Teacher’s Day in Chiang Rai, Thailand

In Thailand, there are so many reasons to celebrate. Like Kru’Boom (Kru is Thai for “teacher”) told me one morning at her desk, “Thailand has many many holidays.” One of them is Teacher’s Day, and I was lucky enough to have happened to be a teacher in Thailand on that day this year.

Four years ago, I’d been teaching for over a month in Korea when Teacher’s Day came along, in May of 2010. I didn’t feel worthy of it but I got showered with gifts from some of my students’ parents, with things like perfume, makeup, lotions and face wash, fancy pens, designer ankle socks, and even one USB stick (which I still use today to store episodes of Parks and Recreation). The experience I had in Chiang Rai was more of a ceremony, and I felt even less worthy and completely humbled.

Just like in Korea, Thailand has an honour system when it comes to teachers. For students they are revered, respected, oftentimes more so than their own parents. Every morning at the Montre Elementary School where I was teaching (and I assume every other public school in Thailand) they begin the day with an opening ceremony with a song for the King, flag raising and national anthem, followed by announcements from one of the teachers. One morning Kru’Boom leans into me, as we are standing at the front of the ceremony and says “Kru’Jo is telling them about the importance of washing every day.” Basic things such as hygiene aren’t expected to be taught by the parents-it’s the teachers that are most trusted to share that type of knowledge. So for one day in May, all students in Thailand bow down to those teachers.

Teacher’s Day really is two days, where the first day is spent preparing bouquets or pan wai kroo, specially designed and colour coordinated for Teacher’s Day. All students from all over Thailand slave away the day before Teacher’s Day, making intricate flower arrangements using a few different types of flowers as well as banana leaves. The following day is spent in the school auditorium, where the teachers line up in front of the room and wait for each class to come to them, one by one, and bow at their feet after presenting them with a little bouquet wrapped in the banana leaf.

In the afternoon when I left Montre School for my stint at the local high school, I entered my classroom only to find about twenty Thai teenagers squatting on the floor, working on their pan wai kroo. I walked up to one group of girls who were completely focused on their bouquets. I pointed to their work and said, “That is very beautiful!”. One of them laughed, shook her head and replied, “No teacher, you so beautiful!” Aww, shucks.

One of my favorite parts of Teacher’s Day was seeing the children giggle at the formality of it all, lining up one by one in front of their teachers to bow, and grinning whenever they got stuck in front of the foreign teacher.
Also, four girls I had taught a few times throughout the month and had exchanged only a few sentences with, came up to my desk at the end of the ceremony. They were in tears and said a few words to Kru’Boom who was sitting across from me, for her to translate. Kru’Boom turned to me and said “They are crying because they are happy. They ask me if it is okay with you, they give you a hug.”

I stood up and got four Thai hugs. I don’t think a day can get any better than that.

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