Tag Archives: Chalok

It’s All About Literacy

This week, the whole experience of teaching changed with the change of volunteers. Gregg and Nikki are a great pair of volunteers for me. We work well together. Every night before school, we plan, prepare props, and put together a coherent plan of what we are going to do in class the next day. The unused second bed in my room is used to store all the supplies that we brought here ourselves or picked off from the old supplies.

My tutoring sessions have revealed a whole new layer in the conundrum of language acquisition and culture on the island. I get a closer look at the student’s abilities, their family, and myself as a teacher. With the exception of two students, all of my tutoring students cannot read English. When asked to recognize a word to symbol, the ones they have memorized in shape will stand out. However, generally, the problem comes down to the fact that they do not know how to read. I’m hoping that I might be able to switch from having them memorize English phrases to memorizing phonetics. If they can learn to read, everything else about the language will click better. Rome was not built in a day, but I do intend to at least put forth a valid effort in bringing the students up to check in reading.

Another benefit of tutoring is the time I spend getting to know their families. Word seems to be passing around Koh Tao that I am willing to do free private tutoring. When I go to a new place for dinner, someone will ask me if I’m that teacher from the school. Also, other needs in the community are brought to my attention. A massage therapist located opposite the spot where I tutor on Saturdays asked me to help him translate some terminology about reflexology to English.

Saturday was my perfect day in Koh Tao. I spent the morning tutoring the kids, hung out with the kids while swimming for a few hours, talked with P’Jin and split fruit all afternoon, and ran off to my last tutoring session of the day with Zoe and her brother, Lucas.

Zoe, Lucas, and their mother, Sandrine, are pretty interesting to watch in action. After my tutoring session with the kids, I ate dinner with their family. I watched as Sandrine spoke in French to her children, asked me questions in English, and ordered from the server in Thai. In addition to French, English, and Thai, she speaks Italian and German. I think it is absolutely crazy that she can just flip the switch in her brain that quickly from language to language.

With Monday through Saturday filled with lesson planning, tutoring, and school, the only day I have completely off from all things teaching related is Sunday. Today, I went to Chalok Beach with Gregg to swim and relax. I’m finding that even workaholics need a day of rest. That said, I would rather have the well earned rest after a busy week than spend my time being bored on the beach. This week restored my faith in my cause here in Koh Tao. The families have really welcomed me to Koh Tao and their children are a gift to teach. I’m so excited about my last month here. On the 27th of August, I will go to Koh Samui to finish a visa extension and then I will be on a flight to Bangkok. From Bangkok, a bus will take me to my next English teaching camp in Singburi, just two hours outside of Bangkok. From the beach to the mountains, I’m thrilled to serve through teaching English!

Note: I would post more pictures, but the internet connection is being really slow right now... 🙁 Sorry Friends.



Up until this point, I have been learning from the other volunteer teachers how to go about the tricky parts of this position. From everything from cultural, administrative, and resource issues at hand, there are a lot of compromises from the ideal way of doing things, but I am glad that we are finding ways to convert the situation. Alie and Fatemah left this past weekend, and they are dearly missed! Last Friday, we took some pictures of them with our students in Grade 1. Below are some of their cute faces... and our not-so attractive ones. Then again, I don’t think being a teacher means that you necessarily look fashionable all the time. Generally, by the end of our day, I am literally covered in chalk. The kids were copying down the alphabet with accompanying pictures for each letter. They *love* to color.

Alie... much more attractive than my picture!

^The absolute most attractive face I’ve ever made in my life ^

The above picture was better. Also, our incredibly cute kids and their great model faces below...

^Zoe, our resident four language speaker. She has French and German parents, and they own a dive school on the island. As a result, she has learned German, French, English, and Thai. Did I mention she is only 7 years old? Yeah.

One of the sweetest little girls in Grade 1. Her favorite task is giving out the spoons at lunch to all her classmates. So freakin’ adorable!

After Fatemah and Alie left last week, I was at a loss to figure out how to go down to just one teacher and maintain teaching. I asked for the Thai teachers to stay in the room if I was going to be alone, but I think they had some lesson planning to do. I managed to some degree on Monday, but I did have to ask for help to get the kids to listen. Gratefully, a former volunteer teacher, Nikki has come back. She remembered the scenario of no resources last time, and she brought a ton of literature and ideas with her. She seems really committed to the cause. Also, we have a new guy volunteer from England, Gregg. He is a first time teacher, but he did get to go to Frontier’s TEFL weekend. Hopefully that will help him with the transition from textbooks to reality. With a brand new team assembled, I’m sure that the vibe will be different. Nevertheless, I expect that we will find ways of our own to teach the kids.

Today, I tried a new team game. I scrambled letters on the board, put an image up, and blanks. Grade 3 was split into 2 teams. The teams would send one member each to try to unscramble the letters. The competition got pretty intense and they really got into it. I was so excited that I found something that caught their interest.  Eventually, the game disintegrated into mass chaos, but if we can find a way to calm them a little more during those kind of games, I think they will really learn at least vocabulary and basic structures. I’m happy to be the cool, fun teacher instead of the constant authoritarian.

Other than school, exciting events this weekend were 1) I was not sick on the weekend for the first time (YAY!!) 2) jam session with guitar players and 3) amazing Thai food at the top of one of the mountains on the island. The jam session taught me a very simple truth. You can take the girl out of Nashville, but you can’t take the Nashville out of the girl. I played in a metal band for 3.5 years, so the guys were really interested to see if I could live up to my past. I was thrilled to get to play guitar and sing with a bunch of similar guys. I haven’t played in a round like that in at least a year or two.

The Thai food we had Sunday night was an amazing meal. Because I had gone to Chalok beach to say goodbye to Alie, I had already been munching around on things and met a good Israeli friend of hers, May. Nevertheless, I tried to be polite at Fatemah’s farewell dinner with Kob and PiPi when we went to Lung Pae Restaurant. There was a veritable feast on the table: steamed seafood with egg, fried chicken, tom kha (spicy sweet coconut soup with chicken), fried pork, and rice. Though I felt like I was going to bowl over from the food, we had a journey back down the mountain via scooter. My fullness was replaced by fear as we descended hills at about 5 miles per hour at 80 degrees. Haha. Oh the many adventures.