I finally got the call. I was sitting on the beach, drying off after a swim in ocean water that’s warmer than most Thai showers, and enjoying a foot massage. The agency was calling to say they found me a school.
“You go to Suwannaphum,” they told me. “You bus leave tonight.”
That’s not where I was going last time I heard, but I stopped asking questions a while ago. They don’t have the answers anyway.
The agency put me on an overnight bus and wished me luck. They informed me that the trip is usually six hours long, but because we would have to go around the massive flooding, it would be at least ten.
“Sounds like a good night’s sleep,” I said sarcastically. The agency doesn’t rank very high on my “Good Organizations” list. Compared with American standards, they would not still be in business. But in Thailand, where organized chaos seems to be the way of life, it’s known as one of the best agencies of it’s kind.
Fortunately, I was being sent to the same town as Bob, an older guy who’s been teaching in Suwannaphum for six years, but at a different school. He called to tell me he would pick me up at the bus station when I arrived at 7:00AM, take me to his house for a quick shower, and then drive me to school, where I would start my first day of teaching at 8:00AM.
“You’re kidding, right?”
“The agency didn’t tell you that you start work tomorrow?”
I laughed out loud. “It’s just one of the many things the agency didn’t tell me.”
The bus couldn’t have been more uncomfortable. It was packed, and I had an aisle seat. The air conditioner was on full blast, and the blanket they provided did nothing to help. My teeth were chattering, and it was impossible to sleep. Eventually, 7:00 AM came, and I was the only person who got off the bus. The station was simply a stop on the side of the road, and there were no taxis, no tuk tuks, and no tourists. Just what I wanted.
After my shower, Bob said he would drive me over to my new high school.
“Shit.” I had first grade, last I knew.
I arrived during the flag raising ceremony. The entire school sits in rows facing the flag and listens to the director give a speech before the band plays and the flag is honored. I had been there only five minutes before I was being ushered to the podium, and one of the English teachers told me to introduce myself. I stared out at 2,500 students and managed to spit out something about being from America.
There are two other English teachers at my school. David is in his 50’s and has been here for six months. Jon is 22 and started the day before I did. I was quizzing them on how things worked when I was whisked away by a Thai teacher.
“She come with me,” Pidow told the boys. “I show her better.” She took me to my first class, handed me a whiteboard marker and walked away. I had heard horror stories about people not being able to control Thai kids, and high school is terrifying even in my own country.
The students all stood when I entered the room. In unison, they said, “Good morning, teacher!” I introduced myself and spoke slowly. When I asked them to play a name game, they just stared at me with blank faces. I realized their knowledge of English was far less than I had imagined. I had to start laughing out of sheer lack of anything else to do. They joined in and all 51 of us were laughing at absolutely nothing.
I had three classes that day, and each one was easier than the first as I became more comfortable with my last-minute lesson, and learned how to explain things better. The students all know how to read and write very well, but they don’t have a clue when it comes to speaking and listening. The foreign English program is only six months old. It’s a low budget school, with half of the classrooms outside and the other half in battered wooden sheds with a white board. It’s the first time they’ve been able to afford native-speaking teachers. They want to learn though, and there was nothing unruly about them. They are more well behaved than any class I was a part of in middle/high school.
I definitely felt their warm welcomes, and I was happy to have such friendly people helping me settle in. Suwannaphum doesn’t get visitors, so everybody stares. And I’m the first female, so everybody wants to show me off. If I had eight arms that first day, I would have been pulled in eight directions. The teachers argued over who to got to take me to lunch and whose house I would stay at. I was the literal teacher’s pet.
As I walked out of my last class, I knew I was going to love it here. I heard, “teacher beautiful” coming from several corners of the room, and they giggled when they realized I had heard them. Even though I know they think the same of all foreigners, it’s exactly what a girl needs to hear after a sleepless night on a bus, and an unprepared first day of school.
Good Morning, Teacher