If I were a typical eighth grader (Mattyam 2) at Suwannaphum Wittayalai High School, it’s likely this would be a routine day for me:
I wake up when the roosters crow, if I’m not already up helping my father in the field or my mother preparing food for her street cart. I make my way to the bathroom, a concrete-and-tin shed several feet away from the main house, dump a bucket of cold water over my head, do my business in the squat toilet, and tend to the rest of my chores before rushing off to school for the 8AM start time.
Today I’m late because mea really needed me to finish the washing and watch the baby, and I’m punished with sit-ups and pushups because my school is strict compared to others in Thailand. So while the timely students say their morning prayer and raise the flag, I’m breaking a sweat in my green and yellow uniform.
I’m allowed to join the group once the flag is blowing in the light breeze above the school and the band has finished their last song. I then find the rest of my class and make my way to the back of their perfect row to sit on the concrete. I pretend to listen to what the director has to say, but really, I’m playing games on my cell phone and drawing pictures on my friend’s back, asking her to guess what they are. I don’t mind the morning ceremony; I’m used to sitting and waiting.
Afterward, I walk slowly to first period, because what’s the hurry, really? When I get there, my class grudgingly files in and we all chat and play. Some of the good students sweep the floor, but most of us go outside to play hackie sack or sit in the shade. We don’t know if our teacher will show up or not.
Especially at the end of the year, like it is now, the teachers get really busy with their own work. They often have things more important than class, so they just don’t come. But today, Mr. Tao came. He was only 30 minutes late to a 50-minute class, which is pretty good for him. He didn’t feel like giving us any work to do though, so he just sat down and read the newspaper, leaving us to continue our game.
Second period came and went with no teacher. The leader of my class will take our classroom book to find Mrs. Mai later, and she will sign her name so it looks like she came to class. It looks good for us too, because it means we we’re doing our duty and remembering to have the teachers sign the book. It means we won’t get in trouble with the director.
When third period arrives, I start to get pretty hungry. I didn’t think Mrs. Gung would come today, but she did. She announced her presence, and then she stood just outside the classroom and watched the foreign teacher in the next room, leaving us to do what we pleased. I think she was stressed out about something, and she just couldn’t be bothered to teach us today.
Finally it’s lunch, which means more free time. I go eat with my friends in the cafeteria, and then I walk slowly back to class. I take my time because we don’t have a fan in the tin-shed-turned-learning environment we call a classroom, and it’s sweltering hot in the afternoons. If the teachers do come, and he/she actually wants to teach, it’s too hot to concentrate anyway. I just put my head down and take a nap because I’m so tired from my early morning.
Lucky for me, Mr. June wanted a long lunch today. He came with only 10 minutes left of class – just enough time to see how many of us remain and to place a check next to our names in his thin, pink book. That book tells our fate as students. It’s all we really care about. It says when we are in class and when we are not. It shows what grade we have. We watch it eagerly, just waiting for that tiny check to be placed next to our name and number. It’s a check that says, “Hey, I came to class today when I would rather be eating ice cream and playing soccer. You should be so proud!”
Period 5 came, and so did Mrs. Pussadee. She always comes. We move inside and feign interest in what she has to say. She always makes us wait until the end of her lecture, though, before opening that darn book, so I try to make my tired brain focus on her lesson. I don’t have much luck, though, because I can hardly keep my eyes open.
On days like yesterday, when none of my teachers come to class and I get really bored, I just leave. I either go play in the field behind the school where the band is practicing and a soccer game has already commenced, or I jump across the ditch to the lake and escape that way. I don’t have to be discrete. Nobody will question me.
After school I get on the bus to take me back home. I can’t walk because it’s too hot, and we can’t afford a motorbike. When I get home, I sit in the shade outside my wooden house and eat with my family. They ask if I learned anything in school today, and I say no.
Then they tell me I have a choice after next year (M3, or freshman year), and my mea tells me I should not continue with school. She says she would very much like my help at home, and my father too, and that after high school they can’t afford to send me to college anyway.
If I were talking to Teacher Jess, she would tell me to stay in school. All of the teachers would tell me that, actually, but it’s hard to see the point when it’s so easy to quit and college isn’t an option for me. I suppose I could work really hard to make money for college, but where would I work in Suwannaphum? My parents can’t pay me to work for them, and if I stay in school and help them before and after, then I don’t have time for another job anyway.
I’m not sure what I’ll do yet, but I don’t have to decide now. I’m only in M2, so I have one more year. Besides, it’s too hot to think about it now.
A Day in the Life of a Thai Student