The ceremony goes something like this: Students and teachers walk to a predetermined location (for first grade that's the school chapel). The students and teachers sit down in said location and listen to someone speak about the importance of honoring teachers. Or at least that's what we can gather. I only pickup tidits from the speech and, because of their attention spans, I think most of my first grade students only comprehend around 10% of what's being told to them. Six and seven years old is not too young for bloated gatherings in the Thai school system.
When the speaker is finished, the teachers descend to a row of chairs and take a seat in front of several large woven alters. Then the children, with a lot of direction by other staff, present their bouqeuts to the teachers. If all goes according to plan the students should wai (bow while pressing their palms together) to their teachers, hand their bouquet over and then wai once more after the teacher puts the flowers on the alter. But, as with most everything else in first grade, nothing goes in a straight sequence. Some of the children miss their ques. Some don't bow in sequence with the others or they linger too long around the alters. Traffic jams ensue. And of course there's the noise, always the noise. It follows any large group of six and seven year olds. And three hundred of them together in a single four walled building will make a few sounds, even if they behave as well as they can. Kids chattering with eachother in the seats and lines, kids touching or playing eachother, kids getting into fights -the chapel with it's high ceiling is filled with the echoes of this commotion. Finally, when the alters are overflowing with flowers the teachers rise, a prayer is said and the students and teachers leave. As we depart, we see custodial staff entering the chapel with large garbage bags to dispose of the three hundred or so bouquets left near the front.
All in all, it's a touching and sentimental ceremony, especially with little kids. Yet as I passed by the soon to be filled bags, I couldn't help but feel as if there were other ways that students and others could make teachers feel supported as well as appreciated.
As a foreigner in Thailand, teaching at the well funded private school I am at, I have a number of priveleges which I'm grateful for. I'll be the first to admit that some of these priveleges are more merited than others. Even so, teaching is a draining, exhausting, time consuming and extremely underappreciated profession in so many corners of the world. In many countries, teachers suffer from astronomical class sizes, scarce funding and resources, administrative red tape from the government, unmotivated students and unbelievebly long work days with very few vacations or benifits.
On that day, walking back to the first grade building, I joked (half seriously) with another teacher that a better use of Wai Kru day would be to give teachers a day off and a cheque to spend on whatever they wanted.
For as nice as Wai Kru and other days for appreciating teachers are with their ceremonies and gestures, ultimately they are just a pat on the back or a handshake. And across the board, teachers need so so much more. And, they do little if anything to make the difficult realities of the profession any easier.
At our school, when the flowers were scooped up and thrown away when the teachers had made it back to their offices and the students to their homerooms our day went about as usual. Our students were still just as they were before they gave us their flowers. Still wild, still energentic, still hard to control at times, still all too ready to drift away and lose interest in a millisecond. The good students were still attentive, the lazy students still lazy, the kids with ADD and other learning disabilities still couldn't pay attention no matter how hard they might try.
For many, the deference they'd been coached to show in the chapel faded as soon as they left. And as teachers, we still had to work with the same convoluted curriculum and enormous teaching load we always have to cope with.
A bouquet of flowers is nice, especially when it's given with a smile by a student you know and love. It feels good to be appreciated a day out of the year, but I feel as if many teachers around the globe, especially for those in thankless schools and positions, would feel better if everyday of the year was regarded as teacher support day instead.