Tuesday, October 3, 2017

My Wonderful Students

This is some of the students from one of my larger classes making peace offerings after I confused the hell out of them for four hours by speaking (mostly) English. They had sent delegates to the teacher room before the class to warn me that they had all previously failed the class and were desperately hoping to pass the test this time around. I offered my usual words of encouragement, and we had a nice conversation in Thai. That usually calms them down a bit.

There is, however, only so much that I can do. I do try to explain more in Thai when the class has limited English skills, but I run out of Thai skills before too long. I lack sufficient vocabulary to explain all of the points of law in Thai. What I can do is take more time to explain the legalese, the new vocabulary, with reference to as much Thai as possible, and tell little stories in Thai to explain how the law works. If the level of English is very low, which it often is, none of this is enough to be really helpful. To understand what I mean, imagine receiving a lecture in mostly Chinese with about thirty-five percent broken English thrown in as a life-line.

In some classes the English proficiency is good. There I can concentrate on vocabulary and pronunciation, speaking English throughout. Even there, though, I speak very slowly and clearly. I laugh when I think of my natural accent, which is working class New York City. We are to English like Cubans are to Spanish, very, very fast with lots of clipping, not to mention the slang. (For my Thai readers: the New York accent is like passa Suratani over here. So fast that some Thais cannot follow it. "g'n lae' ru ya'") If my old friends could hear me speak to a class of Thai students they'd think that I had had a stroke, I'm talking so slowly. 

But the students are unfailingly polite. Even students who don’t understand a word maintain eye contact and appear to be listening, although some of these students will eventually begin to nod their heads, fighting off sleep. The gifts are sometimes appeals to our good natures to be gentle graders, and sometimes a more typical Thai gesture of gratitude and welcome. Either way I don’t think that gifts could change a teacher’s usual inclinations. I, and many of my Thai prof friends, am always a gentle grader. If the student worked hard, and turned in a test that was a good job for them, I think more of the students than of the raw number of correct answers. Prof’s that are hard-asses about grading will not be swayed by some bottles of bird’s nest and/or essence of chicken potions, however expensive they may have been.

My students, and my job in general, are a pleasure. I’m lucky to be here. 

No comments: