Most Thai schools have opened for their first semester for about one month now. Our school had a “wai kru” ceremony today. “Wai” means to bow in Thai and it is also involves bringing your hands together as if saying a prayer. Thai culture fosters a deep respect for educators and the “wai kru” ceremony is a brilliant way to start the academic year. The ceremony is very formal and decorative but it also is a vital part of the traditional Thai educational system.
The ceremony is held in June on a Thursday. On this day Thai students bring flowers to their teachers as a symbol of their respect and readiness to learn. The most popular flower to bring is called “dok khem” (needle flower) because it represents the student’s promise that his/her brain will be as sharp as a needle. Some students also present jasmine garlands. The children bring their bouquets to school in the same fashion that students in the US would bring an apple for the teacher.
Schools usually have a ceremony in the morning for the student body to “wai kru” together. The teachers are called to sit in front of the students as the students repeat a Buddhist chant and sing a song that demonstrates their appreciation for the teachers. The students thank the teachers for having taught well in the past and encouraging their good luck in the future. A few non-Buddhist students sat in the back row and only participated in the presentation of flowers at the end.
First two representatives from the student body, usually from the eldest group of students, present the most senior teacher with a gift on a gold container. Typically, this would be a stack of books. The senior teacher then uses a chalky past to draw a buddhist symbol on the gift. Afterwards two representatives, a boy and a girl, from each class comes forward to present their classroom teacher with an elaborately decorated “paan,” which is a golden container filled with flowers that the students in the class helped to create. The representatives return to their seats before saying another chant. The “paans” are displayed near the Buddhist alter on the stage.
Towards the end of the ceremony, each student must crawl up to their teacher on their knees with their heads down. Then the students bow to their teachers and offer them their individual bouquet of flowers wrapped with candles and incense. The teacher receives the flowers and gives the student advice. Some teachers will also pat the student’s head to encourage the knowledge to absorb into the child’s brain. The flowers from the ceremony were taken by the teachers and staff to decorate their rooms and offices.
Finally, a representative of the teachers comes forward to bestow words of wisdom upon the entire student body. This message usually encourages the students to be disciplined, prompt and respectful during the rest of the school year. The students were dismissed after another speech given by the principal about being disciplined and still during ceremonies.
There is another day which pays respect to teachers which occurs towards the end of the school year, National Teacher Day. Every 16th of January schools are closed in honor of Thai teachers across the country.