Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Global anxiety

Sitting on an idyllic tropical beach, I feel pangs of guilt as I think of people around the world, especially in the States who have, through no fault of their own save for a trust in the American economic system, great anxiety about their financial future. Of course, little in this world, including a tiny island in the Andaman Sea, escapes the effects of America's latest blunder.

So, in many ways we have felt the jolt: In transportation costs, in our retirement folios, in food prices, to name just a few. Overall, although we wanted to return because we enjoy the Thai lifestyle, we were very fortunate to come when we did; lucky timing, that's all (Checking the math, we discovered that this vacation as residents here would cost the equivalent of a week's trip to Chicago if we were in the U.S.).

Knowledge is not always a good thing. The Bible's metaphor involving Adam and Eve is apropos: naiveté often releases us from anguish. We have been isolated without TV or newspaper for nearly a week. How the presidential race is shaping up, or how the Dow has tracked this week will have no effect on the tides that move the lapping waves, the
hornbills that squabble in the palms, the crabs that race across the sand, or the islands that steadily erode imperceptibly with each monsoon downpour.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

End of quarter

The first quarter of the school year has ended. My relief at surviving the beginning is matched only by my astonishment at how quickly the time has passed. As is typical of starting any new job, it has taken me this long just to feel comfortable in my role as science teacher. It is only this week that I am able to plan ahead one week. At the beginning, it was by the hour!

It has been quite a struggle getting used to the strict schedule: No more leisurely strolls to the restroom whenever I feel the urge, or to linger at a colleague’s desk to discuss strategies. Generally, I’m running between classes just to show up on time.

Reflecting on the first nine weeks, I find that as usual, I am “behind” in at least one class, Biology, when compared to the other course teachers. I tend to take my time when involved in helping students understand key concepts, especially those that are complex, in this case evolution. I don’t like to hurry through them, just to be “on time.” This has caused some problems with colleagues in the past, and I’m sure that it is the same here. But, I can’t worry about that. Surprisingly, I am pretty much on schedule with my advanced Biology class, a two-year course, and with my ninth grade Physical Science classes.

The students are wonderful. They are inquisitive, energetic, and for the most part, respectful of the learning environment and of each other. I have no discipline problems, which is a blessing. I had expected that, however, as most are Asian, coming from a variety of cultures, all of which place great emphasis on respect for adults, especially teachers.

My greatest challenge has been the inability to communicate convincingly enough the unprofessional nature of my assignment. The school has one more science teacher than available rooms, and as the latest hire, I am the traveling teacher. They call me the “floating” teacher, and I refer to myself appropriately as the “floater,” which I feel adequately reflects the nature of the position. I have been a persistent, although respectful, thorny voice in the administration’s side. I have learned that there are at least four available classrooms in the school, and although none are equipped as a science facility, it would do nicely for consistency, not to mention time efficiency. I have yet to hear a reasonable answer as to why I cannot use one of them (Three are in the elementary building, one is in the English Intensive study building). To underscore the difficulty I have trying to work at my desk (I call it the “orifice”), which is in the noisy teacher's lounge, I recently plopped myself down in the administration office, ipod and all, to grade tests. No response (the avoidance was actually quite humorous to behold), so I will just have to visit often. I have a feeling that my gentle persuasion will pay off. Apparently, I am the first “new” science teacher to make a fuss. That’s what one gets when one hires a veteran educator: The others have been young and therefore hesitant to speak their minds about it. When I hear others rationalize the situation ("Other new science teachers have gone through it."), I reply that it doesn't require that it become a tradition, particularly an ill-conceived one.

I do remind myself that this is my “retirement” job, and I am happy to be in a quality school with good people surrounding me. I am also fortunate that Kat and I have found a wonderful house in an interesting Thai neighborhood, and that we have opportunity to explore this fascinating part of the world. For now, we will spend a quiet week on an island in the south of Thailand, and try to not spend too much time thinking about work.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

International School

Once known as "American" or "British" schools, the concept of an "international" school is now a fixture in the world's major cities as well as many other locations scattered across the globe in smaller cities and even in countryside settings. Students from many countries take courses in a variety of languages and curricula. In the school where I am teaching, for example, students make take a college-preparation American curriculum, complete with Advanced Placement offerings, or an international European-style curriculum, the International Baccalaureate.

Today, representatives from more than twenty U.S. colleges and universities will visit our campus to speak to high school juniors and seniors.

Although the majority of students in my school are Thai
nationals, students from over 35 countries attend. This spreading phenomenon reflects our growing global community. Even in the midwestern United States, urban schools often have over twenty countries and languages represented by their student population.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


Bangkok is an exciting, exotic city, but it can be overwhelming at times. It is necessary to escape the noise and traffic, even for a weekend. To celebrate my birthday, I was determined to get out of the city, even though our suburban life is relatively peaceful. We were finally able to get away for a weekend to a resort we love that is on the Gulf of Thailand, a 4 hour trip by car or van. Here's a photo of what I did during our stay.