Tuesday, May 21, 2013

My First Day Teaching

If you read last night's blog, you know that today was my first day teaching at my new school.  How did it go?  

It was a mixture of tragedy and triumph.  Chaos and things going to plan.  Sickness and perseverance. 

First off, last night was rough.  I started to feel a gurgling in my stomach. Something I had eaten that day wasn't sitting right.  It could have been the super-spicy soup I had for lunch.  The meat-on-a-stick I had has a snack at about 4 or the pad thai I got from a street vendor for dinner. 

 I knew I had to wake up at 5:45 AM to be sure to be at school at 7:30.  My clock is adjusted to going to sleep around midnight, and due to how excited I was, I couldn’t sleep.  I tossed and turned.  Worrying about this and that. So when the wake-up call came the next morning, it felt like I had barely slept.  

There was a worse problem though.  My stomach was on fire. I ran to the bathroom and well, I don’t know how to put this delicately, but “explosive” comes to mind.  Maybe “brown river flash-flooding out my butt” (that isn’t so delicate), and again it was accompanied by major, severe stomach pain.  I spent most of my 45 minutes before leaving to catch the bus sitting on the porcelain throne.  

I had never yet taken a bus here at 6:30 in the morning.  Given that it is rush hour 24 hours a day in Bangkok, I wasn’t surprised as the bus inched slowly along down Sukhumvit 71 towards my school.  I made the wise choice of paying the extra Bt4 (17 cents) to get on the air-conditioned bus.  But I had a problem.  The roll I had eaten for breakfast with some club soda was saying it didn’t like being in my stomach and was leaving one way or another.  

I managed to think pleasant thoughts until the bus came to my stop, at which point I jumped off, walked seven steps to some convenient bushes and hurled.  Vomited.  Violently. Then, I dry-heaved.  Fun.  Afterwards, as is the case after puking, I’m sure my eyes were horribly bloodshot red, and I was half a block from my school.  It was 7:30 on the nose.  Mind you, if this hadn’t been my first day, I would turned around right there and called in sick.

I took my time, breathed heavily (getting oxygen to the eyes) and walked in the gate of the school at 7:36.  Damn.  I am my mother’s son.   I hate being late and rarely am. 

I had no idea where to go next.  I thought I might find something clearly marked ‘office’, or my agency people (who were supposed to be there) would be on the lookout for me and tell me where I needed to go.  It turns out I wasn’t going anywhere for a while.  I walked in right as the school band was playing the Thailand National Anthem and the flag was slowly raised.  Everyone stopped in their tracks as this happened, including a bunch of students who were also arriving late.  

Then came the morning prayers.  I certainly could go traipsing off to campus parts unknown while THAT was happening.  Interesting factoid: Buddhists and (some) Christians pray in the same manner, hands out in front of you, palm-to-palm, fingers up and aligned. 

Finally, I wandered over to some likely looking buildings and found what appeared to be the main office.  I politely asked where I might find ***, my agency liaison.  No one knew who *** was or where she could be found.  The secretary told me to wait there and ran off somewhere.  As I was standing there looking befuddled, a nice young Chinese man comes up to me and asks if I might be looking for the foreign language office.  

Yes!  Please, take me there

So, John was the first person I met at my school.  He teaches Chinese language, but spoke English very well too.  

 He was my hero this morning, and he even let me sit at his desk while I waited.  Still no ***, nor had I seen any of the other 4 foreign English teachers.  Most importantly, John showed me where the faculty bathroom was located, a place I visited about a dozen times on my first day.  

Coming out of the bathroom, I saw Jason, one of the other teachers who I had met last week, walking down the hall.  He gave me a nod and stepped through a doorway.  What is this?  I wander over, open the door and there everybody was.  The foreign teachers get their own small office, and best of all (unlike the rest of the foreign language department), it is air-conditioned.  We westerners are so delicate when it comes to handling the heat! 

At this point, it was after 8 AM, I didn’t know when classes started nor if I was teaching a first period.  The schedule got worked out and I found that I wasn’t teaching until 10AM, so there was plenty of time to get the lesson plan copied and reviewed.    
I asked *** what I should do if in the middle of the class, I had to go.  Bad.  I explained my digestive issues.   

Oh! We should take you to the school nurse! 

 The school nurse, of course.  I’d forgotten about those.  When have any of us every worked in an office, store or other big company where they employ a company nurse?  Schools have them.

The school nurse gave me 4 big black pills and a salty tasting solution (electrolytes I think; I was very dehydrated as anything I drank came out the other end in 20 or 30 minutes).  She told me to come back after lunch for another treatment. 

Off to teach my first class!  My first assignment:  6th graders!  These were the Intensive English Program 6th graders who were supposed to know a bit more English than the run-of-the-mill 11 year-old, and I felt fairly prepared as I crossed campus to another building.

More importantly, I felt like a teacher.  I had my materials in my hand and I strolled across campus, trying to look serious and dignified.  This may sound strange, but I felt serious and dignified.  I have been told by several people that in Thailand, teachers are respected more than doctors, lawyers, businessmen, what have you.  Only monks and the Royal Family are held in higher esteem.  Now, I was one of them.  See, in my old job in America, I never felt any pride in the fact that I was an appliance salesman.  I took pride in how I did my job, but my title was not one people go, “oh, he’s an appliance salesman, he deserves respect.”  That is how teachers are viewed in Thailand and now I was one of them.

Then I get to the hallway outside the classroom and find 40 6th grade boys bouncing off the walls, goofing around, being  11 years old .  They settled down a bit when this big, older white man showed up.   We couldn’t get into the classroom because of big padlock on the door (there’s expensive computers and such in the IEP classes).  Hmmm….  Well, it was still a few minutes before we’re supposed to start, and I know I have a Thai co-teacher who will be assisting me this morning.  I’m sure she’ll have the key.  So I start chatting with the boys.  I sort of started the lesson in the hallway. 

