Its hard to believe it, but school break is right around the corner. This week I taught my last classes of the semester (which consisted of having ice-cream parties) and now the students are in the midst of three days of exams. Next week is the last week, where I’ve been told teachers are frantically overworked trying to finish up the many reports they have to complete. Next Friday school will close for everyone for about 3 weeks. Its kind of like the equivalent of Christmas break in the U.S. I’m really looking forward to a much needed break, and to begin a new semester to try new teaching ideas.
Along with the end of the semester comes a lot of changes. Teachers seem to change schools quite frequently in Thailand. Most are considered ‘civil servants’ and are employed by the Thai government. It seems like a very confusing system, and even after asking many questions in both Thai and English, I still don’t quite understand how it works. Apparently teachers have to take a test to initially become employed by the government. Having this status doesn’t necessarily mean you will make more money, but you will have better health care benefits (a better program for healthcare than what they already have, since Thailand does offer universal healthcare..) and it is viewed as a highly respected position in society. After teachers take this test they are assigned to teach at a school in the area where they took the test. The teachers that score highest get first pick on choosing the school where they want to teach. Last semester there was one teacher I had especially connected with and spent a lot of time with during my first month at site. I was upset to find out she had to move schools a week after the semester had already started, against her own wishes, because she didn’t score highest in the area on the test and another teacher chose to work at the school she was already teaching at. That same week, after the term had already begun, my school also got four new teachers, one of them being one of my current co-teachers.
Usually after taking this test, teachers work at the school they were assigned to for 2 years. During those two years many teachers live away from their families, even spouses and children. My other co-teacher has just met her 2 year mark at my school, so unfortunately she is applying to transfer to a school closer to her home. This is especially disappointing because I think she was the one that applied to have a Peace Corps volunteer work at the school, and has pretty much taken me under her wing. She probably won’t find out if she has been approved to move until mid-October (so realistically she will probably find out a few weeks later than that, once the next semester has already started).
Aside from teachers transferring, as everywhere there are also teachers retiring. Last week was the ‘big’ retirement party for the 20 schools in this area. It was definitely a Thai style retirement party, with lots of speeches that no one really listened to and just continued talking during, huge displays of respect to the elders when all the teachers kneeled down and shuffled along on their knees bowing to the teachers retiring, lots of food (7 courses to be exact..), Karaoke by the superintendent, and Thai dancing.
As the semester is winding down I’ve been reflecting on the work I’ve done here this semester. Its hard to believe that my work here is a quarter of the way through already. I am starting to see encouraging improvements with my students, and have started a few extra activities, like a theater club, weekly yoga class, and English reading in the library, that the students seem to enjoy. Most of them have only taken place for a few weeks though, since its taken me that long to learn how the school works and how to suggest and start projects. Now, I just hope things don’t change too much with the new semester!