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Thai teachers absorb school culture in LI visit

Teachers visiting from Thailand, Sumalee Khwasaen and Chutinton

Teachers visiting from Thailand, Sumalee Khwasaen and Chutinton Huttapanom, perform the Bai Sri, a traditional Thai dance, for students at Southampton Elementary School. (Oct. 1, 2012) Credit: Erin Geismar

Supa Manoonsak, who has been a teacher in Thailand for 30 years, pointed to a small poster on a wall at Southampton Elementary School, where she was visiting with colleagues.

She traced her finger along the English words as she spoke them and her colleague wrote them down in a notebook.

“If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn,” she read from the poem called “Children Learn What They Live” by Dorothy Law Nolte. “If children live with hostility, they learn to fight. If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy. . . ”

Manoonsak and four of her colleagues -- one who is an American teacher in Thailand -- were visiting the school on Monday  as part of a three-week trip to the United States to absorb the culture, but more importantly, the American education system.

“We learn from our American friends,” she said of American students and teachers who go to Thailand to teach English. “But it is in a Thai context. Here, we are able to observe.”

Between visits to New York landmarks and trips around the Northeast, the teachers were observing classrooms, talking to students and teachers and attending workshops. At Southampton Elementary, the teachers were led by a group of student ambassadors, who took them door to door, introduced them to teachers, and showed them student work.

In the afternoon, the rest of the school was introduced to the Thai visitors at an assembly, during which the teachers taught them to say a few Thai words and performed traditional dances.

Barbara Gaias, a spanish teacher at Albert G. Prodell Middle School in Shoreham, who helped coordinate the visit, said she thought the trip would be a good idea because it furthers the spread of global ideas.

"They're noticing the things that are different and the things that are the same," she said, "and in the end, bringing back what is best for the children."The visiting teachers were members of a group called the Khon Kaen Education Initiative, which strives to improve education in Khon Kaen, a small city in northeastern Thailand.

They will also visit the Ross School, in East Hampton, and attend programs at various schools in the Shoreham-Wading River School District this week.

Manoonsak said the public education system in Thailand is in need of reform, but it is coming at a slow pace. Just three years ago, her school instituted the idea of a special-needs classroom, but otherwise, students learn in groups of 40 to 60 per teacher with few resources.

Chutinton Huttapanom, who teaches seventh and eighth grade students in Khon Kaen, said she was most impressed with the Southampton school’s ability to address special needs.

“You take a special student outside,” she said. “Some have more time, some have needs that are special. We saw that but we’re not really like this. We don’t have the model like this.”

Manoonsak said she was also impressed when she saw so many parents dropping off and signing their children into school in the morning, which doesn’t happen in Thailand.

“The big difference is the parents and the community,” she said. “That is very different from Thailand.”

Southampton Elementary School principal Cookie Richard said the visit was arranged by the parent of a former student, who went on to teach English in Thailand on a study abroad trip, and became involved with KKEI.

She said the experience was just as important for her students as it was for the visiting teachers.

“We are a very diverse school but because we do not have any students from Thailand, it added another element of diversity,” she said.

Mary Frost, 9, of Southampton, one of the student ambassadors, said she enjoyed spending time with the teachers and exchanging stories about their respective schools.

“We were showing our new visitors around and they are from another continent,” she said. “I thought that was pretty exciting.” 


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