**As a disclosure, I wrote this blog mostly for my own benefit to keep track and document my first year teaching, so this will probably be boring for the non-teachers of the world.
I was in email correspondence with several schools in the Chiang Mai area during spring 2013. I was offered a few jobs, but it was a job at Ambassador Bilingual School that stood out. I was offered a job at Ambassador Bilingual School (ABS) via email and after researching the school I decided it would be a good fit. I accepted a position as the 5th grade English Language Arts and homeroom teacher and 6th grade English Language Arts teacher.
Keith and I spent a few days in Chiang Mai in early October before I went into work at ABS. The first day and few weeks were pretty chaotic. The fifth grade had gone through several teachers in the last year, and as a result my desk was stuffed full with old papers, KFC wrappers, dirty latex gloves and you name it. During cleaning I ran into several bug infestations in my room that I begrudgingly cleaned up. The first week was spent cleaning and figuring out what was expected of me.
Before school started I needed to go on a “visa run” which you can read about in The Visa Run Blues.
The First Few Weeks
The first day of school was chaos in 5th grade homeroom. Students standing and dancing on top of desks, army crawling across the floor in front of me, and screaming just to scream. Needless to say, by the time I got home mid-way through my first week teaching I was in tears and emailing my mentor teacher in Minneapolis, Tammy. I felt I was in over my head and thought I was silly for thinking going abroad to teach would be a good idea.
The first week we worked on establishing rules and routines–neither of which it seemed the 5th graders were used to having. I also got to know my students, I was so amazed at the range of English abilities and other languages. The range is from zero English (just a smile when I ask their name) to students whom first language is English and can read 160 words per minute. Not only that, but as all teachers discover, students have such a range within their own skill set. For example, maybe a student can speak English very well but have very poor writing skills or another student may sound like a great reader, but when asked questions they will have no idea what they read. This can be frustrating as a teacher trying to meet the needs of all 30 students.
One thing I was amazed at is the diversity in my students. Of my 30 5th grade students about 6 in each class grew up in countries other than Thailand–Korea, China, America. About half of the rest of my other students have one Thai parent and one “farang” (white foreigner) parent. The other remaining half have both parents that are Thai.
Something that is unique about ABS is that in each homeroom class there is one English speaking teacher and one Thai speaking teacher. I am the 5th grade English speaking homeroom teacher, but teaching English Language Arts I work with both the 5th and 6th grade Thai teachers, whose English levels and personalities could not be more different.
The teacher I work with in 5th grade, my Thai homeroom counterpart, is a teacher new to the upper elementary grades. She used to teach in preschool, and that loving preschool teacher personality shows. She is so sweet she could not hurt a fly. She spends her free time volunteering at the school for blind children in Chiang Mai and at a home for children born HIV positive. The other teacher, the 6th grade Thai homeroom teacher is stern and the children rarely cross her. As teachers, we are both all business in 6th grade. As the 6th grade homeroom teacher she runs a tight ship in her homeroom, creating very few behavior issues. As strict as she may seem while teaching, she also has a great sense of humor and I have seen her many times comforting and supporting students outside of my English Language Arts class.
After several months of working with both of them I feel very grateful to be able to work everyday with two great Thai women. I also feel so lucky to work with teachers that I am great friends with outside of school and that I have supportive supervisors as well.
First few weeks –> 3 months teaching
After 3 months of teaching my attitude has totally changed from the first initial “in too deep” feeling. I am very fond of my students. Instead of being frustrated and annoyed with the 5th graders, most days they are in control of their behavior and our classroom runs smoothly. Although, this was most definitely not an easy journey for us.
The first two months were a struggle to get the 5th graders on the same page as me. After the chaos of the first few weeks, I cracked down on a serious behavior plan on the 5th grade class (6th grade already were for the most part in control of their behaviors.)
I used behavior techniques I learned from my mentor, Tammy, at Dowling Urban Environmental School in Minneapolis during co-teaching last school year. Everyday I teach the 5th graders English language arts from when they come in the morning until 10:15. At 10:15 they get a 15 minute recess/break. This has been my biggest behavior weapon and asset during teaching. Each time a student does something that does not abide by our classroom rules (such as army crawling, dancing on top of desks, and screaming just to scream,) they miss out on recess time. In the eyes of the majority of kids in existence, recess is the most precious and sacred time, which is why it is such a useful behavior management tool.
At the beginning students seemed slow to respond, I would have half the class in with me during large chunks of recess time. They were in with me for doing things like hitting kids and just up and leaving the room, throwing things and actions I would consider dangerous offenses. Now, rarely students are in with me during recess, and when they are it is only a few students stay in with me for short amounts of time (usually 2-6 minutes.) The offenses have not only gotten much less frequent, but have also become less severe. For example, a student missing two minutes because he didn’t raise his hand, or a student missing two minutes because she decided to talk to her friend while I was talking. This is a huge improvement from the out of control yelling, running, crawling, etc.
Now at the moment, the phrases “2 minutes” or even worse “5 minutes” are some of the most scathing words a 5th grader could hear…and it is awesome! When that phrase is told to a student it causes all the rest to fall so quiet you can hear a pin drop, because god forbid that they make a single peep that would cause them to miss part of their break. 🙂
With this huge behavior obstacle out of the way I am able to focus on teaching and have been really enjoying it.
In the next blog, I will move past the behavior management and write about what I teach on a day to day basis.