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Design & Creativity

“Soryor” The Indie Teacher

Published Date : 16 Oct 2019

Resource : Creative Thailand

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“If the teacher wants to teach, the students will also want to learn.”

“Soryor” is the name commonly known by teachers, students, and students’ parents at Non-Chai Municipality School, Khon Kaen. Soryor, or Sanya Makkarin is not only well known by local residents, his story has, many times, been represented through media as one of the most interesting “young blood” teachers. Some media portrayals define him as a ‘hipster’, ‘indie’, or even ‘troll’ teacher. He was once selected to be featured as the special guest in a documentary television program called Doo Hai Roo Pai Plien Lok (broadcast in October 2016) produced by Thai PBS; in this episode, Soryor travelled to Japan for education trip to observe Japanese teaching-style classroom.

With his unique and energetic characteristics, he has been marked apparently different from most typical and conventional Thai teachers. His tireless efforts have been dedicated in the search and the creation of teaching innovations which, simple but perhaps unorthodox as they seem, would fit with different learning styles of his students. Nevertheless, any teaching approaches, according to Soryor, would become utterly useless unless the strong foundation was primarily laid by building up good relationships between teachers and students.

“Soryor” is the name that was given by his high school teacher instead of his real nickname, “Noi”; Noi is a very common Thai nickname shared, at that time, by many students. The new nickname, “Soryor”, then became popular among his classmates since then and is still used until today.

In his junior high school years in a small district in the province outskirt, Soryor had always been one of those brilliant students sitting in the front row of the classroom. His life was abruptly changed when he moved to study in a bigger high school in the city centre where the student’s competitiveness was very high in terms of academic. He later found himself among the “back-row” students who were quite a shocking and unprepared experience for him.

“I couldn’t catch up with the lessons. I wasn’t as good in English and Math as I once thought when compared with in-town students’ academic background. I fell behind. And that was when I started losing self-confidence.”

As most teenagers struggling to seek acceptance from a circle of friends, Soryor found the way to regain his self-esteem away from academic capabilities; he turned to work hard instead on students extra-curricular activities, and he succeeded. He became one of the very active student leaders and this special interest in student’s activities, and his leading characteristic helped pave his way to the success in becoming a student leader in the university level as well.

When Soryor became a university student at the Faculty of Education, majoring in Arts, he was shocked by the conventionally stiff culture of the faculty. As a student in the faculty which sets the ultimate goal to produce a “role model” of teachers, Soryor found that there was so little opportunity for him to use his creativity and that caused him shying away from the class.

“In my first year of study, I did a lot of student’s activities and hardly attended any classes. My style and thoughts were so different from the faculty’s viewpoints, and I wanted to break free, so I decided not to go to class but kept myself busy with activities. Some classes, for example, English class, was so early in the morning so I missed a lot of classes. After the exams in my first year, I got 1.48 GPA which didn’t meet the minimum GPA requirement, and I was entitled to get expelled.”

At that very turning point, Soryor was again given a second opportunity from his advisor who didn’t give up hope in him. Soryor then finally managed to get 1.50 GPA resulted from the D+ in the last subject, which allowed him to continue his sophomore year in the university.

“From that lesson, I learned to adjust my viewpoint towards the society around me,” Soryor recalled. “I learned that our life always depended on and somehow related to other people. We didn’t live alone, so we got to open more.”

After setting a firm direction for his study, Soryor then never let himself being lured away from his direction. He paid attention in his study until finally he proudly graduated within four years as required by the curriculum. The next step then followed; he set a plan to become a full-time school teacher.

“During my final year of study, it required that I got to take part in an internship program. I chose then to do my internship here at Ban Non-Chai Municipality School. At that time, the school was working on a pioneering school program called, a community-based school in accordance with local wisdom. This type of school emphasized on including local wisdom within the community into the school curriculum. Soryor found the idea fascinatingly ground-breaking and would like to continue his involvement in this pioneering program, so he applied to be a full-time teacher here. He has been working at this school for 12 years now.

When we asked him to describe the similarities and differences between a regular school and a community-based learning school, Soryor whose talent obviously lies in my drawing explained the concept of the educational system to us by his quick drawing. It was amazing that just only a few doodling lines and cute cartoons on an empty page, Soryor gave us the whole overviewed picture of the educational system in Thailand.

There are three educational systems: formal, non-formal, and informal school systems. (1) Formal school system is the system practically applied in all common schools; (2) Non-formal school system is an alternative pathway to education and accreditation for those out-of-school youth and adults who do not have opportunity and access for the formal education in their youth; (3) Informal school system allows students to continue learning through his/her lifetime pursuant to the interests, needs, opportunities and learning aptitudes.

