My Journey to becoming Teacher S
“How do you want kids to call you?”
“Thai kids will have a problem pronouncing your name… think of a shorter name”
“Perhaps I will use one letter… Teacher S, is that okay?”
And that is how I became ‘Teacher S’ in Thailand folks! I would have never thought that I would get a ‘rebranding’ after leaving the Philippines for the Land of Smiles. Just like our names that vary, they say that a teacher wears different hats in school – friend, cheerleader, and counselor to name a few. We can be all these things in a day, three years into teaching and I am convinced. Teachers take on different characters because we have big responsibilities. Some may say that teaching is an easy job. If that is the case, then anyone could do it. Real teaching calls for someone who has a brave heart to educate a group of kids with different backgrounds; likes, dislikes and opinions – and not lose him/her self in the process. Ergo, who can keep a SANE mind at the end of every school day?
I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for kids. From an early age, I was already exposed to this field of educating. My Mom, who teaches in a government school used to bring me along to her classes. I just sat quietly in the back and listened as she taught the parts of our digestive system. At age 8 I knew that apart from the stomach, we have small and large intestines which aid in digesting food. My Mom answered questions and explained things in ways her students and my young brain could absorb. My Grandmother and some of my Aunts are equally amazing teachers just like my Mom. This may sound too uncool, but I am one of the few people who enjoys going to school, likes learning new things and loves taking exams. I owe my love of learning to my Mom, Grandmom and all my great teachers. Hence, when I had to choose a course at university, a degree in Education was my first choice. I love learning and I want to inspire students with my passion for education. Consequently, I got a degree in Bachelor of Elementary Education and Majored in Special Education from the University of Santo Tomas. A couple of months after graduation, I took and passed the licensure exam for teachers.
In my first teaching job, I handled students with autism, learning disabilities, and intellectual and developmental disabilities. As their special education teacher, I made IEP (Individualized Education Program) for each student; considering their respective developmental pediatrician’s recommendations as well as their parents’ views. I worked with other specialists (occupational therapists, speech pathologists, etc.) and have learned so much from them. My greatest take away from working with a dynamic team was that no man is an island. Although I wanted to do things on my own for my students, I realised that I may be shortchanging them because I may not be exceptionally well in doing some things. Hence, I learned to ask for help. To outsource and find other people (e.g. therapists) who can do better. Teaching kids with special needs is very challenging and very fulfilling at the same time. Whether big or small milestones, all are equally celebrated by parents and teachers.
Aside from teaching, I also trained and worked as a behavioral therapist for a year, following Dr. Lovaas’ Applied Behavior Analysis therapy. Through such training and experiences, I have developed key strengths in handling both kids and adults with behavioral problems. As a behavior therapist, I had to teach students in a one-on-one setting for at least two consecutive hours in a day. Parents often pressure us therapists to perform well because such therapy sessions are costly in the Philippines. Some would even pull their kids out of the special needs school and just rely on therapy for intervention. This new kind of work environment made me continue to spread awareness and clear SPED misconceptions of families that I have worked with. I had to explain the difference between the two a countless amount of times; why both are essential and one can never compensate the other. Philippines still has a long way to go for special education awareness. I just hope that more laws and bills will be passed to benefit people with special needs in the future.
In 2017, I decided to move to Thailand. During my first year, I taught conversational English to Thai students in a small town located in the northeastern part of Thailand: Sikhiu, Nakhonratchasima. I lived in Manila for 7 years but I never felt safe there. Surprisingly, this small town which some Thais would not even be familiar with, made me feel secure from the very first day. The people there were some of the nicest and kindest people I have ever met. Our Thai co-workers tagged us along on their temple visits, brought us to provinces in the north, explained their Thai culture and love for King, and made us eat sticky rice using bare hands. The most important value that Thai people hold to is respect. Respect for the King, respect for elders, parents and government officials. Hence, most of my students in Sikhiu are well-mannered and respectful of teachers. My first year in Thailand was great because of the wonderful memories I have had with them. Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. I had to leave them and find a place where I can help more kids and serve a bigger purpose. I found out about PHBGTU through my college friend and colleague – Vezah, who happened to have joined same volunteer work as mine back in the days in Uni.
Volunteers in action: Vezah and I during Starkey Hearing Foundation event and Ursuline Christmas Party | Dec 2013
So far, it has been a pleasure teaching English to Thai kids in Baan Kalim School and RPG 36. I, myself, have also learned so much from them. They taught me how to become a better teacher amidst the language barrier. I have gained wonderful relationships not only with the students but also with their Thai teachers. I enjoy after-school coconut club activities and look forward to Saturday swimming just as much as the kids. I feel grateful that I am part of this wonderful organisation that helps underprivileged students. I am very much looking forward to continuing inspiring youth through Phuket Has Been Good To Us.
-Esra aka Teacher S