5 life lessons I learned from my students
Hi there everybody,
Thank you for stopping by again and reading my blog. You are special!
As some of you may know, while I was in Thailand, I had the pleasure and opportunity to stumble upon something that changed my life forever: teaching.
Some of you may also know that my background is Marketing and PR so, teaching, was not the first thing that came to mind as a possible occupation. At least it didn’t, up until then.
I went to Thailand on a 3 month visa, with a 3 month backpack and no further plans. I told mum and everybody else “See you soon!”. Turns out, I ended up staying a year and a half straight, and a further year after that…
My first 3 months in Thailand swept me off my feet. All I wanted was to stay in the ‘land of smiles’ and wake up everyday to the sweet sound of the local ‘Sawasdee kha’! I desperately wanted to continue training Muay Thai. I am generally a fast learner, and had hoped to learn a lot in those 3 months. Life showed me otherwise. It is true what they say: learning a martial art takes years!
‘‘So how do I stay in Thailand? I have to work here! ‘ And so it started, the job hunt!
I quickly realised that Thailand had a need for English teachers. I was lucky enough to have a British accent and 6 years of multiple experiences in the UK, to wing my way around the fact that I knew jack sh*t about teaching English! I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to learn and I owe it to my kind coworkers who guided me through the whole curriculum.
I usually love a challenge and something new. Learning and having a hurdle to get over, keeps me motivated and (usually) I don’t rest until I make it to the other side, able to perform it with my eyes shut. I remember driving to work one day, one of the first few days of school, stuck at a red light, feeling quite nervous and thinking “One day, maybe I will be happy with a normal job and a normal life. One day, maybe I will be happy in one place” and here the important bit is the '“one place”. Meaning? I have done all sorts of jobs and worked in all sorts of industries. I had lived in 4 different countries by that point and kept wanting to move around. Want to laugh? Here you go: I worked at a bakery/coffee shop, I’ve done product placement and supermarket layout in the middle of the night, I worked at NGDO’s, bars and restaurants, catering events for celebrities, I’ve done Business Development, became a Property Manager, Managed a high end gym, taught boxing and all of a sudden I became a Kindergarten teacher!!!
Specialisation? That’s bullocks!! I have greater respect for people who explore and are whiling to, and able to, become whatever a particular situation requires of them. A lawyer I worked for, told me in the past “You have some of best skills required in our current world: you’re flexible and adaptable! That will take you far!”. Well it bloody made my dream come true in Thailand! So I guess she was right!
Like I said before, teaching changed me forever and I am not lying when I say that I have learned more with my students than I could ever teach them! And they don’t even realise it. They helped me see life differently but it also gave me a massive appreciation for teachers and the power of good teaching and good parenting.
Being goal oriented, an ambitious and driven person, I remember thinking “Why are we so obsessed about achieving things and setting goals? Climbing mountains (goals) and constantly setting new mountains to climb? Why are we so obsessed with being the best employee, the number one runner, the gold medalist? Why do we never hear ‘I want to be the best mother I can be” as a life goal? In fact, why is that, nowadays, left behind in order to achieve your other goals. Job performance will hardly bring you more joy than watching your kids grow and becoming mini persons. Am I wrong? What kind of mini person do you want them to be? What kind of mini YOU do you want them to be? The kind that is present and loving, or the one who is always buried in work, obsessed with the greener grass on the other side?
Anyway, more on that in a future post. For now, I’ve decided to share with you some of the BIG lessons I learned from my students in Thailand. The post became too big so I decided to break it down into 2 posts. I will write about 3 different occasions this week but watch out for more next week!
1. “I need a hug”
This was one of the most beautiful things that happened, the whole time I taught in Chiang Mai. One of my students, for obvious reasons, let’s call him brilliant student A, was known for always being happy and confident. Being Thai, and only 5 years old, I was always surprised at how good this kid was at English already. I could always tell the difference between the parents who spent time at home working with their kids and this one was absolutely brilliant! One day, I was showing the class an English bus, the typical 2 floor, red bus. This kid goes "It’s a double decker bus!!”. I was like… (hand on chest) “Wow! It’s 8h30am. I (the teacher!!!!) couldn’t even remember that name! You’re absolutely right brilliant student A!”
Anyway, back to the point: at some point, this amazingly beautiful kid started acting a little weird and having behaviors we had never seen before. Neither me nor any of his past teachers. We ended up realising what it was and the transformation was once again BEAUTIFUL, but the episode I am about to talk about happened right at the beginning of the weird phase.
One day, half way through the day, I was on my desk, organising some paperwork. The children where in between finishing a morning snack and sitting back down for a lesson. Through the corner of my eye, I noticed some sort of stare and I noticed that from 20 other little bodies moving around, there was one in particular who just stood still, facing me. Because it always took them a while to get settled, I thought he would sit just like any other day but, suddenly, I hear in his sweet little tone, although this time, I could feel a little hesitation and almost fear in his voice:
(looking at him) “Yes, brilliant student A?”
“I think I need a hug.”
Wow! This 5 year old had just cracked the code for being a far more capable adult than any of us out here! You need a hug, you ask one! Simple!!!! This has so many layers that I can’t even begin to explain how much this hit me!
I told him “Of course!” and we held each other for a good 2min or more! I rubbed his back and told him that everything was okay and that I loved him very much. I said it as many times as he needed and, only when HE was ready to let go, we let go. I don’t know if he felt that that hug was as important to me as it was for him!
The reason it hit me so hard was because of my past history with mental illness, particularly, bipolar disorder. Some of you might know that I have dealt with it in the past (meaning a person very close to me, suffered from this condition) and boy! Wouldn’t it have been so much easier if that person simply asked for a hug every time they needed one? Wouldn’t it be easier if WE ALL did that?
The problem is, a lot of us are not even in tune with our own feelings and needs. This is the first step. We go around feeling things and holding on to emotions. (Some of us go around believing our own thoughts!! Nonsense!! You have to talk back to those voices sometimes! “Nah! Shut the f*ck up!!”) Some of us can’t even put a name to what we feel, let alone how to fix it or how to help it.
Dealing with bipolar and being able to spend time on my own has helped me work through a lot of my own sh*t (to put it simply!). Self-esteem, lack of confidence, my attitude with money and risk, fear of commitment, abandonment, etc, etc, etc. The list GOES ON! To think you have none of these in you is, simply, naive!
“I think I need a hug” hit me like a rush hour train, packed full of emotions, mental imagines and lost opportunities for hugs. Moments that perhaps I didn’t realise, back then, could’ve been fixed with a hug. It was almost as if the tinny fear this kid had in his voice was the same kind of fear I saw in my ex’s agonizingly trembling eyes. Only the latter didn’t know when to ask for hugs.
2. “You’re not fat. You’re strong!’
Thai people tend to have a small built. Short, tinny frame and generally skinny. Some even, quite frail looking. They are also as blunt as they come! I thought Portuguese people were not afraid of saying things to your face but Oh Lawd!!!, Thais are brutal!
To give you an example, the trainers at the gym I trained for over a year started to get too comfortable around me. I was known as the dancing one, who would stop in the middle of pad-work or sparring to dance to some random Thai song. They even taught me a little bit of traditional dance so I could do it properly. The gym ALWAYS had Thai music on. So much so that when I had my first fight, they made me promise that, if I won the fight, I would dance like that in the ring. Well I did win that one and so I danced!
Anyway, once they started getting comfortable with me and once making fun out of my hair and my apparent homosexuality got boring, they decided it would be fun to laugh at the size of my legs and my jiggly (amazingly full) booty! I tried to explain to them, many times, that I have cushion for pushin, that you want your cheeks to clap… but nothing worked.
It got to a point where I was going home and looking in the mirror thinking… “Geez am I really that big and I don’t realised it?”. It got very uncomfortable and by the time I was about done with all of it, I told them: “You either stop or I am not coming back tomorrow!”
At school, it was no different. My director weighed 39kg! 39KG PEOPLE! I had a 5 year old student who ALREADY weighed 35kg!! The owner of the school was a Korean lady, whose built defied the Asian stereotype. (She was fat! The type of fat that makes you look like you’re pregnant and your baby is in the process of turning itself upside down, while fisting your bladder). I used to hang out my clothes outside, whenever I would go straight from the gym to work and one day, the kitchen lady said “Teacher Kelly, is that your dress?”. I said no… She goes “Oh, maybe it’s from the ___ (Korean lady). You and her are… same same.” WOW! I had to sit with it for 2 days to finally gain the courage to ask my co-workers if they had the same opinion. ‘Jesus Christ, I must have some broken mirrors at home or something…’ - I thought.
Not long after, I was asked by one of the parents if I was pregnant. Out of order!!
Finally, the lesson I’ve learned from the kids: One day, one of the kids was feeling a little down over some random comment somebody made. I was trying to explain that we need to learn how to deal with other people’s opinions and how we shouldn’t believe them all the time. I decided to share my example and told them people where calling me fat and asking me if I was waiting for a baby. Throughout the whole year they had been listening to my stories about training and preparing for a full marathon. And then I asked them “Do you think Teacher Kelly is fat?”. Most of them said “No” straight away, and this one little girl, with her eyes wide open as she was listening to me, said: “I think you are strong!”. And just like that, we learned that adults are cunts!
3. Shake your shoulders and brush it off!
This one was given to us by this funny little guy! Let’s call him spoiled little brat with an actual sense of humor. This guy was a hard one from day one! He joined us half way through the semester because HE decided he didn’t like his current school. So he was given an option to come back to our school, where he had previously been happy. He stood outside of my classroom’s door for 40min, while both parents and my Director tried to convince his majesty to come in. I decided that was not my job and decided to wait.
He eventually came in but proceeded to think he was still different from everybody else. In a way he was, just not the way he would have hoped for. After of few hours of him doing everything BUT act like any of my students were expected to, he said “Why is everybody looking at me???”. It begged honesty “Because you’re acting like a weirdo! Everybody is sitting down, having their snack. You’re standing in the middle of the room!”. Looking back, it is so endearing. That kid really grew on me and I always remember him with a smile on my face!!
He was half English and half Thai and that explained his sense of humor. Needless to say, this kid had a big ego and an intense need for control (masked under a lot of fear and personal self-doubt). But one thing he had right: 9 times out of 10, he bluntly disregarded whatever other people said about him and this is how he taught us a lesson.
One day, while I was, again, speaking about other people’s opinions or about what your friends say to you, I asked “What should you do if somebody says something mean to you?”. And spoiled little brat with an actual sense of humor goes “You shake your shoulders and brush it off!”
From then on I started to always ask him to finish my sentence: “What should we do if somebody says something mean to us spoiled little brat with an actual sense of humor?” “Shake your shoulders and brush it off!” They all learned it very quickly and it became a lot easier to talk about this emotional moment for them. Did it help them? I honestly don’t know, but when they came to me with problems and I reminded them of this motto, they seemed to let go of it quicker.
Like I said, this post is already too big. So click here to continue reading 2 other life lessons I learned from these little guys.
Before I took this job, I was almost convinced I didn’t want any kids. This experience showed me how great it is and how much you can grow just by watching how they interact, think and see things. It’s fascinating to look at these children and think of the beautiful life they have ahead of them. You feel like you want to press fast-forward and go to the chapters where they are happy man and women, rocking at this thing called life.