Working as a volunteer English teacher in Northeastern Thailand has been one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences I have ever had. Much of this sentiment can be attributed to the small groups of people with whom I spent the most work time, my co-teachers. The relationships I have built with my co-teachers are incredibly complex; I am amazed at how frustrating their behavior is to me in one instance, like seeing the use of corporal punishment or taking frequent naps at school, and then in the next moment watching a teacher help a student use chopsticks or tend to the scrapes and bumps students acquire during playtime, throwing my perceptions of them through a loop. In these latter moments it is obvious to me that teachers in Thailand have the privilege, and responsibility, of assisting in the upbringing of students that reaches far beyond the classroom. I have heard Thais say many times over the past year that children have two sets of parents, one that lives at home, and the other that works at the school. Pla Pak Noi Elementary School in particular has an incredible sense of family; from preparing meals to cleaning dishes, students from every grade help with the day-to-day chores and the teachers act more as caregivers than academic instructors.
I am quite certain that my co-teachers gave me much more than I could have ever given. These are the people who taught me most of my Thai and Isaan, how to read basic Thai script, how to cook some of my favorite dishes, how to act properly in social gatherings, and perhaps most importantly, how to laugh at myself when my attempts at communication failed.
Well it’s time for me to get to the other things on my to-do list, which unfortunately continues to grow, despite the fact that time here is quickly winding down. I am half-way done with my string-typing ceremonies (Wang Yang on Thursday and Pla Pak Noi on Friday) then I will be in sorting, donating, packing, sending mode until my room is neatly collected in the two pieces of luggage I came with. Wish me luck!