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Two kindergarten students chase each other around on the colored bricks.
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On the Bricks
November 6, 2004   Film: Fujichrome 50

From grade one to post high school seminary students, I taught every grade level for at least one semester each. Other teachers frequently asked what my favorite grade was and I told them that I had the most fun teacing first grade. Some would ask, "Then why don't you teach kindergarten?" My response was that I didn't think I could deal with crying toddlers and changing dipers. However, near the end of my teaching career, in an effort to keep it's Canadian accreditation, my school raised it's requirements for teaching grades one through twelve. All appearances were that if I wanted keep my job I would need to teach kindergarten, so I requested the change and it turned out to be a match made in heaven. Three Thai teachers assisted me so I didn't even need to deal with any crying children or changing dipers, they took care of all that. All I had to do was teach.

In Thailand every child must pass every exam and at the end of the year every child must pass onto the next grade irregardless of how poorly they performed. Sometimes the schools kept up a front by retesting the students, but irregardless of whether they got retested or not, and irregardless of how they performed, in the end they always passed. It seemed that the Asian custom of not "losing face" was more important than acedemics. It didn't take students very long to see this and to understand. The result was that many students simply didn't care and didn't pay any attention to anything the teacher did. I saw students who had been in English classes their entire school career and still could not answer a simple question like, "How are you?" or "What is your name?" Many Thais would try to excuse them with, "They are just too shy and afraid to talk." That might have been true in a few cases, but I have worked personally with these students, and for many I could see that was not what the problem was. Some of them were not at all shy and would give me an answer, but the wrong answer. They had no clue what I was asking. It's an amazing phenomenon, because if a student sat in class for 6 years or more you would think he would at least pick up "How are you?" even if he hated English and had made up his mind that he wasn't going learn a word of it. As a teacher I learned pretty quickly that the only way I could teach a student anything was to make them want to learn. I had to make it fun and interesting enough that they would want to participate.

A huge plus in teaching the four year olds was that they came to me with a clean slate. They hadn't figured out yet that they could do absolutely nothing and it just wouldn't matter. They also hadn't had any bad teachers, or bad experiences yet, so none of them had a mindset yet that they hated school. I was their only experience with school, so I could shape that experience to my advantage. I made sure they had fun and really enjoyed their time in my classroom. We played games and did a lot of singing and dancing. In a radio interview I was once asked if they even knew they were learning. Yes, they did, very much so. We used flashcards with with pictures on them and they would have to tell us the English word for the pictures. They knew they had to write all of their letters and numbers. They took exams and were shown the results of those exams. Our school had 9 classes of K1, with 20 to 25 students in each class. The administration wanted each class to be given the same exam, and the first time I saw the exam I was shocked. It seemed too long for  4 year old learners of a foreign language. (Ours was a bilingual school, so in additon to their English classes, these students also had a full Thai curriculum.) The exam had about 50 quesions and would take 20 minutes to give. In the first exam, for example, they might have to identify about 12 animals, 10 foods, 8 colors, and 8 shapes, in addition to answering several questions in full sentences, writing some of their letters both small and capital, and writing their numbers. I was  completely impressed with the results and realized the exam was not at all too rigorous, We usually had 4 exams per year and for three consecutive exams one of my classes avearged 99%.  (I think they averaged 98% on the first exam when the students were still adjusting to the school enviroment and learning what was expected of them.) Most of my classes averaged from 97% to 99% which were actual results... I never prodded them, gave them a second chance, or marked them higher than they actually achieved. At this age their little heads weren't filled up yet, like sponges they obsorbed everything I taught them.

(Photo above: Thai kindergarten students chase each other around on a courtyard of bricks.)

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