So I've been in the classroom(s) for a couple weeks now. I've been doing a lot of observing, trying to get a feel for how my co-teachers teach so I don't step on their toes too much and can try to play to their strengths as I make suggestions (and find ways to support any weaknesses). So I think that's a good thing and will ultimately benefit me, though there have been times when it got a bit boring. But I have learned some things. One of my teachers has a pretty similar style to me, and a lot of classroom experience to boot, so I will definitely be able to learn from him, and I will help him develop his student-centered teaching, designing more projects and playing games and singing songs.
My other teacher also has a lot of experience and does many things well in terms of interacting with students. Unfortunately, there is a minimal amount of spoken English used in class and the majority of the lessons I have seen have involved writing lists of vocabulary. I recently realized that she really wants the students to improve their spelling, so I am now thinking about activities to focus on spelling, but also incorporate more speaking, listening and reading, too. It's nice to have an idea of the direction to go.
Some cool things I have seen in the schools:
At the primary school, THE STUDENTS WASH THEIR OWN LUNCH DISHES.
The secondary students have several minutes of silent meditation each morning before classes begin. What a GREAT way to settle down and focus in!
At the primary school, the morning assembly (which was lining up in front of the flag) now includes marching in place while a small student band (a variety of drums, xylophones, and these cool little keyboards with a hose that the students blow in to make noise, think accordion without the squeeze-box) plays "When The Saints Come Marching In" and the Thai National Anthem. They also do some calisthenics while the band plays. I will definitely need to get some pictures.
Today was the "Wai Kruu" ceremony at my primary school. I think this is basically like Teacher Appreciation Day, but way more formal. All of the students came into the meeting room and sat quietly in neat rows. Many students had little bundles of flowers and incense that went into a great big chalice, and a boy and a girl from each class had a beautiful little flower arrangement (they do those PROPER here) which they took turns bringing up front, knelt in front of the Buddha statue at the front of the room and wai'd (hands in front of face, then forehead to floor) 3 times. Then they bowed to the flag and a picture of the king, wai'd the principal and handed him the arrangements (he handed them back), then they wai'd the rest of the teachers and the arrangements got passed around to each teacher. Then the principal made a long speech (the kids started to get a bit squirrely during this part, but they made it way longer than I can imagine a group of American students lasting), and that was that. I think the whole thing was to pay respect to the teachers and essentially bless the school year.
This last weekend I went to Chiang Mai for the first time. I checked out the zoo, a pretty cool night market and learned that I like Chiang Mai WAY more than Bangkok. It's still a big city (though not NEARLY as big), but it just seems a lot-- saner. I'll definitely be spending some more time there.
When I got back I had an awesome "community day." Each week I spend two days at the primary school, two days at the extended school with the secondary students, and the fifth day is my "community day." There really isn't anything specific that I need to do on these days, just spend some time with the people. SO, I rode the local song taew (a pickup with a covered back and two benches in the back) for the first time and met Uncle Thai, the driver of said local song taew. Then I ate some goit diao (noodle soup) at a restaraunt by the school and talked with the people there (after being gone for a while [I had been at an English Camp before I went to Chiang Mai], it was nice to be around people who recognized me, who wanted to talk to me, and were happy to see me. It was a good homecoming). Then I got some fruit and veggies at the market and told people about where I'd been (people had noticed my absence). On my way home I saw the woman I've played badminton with and asked if she'd like to play. After I took my purchases home, I went back and we played for a while, then I bought a mortar and pestle from her. As I was getting ready to head home, she pointed at a house around the corner where there was loud music playing and told me they were dancing and asked if I'd like to go see.
Of COURSE I said yes.
A few minutes later I was doing aerobic Issan dance with half a dozen grandmothers. It was fabulous. I feel like I did pretty well, and they complimented me (although it's highly possible they were just being nice), but in any case, it was a great experience and helped integrate me into the community a bit more. And I was invited to come dance again, so that's cool. I'll definitely have to go again.
It wasn't THAT hot today, which is very nice. It's also raining right now. That's becoming more and more regular. There are definitely still several day stretches without rain, but we'll also have several days in a row with a solid downpour each day. When it rains really hard, there are a few spots in my house that get puddles, which is kinda a bummer, but oh well. I haven't actually SEEN where the water is coming in, some I'm not sure if this is something that I could potentially fix, or I will just have to live with it. Fortunately I'm outrageously jai yen yen (literally cool-hearted, I translate it as "chill," and here it's a really good thing to be).
Oh man! And the other evening, I was getting ready to go to my neighbors house for dinner when another neighbor came over and told me I had some ripe bananas. She took me around the side of my house where there was a huge bunch of bananas hanging off a tree that had fallen over. She chopped off the bunch (it probably weighed 25 to 30-ish pounds?), and I hauled it around the other side of the house (by this time a bunch of other women had showed up and they warned me not to let the cut end of the stalk touch my shirt or it would stain). They cut up the bunch, made me take more bananas (that's "gluai) than I can possibly eat, then split up the rest of them. It was also pointed out to me that I had a couple of coconuts that were ready to pick, so those are chilling in my fridge (haha! get it? CHILLING? in my FRIDGE?) until I'm ready to break into them.