describe My Classes

As I mentioned in the post about my daily schedule here, I teach two classes a day. Let me tell you about them.

The first class, from 8:45-10:45 (supposedly), is Intermediate English/Buddhist English. Eunice is the main teacher for a couple of reasons - she's been here longer (four weeks) and will be here for another week beyond me, so it makes for less transitions; she's a practicing Buddhist, so she does a much better job providing the backbone and the vocabulary for the second part of the class; and she's an ESL teacher back in Sacramento (and has been for 22 years!), and she's fantastic at it. I am technically a co-teacher, but my participation manifests in working 1:1 with students, helping to demonstrate or provide examples, and playing the role of the ignorant Westerner (not too difficult, that last one).

The class begins and ends with a Pali chant that pays homage to the Buddha. Eunice and I stand at the back of the room, behind the monks, while the monks stand at their desks, facing the Buddha statue at the front of the room. I need to record the chant, actually, because I really like the sound of it.

We almost always start by reviewing dates/days - "What day is today? Today is Thursday. Thursday. What day was yesterday? Wednesday. Tomorrow will be...? Friday. Yes, Friday. Let's say the days together: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday... and so on"). Then some D.O.L.s, emphasizing the mistakes of capital letters at the beginning of the sentences and periods at the end. Then vocabulary or grammar work, a break, and then the Buddhist English.

Almost all of the monks are taking the class because they want to be able to teach Westerners about their religion and/or how to meditate. The Buddhist English part of the class is the most fascinating for me, since I get to learn about Buddhism as they discuss their beliefs and practices. This week we've been talking about meditation - why they do it, how to do it, etc. I'm always impressed by how well they can explain such complicated doctrine in a language they're just now learning.

The class varies in size. Some days we have 8 monks, usually we have 5, this week we've had one or two. I'm learning to adjust to Thai time here - the class is supposed to start at 8:45. We usually have one student there at that time; the others trickle in between 9:00 and 9:30. There's no bells, no expectation of being on time, and schedules change constantly. Good thing we know of the impermanent nature of things, right? (Hey, I just cracked my first Buddhist joke!)

The monks can be classified into two groups - the traveling monks (those who travel to the wat just for classes) and the home monks (those who live at this wat). Some of the traveling monks drive 3-5 hours each way just to attend class. The traveling monks only come on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, so we usually have a much smaller group at the end of the week. The conference here this week has thrown off the classes, too.

The students range in age (Phras Bas and Sanjoy are in their early 20s, Phra Bishan is 79 and became a monk when he retired) and ability levels (Phra Den and Sanjoy are excellent at English, they just need refinement in some grammar issues and some more precise vocabulary. Others struggle to follow along with medium-level sentences.). They are all enthusiastic, funny, and polite, though. They are also very respectful of teachers - these men are all quite intelligent and many are well-respected masters of meditation, yet they give plentiful respect to Eunice and I. Every day when they finish their chant, they all turn to us at the back and say, "Good morning, teacher!"

And the jokes! They're always cracking jokes and poking gentle fun. Today, for example, Eunice asked me to review with the class how to ask and answer questions that start with "Do you like..." or "Would you like to..." (the answers are supposed to be along the lines of "Yes, I would like to do that," or "Maybe. What time would we meet?")

The ESL textbook for the class suggested questions like "Would you like to go to the football game with me?" or "Would you like to go to the movies this weekend?" I dutifully followed it, and called on a student:

Me: Phra Bishan?
Phra Bishan: (startled, putting down the huge magnifying glass he uses to read the workbook) Yes?
Me: Would you like to go to the movies this weekend?
Phra Bishan: No, I'm a monk.

Very cute, and definitely not one of the responses in the book.

The evening class is totally different. Paul and I co-teach the community kids' class (although Paul's leaving this weekend, so hopefully the new person who's arriving Sunday will take on the group with me). This one was organized as kind of an after-school program for some of the poorer kids in the community around the wat, although there is a family of a mom and two or three little girls that come as well who seem to be better off. The kids arrive in the back of a pick-up truck sometime between 5:45 and 6:15 (Thai time again). It's like a clown car seeing how many kids come pouring out of the back. There's usually around 20 of them each night, plus a leader of some kind. They range in age from 3 or 4 through late teens, although most of them are probably 8-12.

I love this group. They're noisy, crazy, fun, and full of energy. They come running up the stairs to the classroom when they get here, and are so eager to please us. The reward they get for doing a good job writing down what we ask them to each day (usually practice sentences) is a smiley face drawn by one of the teachers. They're so proud of the smiley faces we draw on their notebooks, but I got a little bored of those last night and started making them with more details. Whoops. In minutes, all of the kids were asking me to draw pictures for them in their books. I drew as many different animals and weird faces as I could think of so each kid had an individual one before breaking it off with the promise to do more drawings tomorrow.

Our instructions for the class was to teach them some basic English, but mostly the class is meant to be fun for them. Paul and I usually teach them some new vocabulary, then play games that are hopefully related to the vocabulary. It's tricky, since the games need to not only be good for practicing basic English, but also have instructions that are easy to learn without verbal explanations.

For example, we went over animals and basic plurals (one cat, two cats). Then we had them draw papers that had the name of an animal written on them. The object was for them to find their match by acting/sounding like that animal. When two of them found each other, I would cry out, "One dog. One dog. Two dogs!" and Paul would write "Dogs" on the board to keep track of which animals had found their partners.

When everyone had found their matches, we did a roll-call of the animals with them answering in sounds. Then we played Pictionary with the animal words again.

Problem is, I'm running out of games that are easy enough to teach without words and that don't require any supplies. We taught them Uno last night, Pictioary's popular, we do Bingo to review numbers, and I'm planning on doing a modified version of "Zip, Zoom, Bang" to teach "left, right, and across".

I want to do clothing words (shirt, shoes, socks, etc.) next week, so if any of you creative people have ideas for activities that require no supplies (although each student usually brings a small notebook and a pencil) and that is very, very easy to learn, do tell!


  1. Maybe you could do "head shoulders knees and toes" but with clothes items instead of body parts. Not a full game, I know...

  2. "Almost all of the monks are taking the class because they want to be able to teach Westerners about their religion and/or how to meditate."

    Aww, your in a Buddhist MTC!