As our teaching practice began, so it ended, with all of us standing before the assembled throngs, over two thousand uniformed high school kids seated in long rows in a dusty field. One by one we stood before them, announced ourselves and sang the school's praises. I got a roar for saying 'hello' in Thai. If I only could have maintained that aura of coolness, the day would have gone so much smoother.
All morning students would magically appear bearing gifts, cards and sweet smiles. Bryn, whose Hollywood handsome looks evoked the biggest cheer during the assemblies, was the far and away favorite; bashful girls brought him a rose, then a card and even a tee-shirt. Modest to a fault, he stuffed the items unceremoniously into his bag, embarrassed by the attention.
I taught last period, strutting my stuff to a gang of twelve year olds. Though the teacher-trainer monitoring me felt the lesson went well, my battered ego tells another story. As the saying goes: some days you eat the bear, other days the bears stare at you puzzled as you arhythmically slap your thighs, mumble-singing a senseless chant with a reddening face. My sing-along went horribly awry.
I practiced it a dozen times, but it never sounded so hopelessly white. The kids, who had gathered around me on eagerly on the floor, convinced they were in for a treat, just stared. I stared back, painfully aware that the only difference between this moment and my absolute worst nightmares was that I still had my clothes on. Of course, never in all my naked-in-public dreams have I ever been singing so badly.
"What are you doing this weekend?" I warbled, slapping my thighs fiercely and at varying tempos. The kids just looked at me, shooting each other glances, as if to say, "The only difference between this and my absolute worst nightmare is that the teacher still has his clothes on." Knowing that it's terribly uncouth to display displeasure or frustration in front of Thais, I gazed at the ceiling, screwing up my face in something like concentration. The students thought I was awaiting my muse, who never did arrive.
"What are you doing this weekend?"
Slap Slap Slapslap Slappityslapslap Slap...
After two very long, very lonely minutes, the sweet students took pity on me. They joined my chant, mimicking my bad timing, slapping their own thighs in a jazz-inspired rhythm. We bounced through several verses of the insipid song, screaming the chorus a time or two, "I'm going to play football!"
As the students scrambled back to their seats, a peer observer gave me a generous thumb's up, as if to say, "At least you're not naked." Class ended forty long minutes later and it took me all day to recover.
Our month long EFL course ended later that day, amongst a flurry of activity. Each trainee had to meet with the teachers and discuss the course and our portfolio. Then there was a heap of drinking and eating to be done and some much needed venting. The experience has been compared, unfavorably, to the game shows Survivor and Big Brother, where people are made to live in close quarters, solve problems together and plot against each other all at once. My consolation for likely being voted out early in the course is that I might have gotten out of the having to sing bad chants.
The school sponsored a seafood dinner at a beachside pavilion. We ate fresh prawns with claws as long as their bodies and deep sea scallops sweetened with maple syrup (or something similar) and drank beer and whisky. After dinner we dispersed into various camps for drinking and karaoke in the late evening. Though we lost two members for several hours, all were accounted for by noon the next day. Now, on to the rest of life.
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