Feature image: Kru Phensri (Right) with some of her Karen students
By Liz O’Sullivan
In late January 2020 Liz O’Sullivan began her mentoring role to assist local Thai and Karen teachers at Bankhlotor and Umphang Public Schools in developing English basic proficiency, global citizenship awareness through teaching, and specific outdoor activities. Liz has chosen to stay in northern Thailand throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
On this ‘World Teachers Day’ we should remember the many, many teachers who are working hard to support students and change lives globally. Teachers face challenges every day, but also experience such joy. It has been an exceptionally strange year for teachers with Covid-19 throwing us the curve ball of social distancing and remote teaching. Yet with all the challenges, we teach on because we have to, because it’s our calling, because we care about the kids.
Priorities and expectations of local teachers
I have had several months teaching in remote northern Thailand. Teachers here are hardworking and dedicated. The teachers I have worked with include school staff and the Xaverian priests who teach English, Thai and Music in many different villages. There are different priorities and expectations placed upon teachers in Thailand, particularly in this rural setting. Here at Klothor School there are no supply teachers if they are sick. There are no cleaners or tuckshop convenors either. These roles are filled by the teachers. There is a teacher who organises the school accounts and one who is in charge of ordering food for the kitchen that feeds 900 students every day. There is a teacher who helps to maintain the water pump essential for providing water to all the students and staff. Sometimes the teachers are expected to teach on a Saturday. Most teachers here, myself included, live at the school which is located in a small village.
Spotlight on local teacher Kru Phensri
I would like to share a small window into the life of a teacher here. I spoke with my good friend and English teacher, Kru Phensri. (‘Kru’ is Thai for teacher). Kru Phensri is a remarkable woman. Her ethnicity is Karen so she speaks Thai, English and some of the Karen language. She is a kind hearted person with a generous spirit. I cannot count how many meals she has made for me. She is constantly doing things for others. Kru Phensri values the importance of having a warm and respectful relationship with the students. She is a dedicated teacher and really wants what is best for these children. She has a family of her own who live in other parts of Thailand. She gets to see them when she can. Kru Phensri lives here at the school so she can do her job. I asked her to share about her life as a teacher and what she thought the joys and challenges were.
She shared that the kids here at Klothor School are nice and polite and their behaviour is good. She said, I like teaching the students to share knowledge with them. Not just academic knowledge, but how to be a good person and have good morals and how to be a good person in society. I’m very happy to be a teacher living here. I’m very proud of my students.
Challenges for Karen students
She added that the students are lacking opportunities that they would get in a big town. It is a little bit difficult because the Karen students can’t always communicate in Thai. It is hard for them to learn in Thai and even more difficult in English since it’s their third language.
Kru Phensri talked about how life is different here for these Karen students who are mostly used to a slower paced rural lifestyle, where things are more relaxed and less competitive. She said that the students don’t always understand that education will help them have a better life so sometimes it’s challenging getting them motivated to learn.
Kru Phensri went on to say, In my opinion I can inspire them to study. I give them my example and my experience. In each class in each grade I am Karen like them. When I was young I didn’t have the same opportunities. I wasn’t the smartest but I tried hard. My parents did not have enough money to support me to study at university so I had to work to raise money myself to get my Bachelor’s degree.
Goals for her students and herself
Kru Phensri said she wants to teach the students to be diligent and patient, achieve their goals and try their best.
For herself she said, I want to be a good teacher and improve myself and my English and be able to transfer this to my students. I want the students to have a bright future. Not just get married when they are young and work in the farm. I want them to have opportunities in the wider society. I want them to see and learn many things in this world. Then they can make good decisions for their future and change their future. They can have a quality life and be a good person.
Living in community
When I asked her about her life here working and living with other teachers she shared this: Living with the other teachers you share experience and talk with each other. We face problems together. Hospitality is key. We share and help each other. We do things together. Sometimes there are problems but we talk with each other and forgive each other. Everyone is from a different part of Thailand but we have shared goals. We want the students to have success and more knowledge. We should have harmony together.
So, let us finish by reminding ourselves to be grateful for our teachers whoever and wherever they are. Let us move forward as agents of harmony, while also inspiring each other.