Friday, August 9, 2013

School Daze

So my husband started work last week, and students started back this past Thursday. A new school year, at a completely new school, in a new country, with new staff, teachers, and students completely foreign (haha!) to us. But we were all pretty excited about school this year and eager to see what school is like at an international school.

Last weekend, my son and I went to an orientation of the elementary school for new students. The elementary school consists of a four-story building, and the elementary students have their own library, science laboratory, gym, dramatic arts room, music room, art room, playground, and cafeteria (which is mostly for the K-2 crowd). There are two first-grade classes. My son's class has 20 kids, with a teacher and an aide.

My son's classroom. 

The main playground.
Elementary school library. Yeah, my son and I were both drooling. Both students and parents are allowed to check out books. Each person is allowed to check out 10 books at a time! (Keeping track of the books will be problematc, though. I know my son; he WILL take out as many as he's allowed as often as he's allowed, and they will be all over the house.)

A map of the entire school campus. After being there a few times, I'm proud to say I hardly get lost anymore when I'm there!

One of the things I'm excited about this school year is the requirement to buy school lunches for K-2 students. I remember what a headache it was last year, trying to figure out what to pack for my son every single day (we tried to avoid the school lunches because they were not-so-great). And the school lunches here are awesome! None of that frozen food crap. They serve the students a variety of freshly made cuisines every single day. Some items on the menu for this month include roasted chicken teriyaki, salmon fried rice, stir-fried pork with mushroom with oyster sauce, stir-fried glass noodles with cabbage, stir-fried fillet snapper with celery leaves, Thai omelet with vegetables, and breaded shrimp. There are also several choices for veggies daily. I may go to school during lunch sometime just so I get get a good lunch for myself!

The school also takes care of all the school supplies for the school year. All I had to do was pay the Finance Office a little over $100. As a result, my son didn't even need to bring a backpack to school on his first day, but we have him do that anyway, just for the heck of it. It didn't feel like "real" school without a backpack.

Another thing I'm really excited about is the requirement of uniforms for all the students!! No more daily battles on what to wear!!

This is the daily uniform.
This is the P.E. uniform. The shirt comes in five different colors, and my son chose a green one and a yellow one.
So the school operates on a block schedule, alternating between four different schedules. My son's daily schedule consists of two blocks, followed by a milk (snack) break, two more blocks, then lunch, then two or three more blocks and another snack break (I think! It's too hard to keep track!). The day starts at 7:15 and ends at 2:45. Library is once every four days, and P.E. every other day. There also is music, art, and science. The P.E. curriculum here includes swimming lessons. Very excited about that!

For the morning snack on the first day, the kids got milk and a pork bun. In the afternoon, they had juice and guava fruit. Nice!

The school calendar looks manageable. There is at least one long weekend every month, and we have a 10-day break in October, three weeks off in December and January, a two-week break in March/April, and summer break. We are looking forward to exploring this and other countries, or having visitors, during our breaks. Definitely looking to go to an island or beach in October, and possibly a trip to Taiwan in December!!!

One very interesting thing you should know about the people here is that everyone has a nickname. I mean, you really do need one if your first and last names pretty much consist of the entire alphabet and are a gazillion letters and syllables long. But these nicknames are not the kind of nicknames we Americans might have, such as the shortened version of one's real name. It's really a random word that either you or your parents picked out.

For example, one of the teachers last year had a student whose father owns the Thai beer company, so the student's nickname is Beer. There's another student nicknamed Internet. My husband will have a few Earths in his classes this year, as well as "T", Tiger, Soft, Fluke, and Eye. So random! One teacher's nickname is Last, while his brothers are First and Middle (guess we know who the baby of the family is!). And all these nicknames are listed next to the formal names on the class roster for the teacher's convenience! No one uses their formal names, so teachers usually still don't know their students' real names by the end of the school year!

My son got a kick out of some of his classmates' nicknames when we went to look at his cubby:

No, you're not seeing things! Some of the nicknames really are Party (apparently, there are two Partys in his class!), Peach, Thank You, and Piano! They are all girls, except one of the Partys is a boy. I asked my son how the class differentiates between the two Partys, and he said that they call the girl "Party Girl" and the boy "Party Boy"! Let's hope they don't grow up to live up to their names too much....

Many of the students live far away and may commute at least 45-50 minutes each way just to get to or from school! But these parents aren't "wasting" their own time doing this; they have their nannies and drivers do this for them. So most school activities, including sports games and competitions, are held right after school, with everything ending by 5 p.m.

Also because of the distances the students live from the school, there is not much parent involvement, especially at the high-school level. During parent/teacher conferences, typically only about 25-30 percent of parents show up. There also is very little attendance by parents at school sporting events.

That's not to say, though, that the students do badly. In fact, it's the opposite. Here, as in many other countries there is great emphasis on education. Parents have very high educational expectations for their kids and the students are expected to achieve, which they do. And the parents trust that the schools and the teachers are doing what's best for the students. This is very interesting to me because all I've been advised since becoming a parent in the U.S. is that I need to be an "involved" parent to ensure my child's success in school. Yet, here, even without parental involvement and helicopter parenting, the students are succeeding.

One example of the emphasis on education here: At the high school here, there are a few students who are famous movie stars in Thailand. So after school ends, they might go and work, shoot some scenes, until one o'clock in the morning. After that, they will go home and work on their homework until 6 a.m. before school starts. It would be unthinkable for them not to do their homework or skip school because of their "careers." There also is a student who is an Olympic-level badminton player who travels for weeks at a time for the sport. So instead of coming back and expecting the teachers to give her the work to catch up, she is spending her summer break going to school to get ahead for the year.

The students work hard, but also play hard. Because the students at the international schools (except for the teachers' kids) are all from wealthy families, they have the world in the palms of their hands, and have access to whatever they want. Pot is a very commonly and popular substance the students use, and is very easy to get. The high school principal actually told us that by the time these students get to university, they're not the ones who are out partying and binge-drinking because they've already "been there, done that"! Students aren't expelled for drug use/abuse; they are referred for treatment and monitored for progress toward rehabilitation.

My husband also was very much looking forward to teaching in this new environment. I mean, students who respect you, do their work, work hard, and behave well?! Imagine that. On his first day, my husband went over the syllabus with his students. He said it was boring as @*%$, even to him, but the students sat, listened, and participated. His mind was blown away when he was told that there are three lab aides in his science department whose only job is to set up and take down the labs that the teachers do with their classes. There are also people who do all the photocopying for the teachers. And there is no standardized test to teach to, so he doesn't have to cram all the materials down the students' throats whether they are ready or not. He actually gets to teach, focus on the students' abilities and interests, and explore and be creative. What a concept! It's no wonder so many American teachers here and elsewhere overseas don't want to return to teach in the U.S.

My husband's classroom.
Skeleton of a cat in his room.

At any rate, after the first two days, both my son and husband are still excited about school and eager to return. That's more than I can say about the last school year! Happy weekend!

No comments:

Post a Comment