"When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure an Adventure is going to happen." - A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh
It’s all happening, everyone.
Tomorrow I turn in the last of my grades for this whirlwind semester, and on March 17, I leave for Vietnam. While dates and plans outside of pre-booked flights are shifty and loose at best, tentatively I plan on hitting North and South Vietnam, then Cambodia, then a quick stop in Malaysia before I meet my roommate in Bali. From Indonesia, I’ll be flying directly to Chiang Mai where I’ll be meeting my teacher friends for the Thai New Year and Songkran Festival.
I will be bringing a tiny, retractable bag filled only with a few clothing items and absolute essentials, a lesson on traveling light and quickly, on what true essentials are.
It will be both a long and quick month, but I look forward to updating you on my adventures. There are sure to be some. #bigbootstyle
"Gemini: This week’s going to feel soft and foggy; this week’s going to feel calm and easy and slow. This week might have you a little distracted from your job and your friends and your electric bill and everything else you think you should be focused on, but it’s not the worst thing to spend time inside your hazy brain. It is a good and necessary thing, sometimes, to let your head fill up with pictures of moss and snow and sand and salty air. It is a good and necessary thing to pay attention to the textures of your dreams. "
"If you find my long sentences annoying, please know that that gives me an enormous amount of pleasure."
— Jamaica Kincaid, from Monday night’s live Writers at Work interview at 92nd Street Y. (via theparisreview)
I’ve been tutoring two girls from my M5/3* class on the Mondays or Wednesdays of the semester when there are no holidays to speak of and we can all get together. Toward the second half of the semester, a third girl, whose nickname** is Toon, started coming to tutoring lessons.
Toon is funny. She speaks loudly and really enjoys listening to English songs and watching English movies. She also always asks why.
My roommate, Liz, brought peanuts during one of our lessons. When she offered some to the girls, I asked if anyone was allergic. All three looked at me with that confused You’re saying things I don’t understand look that all my students give me when I say things too quickly or use too much of an American concept with them.
And Toon immediately countered, “Teacher, why did you ask about allergies?”
So Liz and I explained to them that in America peanut allergies are a common problem. So much so that children with them, if exposed to peanuts or things made with peanuts, could die, or, at least, have a severe reaction, which would involve an ambulance, a hospital, and a phone call home.
Another one of my students, nickname B, asked why my iPod case was an old GameBoy design.
I told him because, in America, we grew up playing Nintendo games, and now that we’re older and there are newer ways of playing games, we miss them and want to remember them with things like this.
One thing I’ve learned about being a teacher? Allow your students to teach you. In this case, always ask why.
Asking why gets you a glimpse into another culture you’re unfamiliar with, therefore expanding your knowledge pool.
Asking why gives way to reason and logic and the way another thinks about the world.
I’ve been going over interviewing with my older kids, covering different kinds of questions and how to answer them with elaboration in preparation for interviews to get into university. We talk about questions like What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? What is your favorite subject? Why?
The question why usually leads to a hesitation before I get an answer because yes, why is the most difficult of questions. It feels abrasive when I ask the word by itself, as if it were a direct challenge. It is causing them to think, to uncover a part of themselves they’ve set on Repeat and Go. And usually, if the student is trying to truly answer the question, together we learn something.
What is your favorite subject?
My favorite subject is math.
(Insert hesitation here) I like math because… I like numbers and calculating. When you do math, there is only one answer, but many different ways of getting it.
That’s a very good answer, I say. Because it is.
Children seem to know to ask why. Constantly. Until they receive an answer they are satisfied with, until the curiosity is fed.
Asking why keeps you curious. It keeps you young. It keeps you jonesing for more information and life and wonderment and all the things that get lost in the muck of adulthood.
I’ve met a lot of different people in the past four months, in hostels, on beaches, at bars, on buses. It’s usually the same questions at the onset:
How long have you been in Thailand
How long are you staying for
Where have you gone
Where are you going next
Maybe it should be more like:
Why go back
Why ever leave to begin with
Asking why, it seems, takes courage.
Asking why often results in a story. In deep elaboration. In another’s past or future or complicated/haunted/confusing/optimistic present.
And when you’re in that deep, it can be scary for either party. Too much information, perhaps, whether you’re the one sharing or the one being shared with.
Asking why provokes you to search the tunnels of your mind and history, to discover your motivations. Your intentions. And it is there, at the end of an answer to why, that there is light.
And you. And everyone. Everything.
*The Thai education system is similar to the American system in that it’s separated into two segments: Prathom (primary) and Matthayom (secondary). Prathom 1, or P1, would be the equivalent to first grade in the States, with children aged 6-7. P2, second grade; P3, third grade, etc. Mattayom starts the secondary school segment, with Mattayom 1 (M1) being the equivalent to seventh grade in the States, which is the youngest group I teach.
The Mattayom grades are then tested and separated into levels of either capability or interest or both. For example, my M5/1 class performed the highest academically on their placement tests, but are also deemed members of the Science Program, a track that allows for the students to take more science-specific electives. M5/11 is a special Language Arts class, where each student takes English, Thai, and one or two elective languages like Chinese, Japanese, or French.
**Every Thai kid has about fifty names. Ok, really they have their real name, which might sound like something long and sometimes quite beautiful, like Sutthida Wornayannaprat (which is a completely made up name and if by some miracle, this is someone’s actual name, please let me know), and then they also have a nickname. Which in my world makes everything easier, especially when their real names are written in Thai on my class lists.
Their nicknames are usually names like Toon, or B, or Ploy, or Ing. My personal favorite nicknames are the badass ones like Boss, or Midfield, or Jaguar. And then there are ones with puns or wordplay. For example, an M3 student of mine has the nickname Prom, and his family name begins with k-i-n-g. So then his name becomes Prom King.
And sometimes they’re simply called Ken or Jeffrey, and those names make me happy, and I think of the Kens and Jeffreys at home and laugh to myself because it’s funny how so many people can share one name and be so incredibly different.
on feeling like i’m a real teacher
But wait. How awesome would it be to work at/on Sesame Street?