At 5 minutes after the scheduled start time, I tell the boys, “Stay here, I’ll go find a key.”  I find my co-teacher standing outside the door of the building.  She didn't have the key.  We decide to move the class to the library.  There won’t be a whiteboard, a key tool in language training,  but at least it has AC.  We get the kids all settled into the library when the librarian informs us that the library is reserved for the hour. We had to leave.  Now where?  To the cafeteria!

My first class as a paid English teacher started 20 minutes late, was in a stifling hot, breezeless open cafeteria.  It was like teaching outside.  Hard enough for a newbie like me to keep classroom control; imagine trying it outside.  I had soaked through my undershirt and shirt by hour’s end and I was feeling sick again.

One thing about 6th graders that I had forgotten;  they come in very different sizes.  Some of them were as big as me, others you’d guess were 7 or 8 years old. 

My next class were  11th graders.  My lesson plan was for a fairly difficult reading assignment about fables and old wives’ tales.  I got the kids somewhat engaged, things were going smoothly up until the point where I was supposed the pass out the reading assignment and I realized I didn’t have it.  The story was missing from my photocopied materials.  Guys, stay here, don’t go crazy, I gotta go get something.  Back to the office, dig out the story, make the copies, run back (in a dignified, teacher-like gait) okay, back on track.

I barely managed to keep down my lunch, long enough for it to make it’s way through my system and out the other end before the lunch hour had even finished.  Back to the nurse; more big black pills; more hydration salts.  So, this is dysentery.

After lunch was my mystery class.  It was 6th graders again, some of whom were special ed kids. See, I mentioned the agency provides lesson plans for the Intensive English half of what I’m doing; but we’re on our own when teaching the general English classes, which was fine.  Time for me to use the models I learned in training, which worked perfectly with this lot.  I taught more English to the kids who weren’t paying extra for it than to  any other class today.

My last class was the 12th grade, Gifted Students group.  Look, I told them right at the start, I’ve been dealing with children all day, and I expect  this group to be able to follow some simple rules.  When I raise my whiteboard pen in the air, I want silence.  When I ask a question of a student, I don’t want his friend blurting out the answer from across the room.  Those were my 2 rules, and they followed them.  I gave them an assignment with about 10 minutes left until the end of class that probably should have taken 15 minutes.  You know what really impressed me?  All of them stayed the extra 5 minutes to complete the assignment; it was important to them.  Good kids.

And I get to do it all again tomorrow.  Teacher Joko has finished his first day teaching.

My stomach is empty; all I managed to choke down this evening was a thing of yogurt.  I’m hungry, but the idea of eating is repulsive to me at the moment.  Dysentery sucks (it’s definitely what I’ve got, I looked it up on Wikipedia), but it would make a great weight-loss program!



  1. You have some crook guts and are eating yogurt??? Nice first day report by the way!

  2. I was sick on and off for the 1st few months it takes time for the western body to adjust - be a bit careful with brushing teeth in the water etc - street food cutlery - avoid the river water when taking river bus - important to drink at least 2 electrolytes a day and a lot of water - the black pills are charcoal this can kill the stomach bug but will also dehydrate you - get OREDA from the pharma... good luck :-)

  3. They got some stuff at the Seven Eleven that is black liquid in a small glass jar, it has a picture of ginger root on the front, the main ingredients are concentrated ginger, spearmint, rhubarb, sodium bicarbonate and some other things. This is what the Thai people recommend and we were very skeptical but has worked well on multiple occasions. Only 20 baht. Good luck, Tara and Dan

  4. So sorry to hear about your being sick. As your friends suggest, keep drinking fluids that are safe. Too bad you didn't get thru this before you started teaching. The best that can be said is you made it thru. Not having a lesson prepared is very hard for any teacher, much less a first day, first timer. Will you continueto recieve lesson plans the night before? Can you get several days ahead? You will just have to put some emergency plans together on your own as soon as you are well enough.

    Hang in there! You can do this.


  5. Some good advice - lots of fluids an some of the black stuff. I think your first day was a great success (aside from your stomach issues). And you'll know better tomorrow what to expect.

  6. Another VERY important thing to note - if you or anyone you know is taking blood pressure meds - these may cause major issues if you suffer from dehydration see a local dr they will recommend local alternatives.

  7. I am so sorry that you are sick. UGHhhhh! I would not have made it especially in the heat. Kudos to you for sticking it out! Ditto to what others have stated above. It is time to be very cautious about what you eat and drink. Be careful about the dehydration...continue to drink even if you are not thirsty. Best wishes!

  8. I'm guessing that with your Indo experience, being perched over a squatter whilst explosively evacuating your bowels, the squirts in Asia isn't such a drama after all.

  9. One thing: club soda is actually very bad for an upset stomach. I don't know why Americans got this idea that fizz helps, but carbonated beverages will make things WORSE. It's best to stick to water, Gatorade or whatever sports drink is available, those salt tablets, and carb-rich food.

  10. I studied in Thailand for a month and was immediately told not to drink ANYTHING that was not in a bottle. As someone mentioned earlier, even brushing your teeth in the water can get you sick. I'm so very, very happy for you Joko...I remember you sitting quietly in the conference room at Stevens Hospital, taking in every word and now look where you are! Resilience, tenacity, honesty, perseverance and always a bright and joyful outlook on life are a few descriptions of you that come to mind from the few times I met you to now...I taught 3rd graders a few times while there, who spoke no English. They were adorable to be with but man did I ever have to get creative! Go Joko! --Terri Mayer

  11. Thank you for this. It was funny and informative.


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