The more that you read, the more things you will know
The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go!
When I arrived, the “library” space looked as if it was being used for storage – thousands of old books and textbooks, papers, broken shelves and other equipment all packed inside the dusty room; my counterpart told me that for years it was a sanctuary from the sun or rain for older middle school students who wanted to take a nap during lunch.
The first step was organizing all the books – students helped me to stack and shelve books – I made it a race or a contest to see who could make the highest pile to increase productivity and so they thought the overwhelming work was fun.
Then we came on the weekend to paint:
I applied to 3 book donation companies and 2 of them (One Book One Week and Darien Book Aid) sent a box to the school with an assortment of used English books. The Kindergartners were the first to visit the new books:
The library is a transformed place where my counterpart Kru Doll can hold class with the 1st-3rd graders and all students can come at lunch to play games, color, browse books (yet, not quite read) and relax in the safe place.
There is still a lot more work to do to help these kids to learn a second language; even so, I am proud of our efforts that have created fun and safe learning environment.
*to see cute mugshots of first graders and their nicknames, scroll to the end
I never wanted to be a classroom teacher. As I knew it would be, managing a classroom is HARD WORK.
The reason I accepted a volunteer position that spends most of its time in a classroom is twofold:
- I enjoy the coaching – my main goal is to empower the current Thai teachers with extra skills to improve their English teaching.
- I also enjoy language – exploring how best to learn a language and analyzing language at its most fundamental core.
One thing I am currently enjoying is implementing the basics of Phonics across all the grade levels. I even have my 9th graders learning Zoo phonics (letter name, letter sound and animal movement for each letter) and playing games creating CVC words (C=consonant and V=vowel). I am using a lot skills from the LIPS program I used at my former Educational Coaching position that are multi-sensory and used in speech therapy.
Consider for a moment, what these kids are expected to learn:
- In first grade, these students start to learn Thai
- 44 consonant symbols
- 13 vowels (which make about 26 vowel combinations)
- each letter has a name, sound and a special position (vowels may go over, under, to the left or to the right of a consonant)
- THEN these students are learning English
- 52 new symbols (capitals plus lowercase letters, the former of which they don’t understand the concept since there are no capitals in Thai)
- although we have 5 vowels letters, there are over 30 vowels combinations
- learn which letters match (“A” and “a” do not exactly look alike)
- each letter has a name, sound and with many “rule exceptions” to the latter
Needless to say, this is quite a challenging task compounded by the fact that the Thai teachers do not feel comfortable teaching the fundamentals of English, yet are given a curriculum that does a poor job of setting a foundation paired with standards that are morbidly unrealistic. Yes, children do have minds like sponges, but it’s difficult to soak up a foreign language when the content skips the basics and when your teachers are speaking in your native tongue.
I am lucky that even my counterpart in charge of teaching English from grades 4-9, is on board with starting from the basics. Below are my goals stated in a 2 year plan I must submit to the Peace Corps staff and the Thai government by the end of the month:
- Year 1, Term 1
- Phonics across all grade levels
- Teacher trainings
- Year 1, Term 2
- Conversational English at morning assemblies and school-wide participation
- Year 2, Term 1
- English leadership roles: Morning English News, English Theater Project
- Year 2, Term 2
- Reading program
- Thai Teachers training other Thai teachers