In Thailand, teachers receive a lot of respect. There are whole events dedicated to showing respect and appreciation for the teachers. During our semester we got to experience one of these days. There was a proper, almost full day assembly, just to pay tribute to the school’s teachers and faculty.
The students had free time off of classes prior to the assembly day in order to specifically work on special art projects for the event. Each individual class worked together to fashion big, elaborate sculptures out of little flowers and thick green reeds. Not only to show appreciation for their teachers, there was also a competition for best flower piece in each class. So the kids had an extra incentive to build really fantastic arrangements.
Long temporary tables set up in the library began to fill up with these flower sculptures quickly the afternoon before the assembly. They were bright and colorful, very Thai. Each was labeled to its corresponding class.
The day of the big Teacher Appreciation Day assembly, there were no morning classes. We had to make sure to wear our longest skirts, and dress ‘very beautiful.’ We followed our Thai English co-teachers into the big meeting hall – a big separate building with a stage and huge concrete seating area, usually without chairs. It had a bunch of garage style doors to open and close up the building. It had a string of ceiling fans and no air con. It did, however, have the resident Buddha in one corner by the stage. Up on the stage that morning were several rows of chairs for the teachers and administrators to sit in. The foreign teachers sat in the second or third row, after being shuffled by the other teachers closer to the front. In the front row sat the Vice Director and the Director of the school.
The Director gave a speech, the students sang several songs. The Director’s speech was given in a slow, moderated manner. It might have been a running joke about his pace of speech. It was a bit slower than the common rate of speech. The only word I could pick out from the students’ songs was the name of the school. The fans were weak and weren’t all running, and I became quite, quite, warm during the proceedings. I was fighting feelings of over bearing heat and sleepiness. I wasn’t the only one nodding off. A Thai teacher or two may have also been resting their eyes. Some even left the proceedings early – the ones cleverly sitting or standing in the very back. The students did bring us colored icy beverages at one point, which were a welcome respite.
In addition to the speeches and the singing, the students also went through one long procession of presenting their flower sculptures to the Director and the teachers. They came up in small groups, holding their creations in front of them, and ascended the stage, shoeless. They lines up in front of the Directors on their knees, recited some words, and bowed low, forehead to floor. They handed up the flowers and they passed them through the teachers, and back to another student waiting to collect them and take them to the grand display table.
At the end, the winning classes in each grade were announced. They decided that it would be great fun if the foreign teachers did the announcing. In Thai. The kids let out high pitched squeals whenever they were called as winners. It was fun to observe, but I didn’t have any desire to do the announcements. I don’t particularly like microphones, and didn’t understand what I was supposed to be saying. The kids got a kick out of the Americans trying to say Thai words, anyway.
Teacher appreciation day was a nice break from our normal schedule, and was interesting to see how much the dynamics between students and teachers were different in different countries and cultures.