Tag Archives: teaching in Thailand

Thailand, Here I Come

When I landed in Thailand, I didn’t know what to expect. All I knew was that I would be in a part of the world that was unfamiliar and unattached from anything I had ever experienced before, so anything was possible. As I arrived to my hotel that was somewhere in Bangkok, I was greeted with what is known as the “Thai Smile.’ This brought a smile to my face and warmth in my heart knowing that the Thai’s have a pleasant demeanor that is welcoming and refreshing to see. This made me realize that I had come to the right decision for my uncertainty became at ease.  

Teaching in Thailand

A World of the Unknown

Thailand was my first destination of choice for living abroad, due to the fact I had never touched the grounds of Asia before, the nature of the contract and truthfully, I wanted to see if I would be able to leave all that I knew in America for a place that was distant and unknown. I had always traveled; being the wanderer that I am but, it was always limited to weeks, so this made me ponder if I would I be able to call this place home that I knew very little about. In my heart, I knew that this adventure would be more than the norm, which is what made me jump at the opportunity.

Next Destination – Ubon Ratchathani

When I was first presented with my options for Thailand, I reviewed everything diligently to ensure I was picking the best option for me. So, after careful consideration, I accepted the offer for the province of Ubon Ratchathani in the placement at Phibunmangssahan School (PMS). I have a comfortable living arrangement, a normal salary for a foreigner in Thailand, and an area that looked promising. So, the next question I had to answer was, how was I going to fit 33 years of my life in a suitcase based on the information I had received. With no hesitation, I packed what I thought was appropriate including shorts, tank tops, skirts, sweaters, hygiene products, and pretty much the essentials to survive not knowing what Thailand had to purchase. This took no time and I was ready to go.

After spending very limited time in Bangkok for orientation, the consultants prepared all of us for our new destinations. They gave us all the details that they thought we needed and transportation options to get there. These transportation options included bus, train, and airplane. Though most decided to take the bus, me and another guy, Will  decided to pay the extra to fly. After traveling 25 hours on a plane from the states, the last thing I wanted to do was get on a bus for 10 hours when I can fly for an hour and get to where I would call home for a minimum of four months.

Here I Come!

Running In ThailandOnce arriving in Ubon Ratchathani, my new buddy and I needed to get a taxi to travel 50 minutes outside to the town of Phibun. This taxi ride seemed a lot longer due to the anxiety of waiting to see what home would look like. After arriving, I settled into my new accommodation that was very pleasant and perfect for a quick nap before we ventured out to see what our new area offered. To my surprise, the school was quite easy to locate, along with the various grocery options of Big C, Tesco Lotus, 7-11 (very popular in Asia), and an outdoor market. We also noticed a beautiful river with a running path, an outdoor gym, and the friendly Thai people that would stop to glance and smile. They seemed very welcoming to us which was comforting.

Overall, my first five days in Thailand were busy, scary, and surprising but those feelings dissipated as soon as I saw my new town and the welcoming smiles that were presented. Though I still had my first day of school approaching, my feelings of being scared became lessened by the atmosphere of a happy culture that seemed quite peaceful.

So Now You’re a Teacher or Are You the Student?

What Do You Teach?

It’s easy to look like a teacher.  You wear the ensemble, the black shoes, do your hair in a professional arrangement, pull your shoulders back, teeth displayed in a friendly manner, and voila, the students address you with the coveted title of “Teacher.”  And what do you teach, Teacher? The answer, my friend, is the best part.

Teaching in Thailand has many benefits, but my favorite benefits are the students. Their entire society is based around balance; the pendulum swings between work and play each and every day. The student body is accustomed to having a lot of days off, camp days, assemblies, and meditation time. These activities take place during school hours and will often impede class time. This does not minimize the strictness of the teachers or the importance of curriculum, it’s all there to enhance each student’s mind, body and soul.

Thai TeachersThe students and faculty want to like foreign teachers, they want to be friends and show them their homes, favorite places and make them special foods. Likewise, the people of Thailand want to glean information from the foreign teacher’s world. Teaching as a foreigner is a chance for two worlds to collide and everyone to become all the richer for it.

Uniqueness of Teaching in Thailand

In this way, Thailand is particularly unique because the students are accustomed to fun. I have taught programs with students from other countries and they are much more difficult to teach in some ways. Many students abroad are afraid to guess at answers because they are punished for inaccurate guesses, or aren’t allowed to make eye contact with the teacher. Some students aren’t even allowed to interact with the opposite sex, or that isn’t a normal part of their lifestyle. All of these variations can have their pros and cons, but one particular con is that these students don’t participate. That is not the case with Thai students.

Teaching in ThailandThe youth of Thailand love to be silly, they love to shout and act in charades. They love to laugh at you, each other, themselves. Everything is a big game, joke, comical moment waiting to happen in Thailand, for children and adults. They have a lot of energy and while that can be challenging as well, if you can harness that energy, they will do anything you want. They are slaves to rejoicing.

Teaching Isn’t Just in Books

This is a great aspect of life for new teachers because your job is not to teach perfect grammar every day, or have lesson plans that are meticulously dissected. You are not in Thailand to create little robots that speak perfect English at the end of your term. Your job is help the children of Thailand grow, learn and enjoy doing it.

Your personal fulfillment is a big part of this lesson. You too will learn how to harness abounding energy, and access your most silly side. You will live like a ten-year-old again, and it will drain you, like it does them, but you will have more fun than ever before. Pretty soon, you will be looking to your students for inspiration on lessons, both in and outside of the classroom. You will find yourself seeking celebration and avoiding activities void of pure happiness.

In an alternate universe where people sing without fear of what their voice sounds like, and people dance like no one is watching and those around you cheer no matter how ridiculous you look, Thailand and its people have saved a tiny spot in the world in which everybody belongs.

So, what do you teach, Teacher? You teach students;  and you all have a lot to learn.

Go With The Flow

The biggest piece of advice I can give anyone who is thinking about living in Thailand, or I guess anywhere you are living in life, but especially in Thailand, is to GO WITH THE FLOW. This mentality will save you a whole lot of stress, sickness and possibly tears.

Here in Thailand, there is an expression that I learn while teaching in Thailand – “Mai pen rai” that loosely translates to “no worries” or “it’s all good”. This expression is used for anything and everything. The Wifi at your favorite café is down? Sorry, mai pen rai. The restaurant you are at doesn’t have any toilet paper? mai pen rai, should have brought your own. Your students accidentally smash you in the face with a volleyball as your walking to class one day? Ouch but mai pen rai.

Basically, you have to roll with the punches here, literally. Things are not going to go your way and you’re going to have to learn how to be OKAY with that. The better you can master this way of life BEFORE coming out here, the easier the transition will be.

 The Thai Market

Thai MarketThis go with the flow mentality can be translated into something as simple as walking through a Thai market. There are a ton of people, a lot of intense smells (often times not the most pleasant), and generally a lot of questionable looking things. It’s not uncommon to see a table full of raw meat, flies all around it, with the Thai local just sitting there swatting them away waiting for the next buyer who will ACTUALLY buy the meat.

You will see some incredibly gross options for food like rats on a stick as well as some possibly delicious items that only require a little bravery to try. