Characterised by their behaviour, the Monkey Boys operate in a herd formation, claiming the territory of the back left of the classroom.
It’s not difficult to spot a Monkey Boy. When the class is asked to take out their notebooks and pens, a distinct patch of students will remain book-less and pen-less. “Mai mee teacher, mai mee…” (I don’t have it, teacher…). Scraps of paper are pulled from back pockets and uncrumpled to make a start at taking notes. They will probably manage the date.
Monkey Boys like to monkey around. A lot of the time it’s fun, even for the teacher. You can play on it, grabbing them as they swing past to use them for an example conversation or to demonstrate something. They enjoy high energy games although they often don’t quite grasp the actual concept of the competition. Occasionally the monkeying around can go too far, and you have to reprimand them – but the cheeky grin on their faces makes it hard to follow through with any discipline.
Monkey Boys like to disrupt their more studious counterparts, throwing plastic bottles at the back of Keen Bean girls’ heads or stealing pencils. Playground stuff. They also like to try and lure the Buffalo Boy into their antics, convincing him to do things while they watch on in glee.
Back in the UK these are the boys that I would be working with as a youth worker. These are the boys who would be given behavioural assessments, the school searching for an explanatory reason for their monkeying around be it dyslexia, ADHD, or some disorder on some spectrum that would allow the school to separate them from the mainstream education. They would be placed in what is usually named something like ‘the hub’ where they can be offered a watered down curriculum padded out with life skills and trips to the fire station. But not in Thailand. These boys are simply left to their own devices in the back left of the classroom. With 45 other students to take care of, sometimes it is much easier for everyone to leave them to monkey around while the lesson continues at the front of the class. At least they inject some energy into the classroom!
It isn’t unusual for a high school teacher to come across a range of unwanted items in the classroom; love letters that never make it to the recipient, cruel drawings of bullied students, plastic bottles stopped midway through being lobbed across the room… flip knife… FLIP KNIFE?! Indeed, today it seems I have reached the pinnacle in my confiscation adventure – in a Matthayom 1 class no less (so that would be a group of fifty 12 year olds!)
I had left the classroom for no more than one minute to grab some talcum powder to use in a game (OK, so leaving the classroom was the main mistake here – lesson learned). When I walked back in to the room I could see a boy flashing a knife around; not really threateningly but in a look at me I’m the big man with my knife kind of way. When the students clocked that I was back in the room but before I had the chance to say anything or make my way over to take it, the knife disappeared into the fifty strong crowd. Accusations and denials were made but there was no sign of the knife reappearing. Every eye was on me. The class had gone eerily quiet (a complete rarity in a farang teacher’s classroom). I had to win this battle. So, I refused to teach until the knife was handed over. No knife. Students denying any knowledge of it. Ah, so now you’re lying to me too? Great. In the end it took me getting one of our Thai coordinators to come into the classroom for the knife to be handed over. Class was cancelled and the rest of the period was spent sitting in silence. But that is as far as the punishment will go. A free period. A break from studying. No phone call home, no mark on the school records.
It’s crazy to think that something that has a custodial sentence in the UK results in not even a slapped wrist over here. I’ve witnessed students getting the cane for things that in my opinion are far less serious. The boy said that he had the knife in school to show his friends, because it was beautiful; but in the wrong hands even a beautiful knife can be deadly. Having seen one of my fellow teachers get mugged at knifepoint in broad daylight, not ten minutes away from this school, I know how real the threat of a knife can be. Sometimes things just don’t make sense over here.