Ban Non-Chai Municipality School is directed under the Local Administration Organization which, even though following core subjects learning in a regular school system including Thai language, mathematics, technology, physical education, social sciences, art, music and foreign languages, the school is given a space to create their own learning curriculum by integrating local wisdom and community-based learning into the classroom. For 6 hours a week, one classroom activity has been continuously conducted for years; the activity is called “Homeroom Home Jai” (the word “home” in local dialect means getting together). Like a regular homeroom which a group of students assembles daily with the same teacher before dispersing to other classes for 30 minutes, this is the great opportunity for the teacher to talk heart to heart with the students. Soryor added, “This is the space to create a safe area for students. We try to make them feel that within this area, they can safely share their stories with us. It’s also the area that we build up a good relationship with our students, especially in terms of mental development”.

Apart from the “Homeroom Home Jai” activity, other transdisciplinary activities, are constantly applied.

“We changed our classroom teaching style every year. It’s also an experiment. But the core of the transdisciplinary activities is to provide access for the students to observe their community closely and to have proper social skills so that they can live happily in the community.”

“I found three aspects of having been changed. Firstly, the content and classroom innovation change every year, of course. The second is the change of the teachers. By the process, we have to work in a team, so we have constantly exchanged ideas and teaching skills. We then have grown together. Though there’s also a weak point here in this teamwork process, it takes a long time; after class, the teachers have to have an AAR (After Action Review) discussion which could be time-consuming. And thirdly, the students also change in terms of their academic development and progress.”

“With this style of learning through transdisciplinary methods, some students, though their academic background was quite poor, progressed a lot. They scored very high in the O-NET exam (Ordinary National Education Test). I think it’s because we used active learning method which encouraged the students to think critically instead of memorization; it is obviously a more important learning skill rather than just a pure knowledge.” 

As an educator himself, we asked for Soryor’s opinion on a very hot debate in Thai society regarding the Thai educational system, which seemingly relies almost completely on the national entrance exam and study assessment. Based on a shocking news a few years ago that Thailand ranked the last one amongst ASEAN countries in education, Soryor found that it was an undeniable truth for some aspects.

“It’s pretty difficult to make a change in terms of structure. Politically, the government exploits teachers as a tool. Most curriculums are designed and approved by the central government without power decentralization for teachers to create their own lessons, which can be designed to fit the individual needs of students in different contexts.

Without any powers, teachers become discouraged. Some of us work as a teacher just for the sake of government officials’ welfare and benefits. Evaluation system and stiff system also produce similar effects. It deteriorates the spirit of teachers. This neoliberalism system evaluates teacher competency by books and documents. It’s not quite practical.”

Also, the Thai educational system is stuck with exam results. There’re a lot of exams; the system then is trapped here with the exam and ranking. I think we’ve been getting lost.

The measurement shouldn’t be based on the “One Fits All” concept. We should measure the progress of students in their learning direction. In our school, apart from a regular exam, we’ve created our evaluation by involving students and parents to be part of the assessment. At the end of each semester, we’ll have a students’ showcase called “A Drop of Learning Method” in which the students must design their showcase for what they’ve learned in the whole semester. Each of them will use their capacity in what they do best; some of them good at handcraft will be in charge of exhibitions while the other who may be good at communication will do the public-relations job. Parents are invited to attend the children’s showcase and evaluate their children while school classmate will also have the opportunity to evaluate their friends’ performance. The teacher is also evaluated by students. We then will see from all aspects and viewpoints.”

Soryor still keeps his faith in Thai education; amongst harsh criticism, he still believes that there are many teachers of “his own kind” in the country.

“I still find a lot of teachers who do not give up hope and try to look for better teaching options. Not only that we do this for our students, but we also do this for ourselves. We want to come to school every day with the energy to teach and to create an enjoyable class shared with the students. If the teacher wants to teach, the students will also want to learn.”

Soryor also asserted that not only the academic knowledge students should be equipped in the classroom; they should be encouraged to “know themselves”.

“Kids today grew up with fast-paced technologies and broken families; they have a need to express themselves to fulfil what have been missing in their lives. We, as teachers, must try not to judge them, especially when they act in a pretty socially aggressive way. The safe space that they can share their thoughts is essential. And they must also be taught to be in the present to be able to follow their present action. By this method, I hope that they can be true to themselves. ”

After 12 years in the teaching career, we asked the final question of what Soryor would like to develop for his career and his personal development. He smiled,

“I also want to build my inner mentality growth. At the final stage, after learning and knowing a lot of information about the world, we need to get back inside to be able to manage our happiness and suffering. I want to be able to generate positive vibes for people around me. It’s pure positive energy which we can exchange with people around us. When I produce good energy and send it out, we’ll also receive some positive energy as well. 

William Arthur Ward (1921-1994) famous American writer writes, “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”

We think we have just had a good chat with a “great teacher (who) inspires” today. 

Story by Dr. Paradee Tungtang
Photography by Titipat Pattanawijit (ROUGE Studio)