Back to School for Expats
Back to School Rituals
Back in Bangkok things are in full swing for the new term. Expat teachers are in their classrooms getting their displays and schemes of learning ready, parents may be breathing a sigh of relief, (taking a whole family back home or on exciting adventures is expensive) and the kids will be buying out B2S, (other stationery suppliers are available) and admiring their new shoes and uniforms ready for the big day. Teacher's kids will have prior info about the new staff! Everyone is getting their back to school rituals and back to school traditions set up.
I quit work suddenly and unexpectedly last September and since then I've frequently not been with my husband which is rubbish, but this is the first official start to the new academic year that I haven’t been part of. I feel very nostalgic about the school rituals and traditions. As the clock ticked round to 8.00 am this morning and I was still lying in bed, (wishing Saint Mick was there to bring me my cup of tea, but not being sorry to not be up at 5.30 a.m.) I was anticipating all that would be occurring across the waves. I wonder how accurate I was:
The Whole School Meeting
I’m guessing that the rebels will be congregated on the back row, the Leadership Team will be at the front (and even if they are very well liked, looking like they have contagious diseases as no one else will go within a ten metre radius of them); the loud teacher (possibly from P.E) will shout out some semi-witty/facetious/jolly remark to get a laugh; the new teachers will be cringing as they are forced to stand up and wave; approximately forty percent of the staff body will sneak surreptitious glances at their phones or watches as the meeting inevitably runs over just a little bit; two teachers will be asleep, at least ten teachers will have throbbing headaches from welcoming the term in the night before a little too enthusiastically, and the Head will in turn be earnest, hilarious, passionate, engaged and frighten all, but the very established, with his excessive energy levels and enthusiasm. New Learning Support staff may be doing a quick evaluation of whether this is sustainable long term. (It is!)
Types of Teachers we have in Schools
New Teacher Types
The new teachers, affectionately known as ‘newbies’, or ‘newies’ will be looking a little worried, bewildered and overwhelmed. They will probably have a smile pinned to their face, but look in their eyes to see the fear! This is the first time they will have seen the aforementioned Head’s ferocious passion and they will be unsure they can match up. Having already been in school for a week or more for their induction, they will have their list of pros and cons regarding working in their new school and living in their new country. Their kids, accommodation and lack of surety about where to shop and pay the bills will be taking its toll and a few may be missing their portacabin classroom and single school caretaker to chat to. Some will be loving it but most, at this point, will be relieved to just get started! Amongst them will be the following types:
The Enthusiast: they love the facilities (and why wouldn’t they) and say so loudly and frequently; they love the kindness of the Thai team) and they tell anyone and everyone several times a day. They love the food, the climate, their classroom, the parks, the temples. They even love the traffic. They can make some ‘returners’ feel just a little tired, jaded but for others they are a breath of fresh air serving as a reminder of how amazing expat life can be.
The Complainer. There will probably be only one or two but they will be heard and moan about everything. The beds aren’t comfy in the school housing, the sun rises too late, the sun goes down too early, the 5 star breakfasts that are provided in the canteen should be 6 star; the school is too big, the Sports Hall is too much like an Olympic one; the classrooms are too perfect.; the new laptop too shiny. The irony is that this complainer will bore their family ad infinitum going on about the perfection of their new school and daily life. A particular type of Complainer is known as the Exploder. They often lose their cool and will isolate and alienate the Thai Business staff, completely lose face and respect and probably not stay long.
The Homesick Sad Eyes. They will admire the marvellous school facilities, but feel a little lost. They will be the ones to give established but nervous presenters an encouraging smile as they are likely to be lovely people. They will ‘line’ or ‘whatsapp’ their friends and parents every night and miss going on a regular friends’ night out. When they were in uni, it probably took them a term or more to settle in but no need to worry, with the support they will get from their team in their new year group or faculty, they will be fine. They will probably make lasting friendships.
The Party Goer. They will either be under thirty or born-again single oldie and spend several weeks in the delusional belief that Bangkok, city of sin, means that the candle can be burned at both ends. Although they knew at the rigorous interview that working in a top international school was not a return to Khao-San Road back-packing fun, they won’t completely get this either until they are called in for a gentle chat with a ‘boss’ figure person. In recent years these are fewer in number and get weeded out as too high risk!
The Prover. They will throw themselves into being brilliant. Their displays will be fabulous; their reading corner to die for, and their class blog so good that the rest of the team may seethe with resentment that they have to match up. They will be exhausted by half term and after that most will turn into all round superstar colleagues. A few of the provers will never come to terms that their unique status of ‘Excellent’ teacher is a fairly common phenomenon in their new school. They will probably become fluent in Thai in six months or less to maintain their ‘genius’ level status.
The Excellent. This will, of course, be the vast majority of the newbies. They will be quite quiet, biding their time before making suggestions for change, non-point scoring or sucking up, but respectful, appreciative of their environment and care afforded to them. In fact they are all round good eggs who will embrace their school, culture and new life. I happen to know they will also be the first to make book suggestions for the library and use its fabulous facilities. You might see them with the bit between their teeth as they will just want to get started and meet the kids. It’s why they are there after all.
And so on .. that’s the new teachers pigeon-holed. I think I maybe need to return to school to get a lesson on being a little more open-minded! I can think of a few returning teachers who will be appalled at me right now and wouldn’t be afraid to say so. A final thing about the new teachers though is that they will actually look similar to some who have left and within the first week several of them will have been called by an ex-teacher’s name. I bet right now there is someone in the staffroom saying something like “Don’t you think that ‘x’ is the double of ‘y’, they even sound like them.” Or something like that!
I’m guessing that the returning teachers will be feeling nervous and excited and not have a good night’s sleep the day before the kids get back. They will be wondering why this is still the case after several years teaching, but it just shows how much they care about what they do. They will be having a little chunter about the dust in their classrooms, but be in awe of the housekeeping staff’s ability to turn things around in hours so that everything is spic and span for the kids coming in. They will have had exciting adventurous holidays and genuinely be interested in each others’ trips. However, after asking a colleague about their holidays, before the have returned to their classroom, they will have already forgotten what they said as their minds will be on making sure things are in place for the new kids in the class to be settled and happy.
The returning teacher will probably be skimming through last year’s planner (which is dog eared and stopped being tidy and colour coded after the first week) and find at least one large task they said they’d do in the holidays but haven’t. They will put it on a list and ignore it for a week or two longer. The returner will have a lot of lists, they will also have a pile of professional reading, of which they’ll read one or two, and they might have a weakness for pinterest teacher ideas. The returners are happy, refreshed and keen to get on. Although they will have butterflies in their tummy they will take this week in their stride, enjoy the warmth and humour enervating in their teams and already be wondering if they might, at half term copy one of the adventures their colleague has had this summer.
Anyway, I am neither a newbie or a returner so as I say all I can do is speculate on what is happening. I could check up with Mick, but most of his words will be used up for one day, At least I don't have to worry about being married to the boss anymore! He's a great husband, but he is isn't my boss anymore!