Two months to go until I pack up my bags, board a plane once more, and head off to Thailand. The initial excitement has given way to a nervous stew of self-doubt and questions. I am returning to teaching after five years and this has sparked a cascade of worries.
I will be teaching English in a rural Karen village in northern Thailand at a small school. Like village teachers through the ages, a wide range of ages will look to me to guide their learning. Already the doubts are surfacing. I have taught in the inner-city, not exactly a breeze of a first teaching experience. It was trial by fire with a diamond-in-the-rough batch of teenagers who probably taught me more about myself than I taught them about history and civics. It wasn’t easy. The movies get it all wrong. In the movies, the teacher comes in to face a hardened group of inner-city teens, chaos ensues as they face sarcasm and indifference, a brilliant lesson or two outside the box shows the kids the teacher “gets them”, and cue inspirational we’ll-beat-the-odds-and-prove-everyone-wrong music.
It’s not that simple. I often went home after a long day only to cry my eyes out. From the reality of the home situations my students faced. From witnessing a drive-by shooting. From the hard time students often give a first-year teacher. And from the sheer exhaustion.
But I loved the journey with my students as well. Their individual dreams and stories and smiles. I made mistakes. So did my students. We learned together. In reality, you don’t reach everyone as a teacher. I remember the kids I failed to reach just as much as those I did. There is no Hollywood director to add the inspirational soundtrack. It’s hard work.
And that was teaching one age group who spoke my first language.
Now I’m planning to teach in a completely different country in a village where English will be their third language. All different ages. Just what have I gotten myself into?
Yes, the self-doubts are insidiously taking over as I prepare. Unlike the first time I entered a classroom, I no longer view teaching through rose-colored glasses. I suppose this is actually a good thing. I know how to manage a classroom, how to prepare lessons, how to engage students, and how to keep everything in perspective – I won’t change the world over night. I come better equipped this time around. The question is how I’ll translate these skills in Thailand.
For now, I prepare. I study professional development materials on teaching English as a foreign language. Read about how we humans learn language. Browse lesson plan ideas. Contemplate how I can adapt these ideas in a classroom without the bounty of resources in the American classroom. (Will I have construction paper? Crayons? Scissors for flashcards? I keep jotting down questions to ask.) Stumble over the Thai language as I force foreign sounds through my mouth. Thai is a tonal language that is giving my jaw bone quite a workout.
Two months and counting…