The extremely polite greeting of respect (joining of palms together and nodding/bowing), emblimatic of thailand and southeast asia is called a ‘wai’. ‘Kru’ is thai for teacher. So Wai-Kru respect/greeting to teachers. Thailand has a Wai-Kru day and as newly initiated teachers this was quite an experience for us.
Wai-Kru at Bang-Klang learning centre where I teach English for an hour each morning was a pretty intense exercise in what may look, to the untrained eye, like teacher worship. The photos really do the best job of telling tell the story but basically the students sit on the floor (common enough here) facing the teachers who are seated in a row at the front facing the students. The whole school sings a few songs and then representatives from each of the classes ‘walk’ on their knees and bring flowers up to Buddha shrine at the front of the class. The bow and touch their heads to the floor several times. Then they again ‘walk’ on their knees to the teachers, give them the flowers and then again touch their head to the floor at the feet of the teachers several times.
When it was my turn to be ‘hommaged’, the little voice of integrity inside my head started protesting ” shame on you Andrew! you’re not even a
real teacher!”. It seemed about as wrong as pretending to be a priest and hearing someones confession. But then the pragmatist within me countered “If you tell them you’re not a teacher they could lynch you right now” Imagine how you would feel if your priest said after confession that he was really a truck driver… The desire to not scar Thai society with such a scandal and the small interest in my own survival (also, if they did lynch me, they would have to take me outside. And it was raining really hard outside and I didn’t want the students to get wet)
Fortunately , the following day, at the Marist Education Centre(MEC) where Nuala teaches two classes and I teach one class (maths! more on that another time), the wai-kru was decidedly less formal. A few speeches from the students, lots of laughter and a teachers vs students soccer match. Also there was much less idolatry here – the spirit was a lot more friendly but still very respectful.
It really was a great day with some fantastic insights into the social dynamics here in thailand. The respect for elders, and teachers in particular is a refreshing change from my experience of school in NZ and much more familiar to my memories from India. The balance between fun and respect was particularly good at MEC where the students and teachers really care for eachother as appropriate to their distinct roles. More photos below…