A Belated So Long and Farewell, Isara Foundation

May the plastic bottle boat keep cruising …

It’s been months since I updated; you’d think a guy who wasn’t working would have more time. I do have a project I’m working on, and I have a ton of photos to edit and post.

But that’s neither here nor there.

I’m here because I just learned that Isara had closed its doors. In 2014. … ?!

Isara Foundation, you may recall, was the non-profit I volunteered for back in March of 2010 for a month. I was checking some links and doing some housekeeping on my professional site today, and came across a blurb about Isara, and decided to look them up; it had obviously been a while since I had visited their site.

They closed in July 2014; I came home after my hemorrhagic stroke is August of that year. If I had only known. Granted, I had other things on my mind, just then, but had I known, I would have made the trip up north to say goodbye one last time.

I’m not sure what happened, and I’ll keep my conjectures to myself. A few pages are still up at the site, and Isara sill has a Facebook page. Kirk, the founder of Isara, still updates occasionally over there; the last update was in April for Songkran, the Thai New Year.  As he put it on Facebook in June of that year, Isara was due for a long-term brake:

As some of you already know, this month Isara will be ending our volunteer program. It was a difficult decision to make but necessary in order to prepare for a long-term break in July. I am so proud of the work our 560+ volunteers have done in the last 7 years. Not only did you make a difference to thousands of Thai students but you also made a big difference in my life as well. I will be forever grateful to our volunteers and sponsors, who helped prove that it is possible to have a successful volunteer program that is 100% free. … Thank you for the great lessons and joyous laughter you brought to Isara. Y’all rock!!

I am proud to say I was one of the 560 plus volunteers, and while I taught for a month and looked after their computers, I got so much more than that. After having lived there almost three years total, my feelings about Thailand and teaching are … complex. There is a reason I left — reasons in the plural — only to come back again … and again.

Even now, I get nostalgic sometimes.

But I have nothing but great things to say about Isara, its students, the people of Nong Khai, my fellow volunteers and especially Kirk Gillock; he’s one of the good ones.

Kirk and company in Nong Khai

I spent the last hour or so looking back through my photos; it’s been a trip down memory lane and a damn good one. Here is Kirk on the left; this picture was taken here at girlfriend Ming’s (also pictured) parents’ house. They were celebrating the birthday of the boy in the middle.

Nong Khai Paradise

And here is the space behind Isara’s learning center in Nong Khai (in 2010, anyway) in HDR. A tiny bit of paradise, that.

There are more pictures here. And more at Flickr.

Whatever Kirk gets up to in the future I wish him the best; it looks like a plastic bottle boat is his current thing.

ESL: Teenage Boys & Freudian Obsesesions

Little Kids Rule; Teenagers Act Like Fools

Lego Teacher Jeff: A portrait in ink done by a student and aspiring artist of the Lego school of yours truly, Jeff ChappellAs for the teaching ESL thing, it continues to go reasonably well.

I seem to have gotten a handle on my two teenage classes, although they still continue to be challenging, in terms of maintaining discipline and keeping the majority of the students engaged. The academic director of my school actually filled me in on one of his techniques for managing teenagers that works quite well; I’ll have to write about it at some point in the near future.

I still enjoy teaching the younger kids the most, however. My two favorite classes consist of a class of 18 kids with an average age of seven or eight years old and another class of 14 who average about nine or 10 years old. The larger class are on their second course of study – not beginners, but not quite intermediates – and the other class are on their third, making them more or less solid intermediate students, for their age group.

Eighteen students is a bit much in terms of class size – not ideal, but still manageable – certainly a lot easier than 34 Thai six years olds, lemme tell ya – or 40 Thai six graders who’ve never had a foreign teacher before. The class of 14 is just about ideal – well, as ideal as one class can get. All of the students are intelligent and outgoing, to one degree or another, and are almost always fun to teach.

It’s a good age; essentially they are young enough that discipline is easy to achieve – they will actually listen to what you say. Their level of English is such that I don’t really have to grade my language too much, and can communicate with them easily, which makes teaching easier and certainly more fun. Furthermore, a lot of games that would make my teenagers sigh and groan and whine, my 9-year-olds find endlessly engaging and fun.

If I’d Only Known About Teaching Teenagers

Fiona, one of my Vietnamese teenagers that is actually a delight to teach. Back in 2009 when I began to seriously consider moving abroad to teach English, I had figured that if I had to teach children – and knew that I would be asked to teach children, being a noob – that it would be teenagers that would be the least problematic. After all, I’m reasonably hip for a middle-aged dude, or so I thought – maybe by Western standards, perhaps. Furthermore, what the hell did I know about dealing with kids? Diddly squat, or so I thought.

Ah, I was clueless to the point of naïveté back then; now I can say with authority that I’ve found the opposite to be true. So for anyone out there considering an ESL career who has stumbled upon this via Teh Google or Bing, take that under advisement. Avoid the teenagers if you can – although there are teachers that love their teenage classes – if you have to teach kids, go for the younger ones, if you want my advice. Even my beginner class, with an average age of six or seven, I find are more enjoyable to teach than my teens – challenging, sure, but fun.

Although when a five-year-old kid says he has to go to the bathroom right away — he tends not to be kidding. You can take it at face value and let him go. Doesn’t matter if class is over in five minutes anyway. Trust me on this one.

Of course, I can’t help but think at times that my teenage classes are a bit of karma. At times I’m sure I was every bit of a pain in the ass to my high school teachers as my worst teenage student is too me. I was probably as sullen at times as the most sullen of my teenage students. On the other hand, I don’t think I was as obsessed with bodily functions as some of my teenage students are – boys, naturally.

We played a game of Truth or Dare in class recently – or rather tried too. Between the lack of creative thinking, which often gets bred out of students by the rote education system prevalent here and throughout much of Asia – and the fact that my teenage boys seem to have a near-Freudian-level of obsession with urination, defecation and passing gas, and delight in the use of the related English vernacular – peeing, pooping and farting, etcetera – well, it didn’t go so well.

Live and learn. Next time I try that game, I’ll be composing the questions myself.