It’s Christmas. I’m standing in front of the entire school, staff and students. Alone, with a mic in my hands. I’m wearing a goofy, glittery Christmas sweater with a pug on it that I bought the day before and jingling rainbow antlers. I give a quick spiel about Christmas traditions in the United States. And then, as I prepare to sit down, my mentor teacher comes over to me and says, her hand covering the mic, “What else?”
I freeze, panic coursing through me. I am not prepared for this. I have nothing. And singing and dancing in front of people, and being the centre of attention without prior preparation is a fear of mine.
I rack my brain, thinking of something, anything, that will not make this event crash and burn. Remembering that I taught “Jingle Bells” in the leadup to the holiday, I drag two of my reluctant classes up to the stage with me, and together we give a forced, off-the cuff rendition of the Christmas classic.
Despite being trained as a teacher, giving impromptu speeches has never been my strong point. My life unfolds in the preparations, in the hours I spend alone thinking through lessons and speeches and preparing materials. With planning, I can steel myself up, go in over-prepared and over-rehearsed and make it look natural. Without, it feels like the floor is falling out from beneath me.
As a tightly wound and over-scheduled American, it is this aspect of Thai culture that has been most intimidating for me.
In Thailand, all of that gets thrown out the window. Schedules are often interrupted for holidays, ceremonies or events. The language barrier means that I often have another obstacle between me and understanding what is going on at school on any given day. And unlike in American schools where events are planned entirely in advance, all of Thailand seems to operate with a “pantser” mentality—even the government announces days off or events shortly before they happen. As a foreign teacher in Thailand, being prepared is both a blessing and a curse, as many things are entirely out of your control.
But public spectacle is different in Thailand. There is no shame in singing loudly and off-key. Of singing karaoke late into the night out in front of your house. Of dancing and letting loose and just having fun.
As a tightly wound and over-scheduled American, it is this aspect of Thai culture and of teaching in a Thai school that has been most intimidating for me. In front of the classroom where my role is like a comfortable uniform that I can slip into, quick thinking and problem-solving comes naturally. In front of an audience, everything changes.
Fast-forward 10 months.
I come down from preparing for the day’s lessons in my office—preparations I have a feeling I won’t be needing based on the morning announcements—to see my grade 7 students singing and dancing on-stage. Without preamble, I am pulled onstage to dance along with them and for all of those recording in the audience. A big smile stretches across my face and, as another teacher joins us and the 12-year-old boy next to me gets down, I can’t contain my laughter.
As we queue up for pictures, the students clapping and cheering, I realize that teaching in Thailand has given me an unexpected gift. I have learned to take myself, and life, a little less seriously. To let go of self-consciousness and the desire to be perfect and just live. That it’s okay if I sleep in on the weekend past the crack of dawn. That my life doesn’t need to revolve around work and lesson plans and grades and that, while there are times for structure, sometimes teaching—and life—works better when you can just let go and laugh.Add this article to your reading list