Back to School with Covid
Updated: Mar 28
Chainat before Covid-19 was a pretty sleepy province, to begin with, but when everywhere began to shut down it became a ghost town. There are no shopping centres, cinemas or beaches in Chainat so when bars had closed and alcohol was banned, we were left with next to nothing do once school had finished for summer. Then we discovered that the Thai Government had decided to keep all schools closed until July 1st, giving us a whole 3 months off work. To be honest, it was a lovely break, we kept ourselves as busy as we could with online teaching and moving house and we had plenty of time to relax!
School opened again on Wednesday 1st of July, so we have only been teaching for a little while now. Being back at school with all of our colleagues and seeing our students again was lovely, and it really felt like we hadn’t been away. Of course, with the current pandemic, there have been a few changes around the school. Before entering the school you have your temperature checked and your shoes and hands sanitized. There are markers all over the floors to help students navigate themselves while still social distancing.
Around every corner are hand sanitizing stations and the school provided all students and teachers with face shields. Corridors and classrooms are covered with posters about new Covid-19 rules and advice. Lunches for students are staggered so only small groups are in the canteen at a time.
We teach in the MEP. This is the private part of the school where kids are taught English by native speakers. This year I am teaching P1 and P2, students are around 5-8 years old. Rich teaches P3, P4, P5 and P6, these kids are 9-12 years. Embracing the new normal has been a little strange. For me it’s been difficult to learn the new student’s names because their tiny faces are covered by face masks, and contact should be kept to a minimum. But the little ones are doing a great job at social distancing, they stay in their seats that are kept apart and they know not to share their coloured pencils. They’re even trying their best not to 'High 5' or hug you, bless them.
For me, it has been a little hard getting my head around the social distancing too, and the masks whilst teaching. I will be writing on the whiteboard and I will hear a muffled voice from off in the distance posing a question. When I turn there are just a sea of expectant eyes and no indication of who had said anything. I can't even recognise the voices anymore. These are trivial things and if the kids can keep their masks on and still manage then so can I. I am a fully grown man after all!
The school seems so big and quiet now. They have spilt the school timetable for the non-MEP students which has dramatically lowered the number that is in on any given day. They have half of the students come in on the Monday, Wednesday and Friday and the other half on Tuesday and Thursday. The next week they will alternate these. The reason behind this is to reduce the class sizes. As mentioned, the Mini English Program in which Kate and I work is the private part of the school. One of the privileges of this is reduced class sizes, therefore they can come into school every day (bummer for them). The public part of the school, however, has classes of 50 and this is a non-starter when trying to uphold the efficacy of social distancing - hence the split timetable.
Consequently, it makes the school feel cavernous, but this has its pros along with its cons. It's nice as the decibels are lower but it can make the school feel a tiny bit melancholy. The Thai spirit prevails though and the kids appear completely content with the way things are at the moment. The social distancing, the constant barrage of hand sanitizer and split schedules do nothing to dampen them. I have not heard one word of complaint from them regarding all these new measures, to them it is just another day at the office and that is the same with the teachers. Even when the world has gone a tad crazy, the school is still offering a quiet, calm and collected sanctuary for the students and although they have a few mountains to climb when it comes to keeping the kids safe, they can certainly not be accused of not trying.