So after six weeks, what is that I’m doing here in Ranong exactly? While Andrew struggles with the chaotic world of learning centres, I am based in the much more sedate environment of the Marist Education Centre, where I am one of the English teachers for the Marist Training Programme, or MTP. Basically, this runs like a secondary school for older Burmese children (aged 12 – 17), although officially it’s not a “school” – due to local politics and the difficulties of getting the right documentation for anything that caters for migrant children.
The children at MTP are for the most part the best and brightest of the learning centre kids – and those that have overcome the hurdle of being allowed by their family to continue their education. This is by no means the norm, as for most kids it is expected that once they have done a few years at a learning centre (if they even get that opportunity), come age 13 or so they will start work. They also have to sit an entrance exam – mainly there are minimum English and Thai requirements, as those classes are taught in the subject language and some basic understanding is required. More on that below.
There are four levels at MTP, and I teach English to the Level Ones (ages 11/12-16) and the Level Threes (ages 13-15). (As a side note, ages really aren’t indicative of level here at all – one of the brightest Level Fours is just short of 13. And although, starting this school year, 12 is now the minimum age for entry, I suspect from an exercise on birthdays that there are several of my Level Ones whose parents have given the wrong date of birth to get them in!).
So my career as Teacher Nuala is well and truly underway now – and it’s been (and still is daily) a pretty steep learning curve for me, bearing in mind the following factors:
- I have sole responsibility for planning my lessons for the whole semester, and choosing appropriate resources to use.
- There is no curriculum.
- At the start of the semester, I had no idea what my Level Threes had previously been taught, last year or ever.
- I have never written a lesson plan in my life.
But I’m loving it.
My Level Ones, despite the entrance test, still barely understand a word I say – but they’re such a great class, and really enthusiastic. Much time was spent on teaching them such crucial phrases as “listen”, “look at the picture” ” repeat after me” and, importantly, “don’trepeat after me”, ie getting them to understand when I wanted them to repeat something, and when it was actually a question that they should answer.
I’ve had to call on all my dormant acting skills to mime just about every new piece of vocab, which they find hilarious – generally there’s a lot of laughter in our classroom which is great! In some ways it’s actually really good that most of them don’t know much at all, because we can all just start at the beginning together – lots of really basic stuff, lots of repetition, lots of fun.
With my Level Threes on the other hand…I thought it would be easier to teach kids that have been learning English for a while, but boy was I wrong! I’m still trying to figure out what level they’re really at – they’ve had several different teachers with different styles and no progressive curriculum, so their knowledge is a bit fragmented. Sometimes they surprise me with some really difficult vocab, but then completely fail to understand an exercise I thought was really basic. So we’re still getting used to each other I think. Add to that, the huge range in abilities in the class – in a recent test I gave them, the marks ranged from 6/40 up to 37.5/40. I’m constantly reassessing my teaching plan as I get more of an idea of where they’re at and what gaps need to be filled, but hey, they’ve been pretty patient with me so far so hopefully we’ll work it out together! This class too is just lovely – especially now that I’m not the “new teacher” any more and they’re starting to display more of their their fun, mischievous side!
Besides the kids, I also teach two classes each day for adults – one class for a couple of young Burmese men who are considering becoming Marists and need to improve their English, and one conversation class for the local police chief and his 16 year old daughter. The content of this class is dictated almost entirely by what said police chief feels like talking about each day, which is great for me – minimal prep required. And it’s not bad for building up relationships as well – always important here.
So that’s a run down of the daily routine of Teacher Nuala. There are generally plenty of little admin jobs to be slotted in around teaching as well, so I’m certainly never at a loose end – but there’s still time for exploring, relaxing, enjoying yummy food and hanging out with the community here. It’s a pretty good life =)