The Pretom school in Mae La Luang is part of the same school as the Matteyum I work in but is located elsewhere in the town.
Every day I ride my bicycle through the temple grounds to get to it. Usually I pass a monk or two smoking and warming up by the outdoor fire. It is still surprisingly cold on a morning here.
The Pretom is on the edge of town, in the valley whilst the rest of the small town is built on the hillside. It is here that the dormitories are built for the students of Matteyum. They open out onto fields of rice and corn, depending on the time of year. At the moment it is just coming up to the hot season so it is corn and vegetables that are growing. It is too dry for rice now. When they are not at school, it is the students who stay here who tend to the small farm, complete with chickens running around.
It is easy to forget this exists at all during days I teach here though, the school being built in a self contained horseshoe shape, the dormitories and fields beyond these buildings.
Two sides are dedicated to the Pretom classes and one side to the Kindergarten. This is for kids aged 3-6 years old and they all have naps in the middle of the afternoon, lying down on The classroom floor. The kindergarten is fenced off separately, preventing the kids, when they are awake, from running havoc any further afield than their immediate classrooms. Dogs on the other hand wander freely about all three schools I am based in. It is also completely normal to hear them scrapping, often quite ferociously and of course nobody bats an eyelid or does anything about it.
In the centre of this horseshoe of buildings there is a big school yard. It has a small concrete football pitch and another concrete volleyball pitch. There is a small playground made out of old car tyres for the younger kids and a small patch of brown grass where scout activities are held each Wednesday.
As in every other school, assembly is held on the concrete yard. No exercise regime is practised here but the national anthem is sung and the flag raised each day. The students then chant a long recital, apparently listing qualities that are important for students to aspire to. I cannot understand the hundred or so voices but it is impressive that even the youngest kids have learnt something so long by rote.
Like Primary Schools in the UK, each class has it’s own teacher, except for English and Sport lessons. Each class has 4 English lessons per week of which I teach one of the four for each of the six classes. They range in size from 8 to 17 students. The class of 8 without doubt being my favourite, perhaps due more to its manageable size than because of the students themselves. Although inevitably, I have got to know these students better than most.
I am usually left alone to teach English with the students for an hour, their own teacher enjoying a well deserved break. Generally speaking, I find this a total nightmare with the youngest two groups. All the kids are always incredibly over excited in my lessons but without the language it is virtually impossible to control 6 and 7 year olds! I often resort to playing “Duck Duck Goose” with whatever new vocabulary I want them to learn that day. Better than nothing but somewhat unsatisfactory.
Luckily I only have them for an hour each a week but I am always exhausted afterwards!
Fortunately the older students are often a joy to teach. They have excellent English, and no fear of speaking it. I think this is largely due to Cru Duan. She joined the school 3 years ago as the English teacher for Pretom and is a brilliant one at that. Seeing the quality of her teaching explained why the youngest kids in Matteyum 1 are at almost the same level as the eldest in Matteyum 3.
As with the Matteyum, it seems students can opt in and out of lessons as they please. At first it concerned me when some of the more boisterous boys would disappear to play football halfway through my class but it seems this is entirely normal here. Just as some lessons I have a few extra in my class, students who have decided they prefer English to whatever subject they are meant to be learning. Sometimes I even have a few helpers, older students who come to help the younger ones.
Despite how exhausting it can be, I really love teaching here. The students are enthusiastic and not yet at an age when they are embarrassed to try and get something wrong. They are affectionate and I find myself getting involved in cooking lessons, sport lessons and craft activities. I love it!