Sunday, May 6, 2012

The American, The Thai & The British Curriculum

I’m sure at least a few of you have been looking for a post that elaborates on what on Earth I’ve actually been doing these past couple months, and since I’ve started my job. A quick sentence summarizing a few key points does not really cut it, nor is it my usual style. But you do what you can.

Rather than do a full back pedal, though, or try and layer every new occurrence to give the full picture (you would all stop reading, trust me), let’s focus on what’s up next as my big focus.

And that would be: The American, The Thai and The British Curriculum. It almost sounds like it could be a storybook.

So, if you know me you know I just started a new job teaching art!!! A goal 8 years in the making (objectively speaking, subjectively longer) – but much like a University commencement ceremony, I’ve really just finally reached the starting line on this particular goal. The goal, after college, – was simply to be able to start the race. I’ve been running other races, no less important, but others nonetheless. So now here we go.

Here’s a break down: I am one of two art instructors at my school. My school has around 400 pupils and spans Kindergarten to 11th grade, and we have one 12th grader that sits in a teacher’s room to do all his work. What a senior year.

Naturally, I am the American cited in the title. My colleague the Elementary Grades Art Teacher is Thai. And we are employed at a school that follows the British curriculum.

Now here’s where it gets a little tricky. Both of us have to learn the ins and outs of the British Curriculum together. Not only that, but we must do so to at least a semi-passable, paperwork laden extent in less than three weeks. O_o Why on Earth, you ask? Accreditation Inspectors from the UK will be coming later in May to see if we make the cut. Wow, way to hit the ground running.

The Thai art teacher has been at the school for awhile but when I showed him the British ‘Schemes of Work’ (Curriculum and what kinds of media we’re supposed to be introducing at which key stage and which term of the year), he said it was the first time he’d seen it.

Why exactly am I also making sure he figures it out? Shouldn’t that be his responsibility, especially if he’s been there longer? Oh, you and your logic.

You see, as it turns out, I’m not actually just the Upper Grades Art Teacher. Actually, congratulations Teacher Jenny, you are the Head of the Art Department, and you’ll be ceremoniously informed through an email on Thursday afternoon, or, three days ago. Woah. Ok. So now, I’m a rookie art teacher in a foreign country, learning a curriculum system I’m not familiar with, and I’m the direct supervisor of another art teacher. Who is not fluent in English but should be. Ok. Deep Breaths. It’s a good thing I am who I am. And really truly, as much as I was still rather maladapted in many ways at the Thai Gov’t School, since my time there it’s a little easier to take things like this and let it (mostly) roll off and carry on. Though my highly emotive facial expressions are not something I’ve ever learned to fully mask, and frankly I hate doing that so much any way.

So, The Deputy Principal has been very supportive in pointing me towards helpful resources, explaining things, helping me get the administration to move it on a few things and generally being there as a teaching mentor, which I am incredibly grateful for.

As the Head of the Art Department, I’m in charge of going over my colleague’s lessons, making sure he’s up to standards (like, fluency in English in 3 weeks? Uh…), helping him grow as an educator and doing all that supervisory paperworky stuff. The Deputy Principal suggested the two of us plan to be each other’s mentors, as we’ll both be teaching art and therefore best be able to help each other develop as ART teachers. We’re supposed to outline a Professional Growth Plan and hold regular Department meetings to go over this. Even though I’m coming in towards the end of the year, my colleague hasn’t done one. We’ll be doing this soon.

You see, my predecessor was assigned these same duties, but she pretty much gave my colleague the cold shoulder because she couldn’t be bothered with the language barrier, among other things. There were certainly other factors, as I’ve learned at the weekly Friday after school staff meeting. Otherwise known as drinks at the street bar down the road. Man can I hold my Lemon Tea like a pro. Also note, for these important faculty meetings: only American, only female. Oh Thailand.

So as such, we’re at square one, using his iPod Thai/English dictionary, and both swearing up and down as the air conditioner continues to float in and out of functionality. Some things transcend linguistic difficulty. 40C (104F) heat outside, then in a cement and metal box, is one of those things. So while it’s up to us to maintain the professionalism of our department, there are two of us, and this is Thailand. Enough said. And for any of you about to suggest it – he’s married so don’t even think about going there.

So here’s our breakdown so far:

1) I will focus on art history, since I have more expertise and linguistic ability in this category.

*Though I’m the upper grades teacher, he’s actually my co-teacher for grades 8 and 9. And while predecessor just gave him the cold shoulder, if I’ve got a work load nearly twice what I expected and he’s supposed to be my co-teacher, we’re gonna get out that Thai English dictionary, and we’re going to co-teach.*

2) He will focus on drawing and Illustration.

*We’re both fairly versed in this area, but his strength is graphic design as well as illustration. Since realistic illustration actually takes me quite a bit of work and I’ve got other things to bring to the table, here’s the split.*

3) I will help him with English; he will read Thai labels and make sure that when we get any sort of chemical supplies with Thai labels we don’t blow each other up.

*Ok, we’re not really going to blow up. But I HAVE discovered batik dye fixative, and while that stuff won’t blow anything up, it could potentially be highly corrosive to skin. For his growth plan I’ve decided we’ll call this strength of his ‘supply acquisition,’ instead of 'fluent in Thai,'mmm the semantics of standards.*

4) We’re both going to try and figure out how we’re supposed to do a sculpture unit.

*Unlike predecessor just saying here do this to my colleague, I’ve decided we’re both gonna bring something to the table. And since neither of us specialized in sculpture and our supplies for this are well… uh… you’re art teachers get creative! This is going to be an interesting one.*

So that’s where we’re at so far. He’s actually enrolled in an English language school of his own volition, beginning next week. I’ve loaned him Street DVDs of the first season of Mad Men, then he loaned me Kick Ass (for entertainment more than linguistic reasons). And as he told me about people just being unwilling to deal with him because of language, and tried to lean on the Gym teacher for translation, I said,

“No, no, try. My sister and I? My sister and I made my brother learn to speak. He has autism, and we weren’t sure he’d be able to learn to speak. But you know what my sister and I said? We’re not taking no for an answer. And my brother learned to speak.”

And while I hope he didn’t take the autism bit the wrong way, the point stands. We’re going to do this, and I’m not giving the cold shoulder or taking no for an answer. As to whether we’ll really be able to rock it well enough for the UK inspectors, well, that’s kind of a fool’s errand, but, Super Teacher, x2, mode engage.