My Commute AND Thai School Culture

After Monday, I was on my own for getting to and from work. Sean and I live a quick walk on a covered bridge from the Thong Lo BTS Station on Sukhomvit Road. My commute now goes like this:

  1. walk to the BTS station (5 min.)
  2. ride sky train from Thong Lo to Mo Chit (30 min.)
  3. get a taxi outside the Mo Chit station: Open a taxi door, get inside, say (this is phonetic spelling), “Sawadee kah. Di-chan bye Kasetsart University, Satit Kaset”), and then show the driver the Thai version of what I just said (Tik was kind enough to write this for me!)
  4. taxi ride 20ish minutes
  5. walk to Building 4, go to 2nd floor

After school I do the reverse, but it looks like hailing a taxi at rush hour at this busy university will be hit-or-miss. Yesterday, the very gray sky was threatening rain (and Thailand does NOT mess around when it comes to rain), so all the taxis were occupied. Today, though, I got a taxi very quickly. When I got dropped off at the Mo Chit station yesterday, I did not have change for the taxi driver, and he would not accept the bill I was offering him. So he told me to get out and ask for change from a street vendor. I asked three people (well, more like gestured), but no one had change. Luckily, a nice lady who was buying her afternoon street treat had change for my 500 Baht bill. After that, another woman on the street asked if I was OK, and then yet another person at the station asked me if I knew where I was going. It was comforting to be helped by so many strangers. But I’m definitely going to be better about having the right change in my wallet from now on!

From Sean I’ve learned a little bit about how business is run by Thai people. At restaurants and malls, I get hints of general labor and working conditions. And now that I am working for a Thai school, with Thai children and Thai parents, I am learning a lot about what is normal to them. One figure of speech that continues to come to mind is “Too many cooks in the kitchen”. Everywhere we go, we see at least twice as many employees as seems necessary. For instance, on New Year’s Day this year, Sean and I ate a restaurant that was completely empty, except for us, and we counted at least eight people working. 7-Eleven consistently has five employees behind the small counter, and we assume there are at least that many working in the back room. My westerner co-worker has explained to me that because labor in Thailand is so cheap, employers have no incentive to modernize or to become more efficient. They just hire everyone they know! My school is no exception to this. I have never seen so many non-teacher employees in a school before. While there are some Thai teachers in our program, most are foreigners like myself, but there are innumerable Thai janitors, housekeepers, cafeteria workers, landscapers, sweepers, administrators, and materials managers. These materials managers, as I would call them, are simply in charge of teacher supplies. Just beside the office, there is a little room with a sliding window. Teachers are not allowed to make their own copies, so we just fill out a little work order form, attach it to what we want copied, and then turn it in to these 5 or so gentleman. They get the work done quickly, which is great, but the work is not always exactly what the teacher requested. In order to get supplies (e.g. today I needed pens, highlighters, a stapler, scissors, paper, etc.), one must fill out a different sheet, hand it to the men, and simply wait to see what they can come up with. I can see through the window that the paper I’d like is…right….there, but I am not allowed in the room and must explain in my very very poor Thai what it is I’m hoping to get. Their English is just slightly better than my Thai. I managed to get what I needed today, but I can tell it will be a comedic scene every time I need something. They are doing honest work and doing their best, but it just felt a little ridiculous.

I was warned by a veteran teacher today that I’m going to get very spoiled working at Satit Kaset and that I may never want to teach in the States again. This is due to three big reasons that all have TIME in common: vacation days, prep time, and pacing.

  1. I have time off in most months — a week in July, a few days in August, a week in October, 10 days at Christmas, a week in February, a couple weeks in March, all of April, and some of May off.
  2. I teach or co-teach 22 hours a week, but I only have to prep for maybe 10-12 of those, depending on the week.
  3. For those of you who have ever taught science at Dahl, this will sound particularly crazy exciting. The science curriculum suggests taking about 2 days per lesson, but I’ll get to take at least 4 days per lesson. That means that a chapter could go 3-4 weeks, depending on how many lessons. At Dahl, I was blowing through a lesson a day, and I can assure you that my students were not saying things like, “The difference between mitosis and meiosis is that mitosis takes place in body cells, while meiosis occurs in reproductive cells.”

In addition the glorious amounts of time we teachers have the privilege of enjoying, we get PRAISE. Yep, I went to a math meeting yesterday and not only did the head of the department serve dumplings with sauce, a brownie, fruit, coffee, tea, and hot cocoa, she also thanked each of us teachers personally for serving the students of the school and for doing such a great job. (Of course, I haven’t done a single thing for these students yet, but I will, and this bodes well for future appreciation of my work!)

I want my next entry to be about my students! Stay tuned!


One thought on “My Commute AND Thai School Culture

  1. Sounds pretty dreamy. And heads of department in elementary school! That’s so cool. At what age do the kids start having different teachers for different subjects? Are there any self-contained classrooms there?

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