Some Observations of the Thai Classroom #2 – Keen Bean

KeenStudentThe Keen Bean

This is the second installment of my observations of the Thai classroom.  If you didn’t read #1, and would like to, click here for the first installment.

Enter the class.  Hands scramble for the pile of worksheets in my arms.  If there is a small number of Keen Bean students then a battle ensues as to who can have the honour of distributing the papers out, and who can do it most efficiently.

“TEACHER!  TEACHER!” – a notebook is thrust under your nose to proudly show you the date and title, the completion of each and every sentence, the illustrations, the “I Love Teacher” declarations.

“TEACHER FINISHED!” is exclaimed at every interval – no, they have not finished the whole exercise but the Keen Bean must make you aware of every step that they are taking.  A title, a number, a sentence, a full stop.

“TEACHER SIN!” – ahem, they can’t pronounce sign… Yes, their notebook must be covered in as much red pen as possible.  They need you to tick every line, to draw stars and smiley faces, to sign your name, autographing celebrity style across the base of the page.  “VERY GOOD, TEACHER, VERY GOOD!” – no other written praise will do – I tried to write ‘fantastic’ before but the poor child didn’t understand what it meant and almost cried.

Don’t have a red pen to hand (BAD TEACHER… tsk, tsk) – worry not because your Keen Bean students have PLENTY.

“CLEAN?  TEACHER?” – board eraser in hand, poised to wipe my ramblings from the whiteboard.  Sometimes I can’t locate the eraser but it has usually been secreted by a super-Keen Bean student who wants sole responsibility for the board management.

“CARRY?  TEACHER?” – no, they aren’t offering to carry me like a queen through the corridoor as I leave, but they are fighting over who will have the coveted responsibility of carrying my things back to the office for me while I follow feeling quite awkward and hoping that no one assumes that I actually make these students do this for me like they are my minions.

The Keen Bean role is usually reserved for 3 or 4 girls in the class but in one of my classes I have 2 boys who are leading in the keenness stakes.   They always gravitate to the front right of the classroom – as close to the teacher’s desk (or, in most cases, where the desk should be) as possible.  Usually front right.  This places them in the best position to be to hand for ANYTHING that the teacher may need, and to gain maximum opportunity for thrusting the notebook under your nose.

These are the students that write messages on the board before your arrival, usually declaring their love for you.  Sometimes their behaviour verges on the brown nosing (who am I kidding; sometimes?!) but at times when the other 47 kids are making you feel like a crappy teacher, it is the Keen Bean students who will bring you back to that special fuzzy place.  Unless they are thrusting that notebook, red pen and board eraser under your nose while you are trying to stop the monkey boys from throwing the smallest student out of the doorway and into the bin.  Then they are just plain annoying.

Do you have any Keen Bean’s in your class?  Are they super-sweet or just plain old annoying?


Some observations of the Thai Classroom #1 – The Buffalo Boy

The average class in a government school in Thailand, studying a regular, no-added-extras programme of education will usually have a cohort of around fifty students. Unfortunately it is very unlikely that you will ever learn even a fraction of the nicknames of these students (don’t even try to attempt to learn their five syllable full names!) and those that you do learn will be of the naughty students – it helps to be able to directly address a student when they are acting up – “Oi! You!” just doesn’t help to get their attention while they are running around the back of the classroom brandishing a broom/chair/desk/cat/fellow student (yes, these things have all happened.)

Despite not knowing the names of all of these students you will develop a sense of getting to know them, both in the sense of the group dynamic of that particular class group; the ‘hyper’ class, the ‘boring’ class, the ‘good’ class; and as individuals. I have found that there are a set of different categories that each student tends to fall into, feeding on a range of influences including attitude, behaviour, appearance and even where they choose to sit. Based on my own experiences over the past year as a TEFL teacher, five years working with young people in the UK and the quickly fading memories of studying group dynamics and experiential learning at university, I have drawn some observations of the typical students you will find in each and every class. I was going to put them all into one mammoth post but to save your eyes, minds and time I will give it to you bit by bit. Starting with one of my favourites; The Buffalo Boy.


The Buffalo Boy

In Thailand the buffalo is associated with stupidity and slowness. Daily we see men walking their buffalo along the road, leading them from field to field, where they will munch on grass and swat flies with their tails. We aren’t talking majestic fighting buffalo here – just the plain old, slightly muddy, pooing in the road type of buffalo.

The name may be specific to Thailand but each group needs it’s Buffalo Boy – if you can’t think of one when you look back at your classes at school then unfortunately you were it. I refer to this character as The Buffalo Boy as it will almost always be a boy, he will be overweight (not in a big boned way but a poor lifestyle, too much crappy food and no exercise way) and will usually carry a slightly lost, gormless look on his face (look at any image of a real buffalo for a pretty good representation of this expression). Communication is reduced to caveman style grunts, punches and other random, laboured movements that sometimes fool you into thinking he may be about to participate but he is actually only shifting from left to right bum cheek.

He will usually sit middle left – just in front of the monkey boys that reside in back left as he doesn’t quite have the energy to be fully part of that pack. He can be easily led by them and often any loutish behaviour from him is inspired by their whisperings and suggestions. He is also often the scapegoat of the class, with blame being thrust at him from all surrounding corners of the classroom. A middle seat is pretty middle-of-the-road though, and he chooses this neutral ground because really he isn’t choosing to be The Buffalo Boy, and so it isn’t an attention thing – he would rather sit and disappear into the crowd.

I love to get The Buffalo Boy up to the front as much as possible. When pushed, he is able to join in and the whole class will cheer every time he utters a word in English. It also gives me a chance to actually hear him speak and to check that he is kind of maybe following what is going on. He may even crack a smile. Most of the time the case is that he isn’t completely stupid, he just doesn’t have the energy, enthusiasm or get up and go to join in at will. With a little persuasion he can fly! OK, scrap that – have you ever seen a buffalo fly? He can at least plod along.

wild buffalo looking stupid

Image source:


Do you have a Buffalo Boy in your classroom?