I thought I would answer some of the questions I have received via email and blog comments.
First of all, we “newbie” teachers are getting our training here. There are some of us going to China, and some of us to Viet Nam. While it would be possible to get our training in the United States, the fact remains that most of the staff – and all of the teaching staff – are here in Asia. It is simply a matter of logistics: it is easier to bring the few new teachers to Asia than to fly our instructors back to the US for our relatively short training period.
But also, this is the time for “Mid-Year Conference.” It is a time for the experienced teachers to renew old friendships, learn something new themselves, and to be refreshed. Thailand is selected because it is a very open country, very friendly, and is easy to get to.
Chiang Mai is the conference site because it is a large city, and its economy is based on tourism. It has the facilities for large meetings, and offers such western amenities as good hamburgers, shops to buy a new pair of jeans, and places for English-speaking Sunday fellowship. While Bangkok would also suffice, Chiang Mai is cheaper.
Well, we would love to get out and play tourist, but the simple truth is that we are far too busy. Our training is six days per week, from eight to five each day – with reading assignments at night – not much time to get out, except to find a restaurant for dinner and maybe a quick shopping session at the Night Market.
One commenter (who lived in Thailand a long time ago) made reference to the roast duck. Yes, you can get some exotic food here if you choose to eat in one of the many street stalls. Tonight, we joined other newbies for some wonderful duck noodle soup at the same food stall where the picture of C was taken. It was very good, though duck is a bit fatty.
Our training in basically divided into two interrelated subjects – teaching English as a foreign language (EFL), and culture training.
I have some experience teaching (if you can say 29 years constitutes experience), but have never taught English. For me, some of the training is about topics I already know – lesson planning, writing learning objectives, etc. But, the specifics of language teaching are very new. I was quite trepidatious that my interactive teaching style would be a bust in Asia where lecture-based instruction is deeply rooted in Confucian culture. I am delighted to find we foreigners are allowed considerable latitude in this area and that our Vietnamese students love this more engaging method - - once they get used to it.
As expected, our students already know English – that’s the reason we don’t need to speak Vietnamese. (More on that later.) But, most of their instruction has been at the hand of a Vietnamese teacher who has drilled them well in the rules of English, but not necessarily the actual usage of English. Our job is to bring them up to the next level of actual spoken and written English.
Cultural training is truly interesting. This goes far beyond the superficial and addresses deeper issues. In one example, my friends in South Texas can identify the situation where people do things according to “Valley time.” We Americans are used to a time-based culture. Our days are divided into 15 minutes blocks, and we get upset when things go awry. We have no use for small talk – we need to be efficient and get things done now. But, in an event-based culture such as Viet Nam, time is nowhere near as important as an event. When will a meeting be over? When it ends, of course. When will the dinner party be over? When it ends, of course. What happens if the meeting takes longer than I thought it would and I will be late for the next meeting? Nothing – others may also be late for the second meeting because they had to finish the first meeting.
As part of our training, we are also getting a rudimentary introduction to Vietnamese. Why, if we don’t need it to teach? Simple.
- We need to know some for basic survival. (Shop for food, go to a restaurant, go to a place.)
- We need it to show courtesy to our Vietnamese hosts by showing we are at least making an attempt to learn their language.
- We need it to empathize with what our own students are going through as language learners.
This will be an interesting year and a half. So much to adapt to. So much to learn. So much to see through new eyes.
Maybe I should rename this blog to “Drinking From the Fire Hose.”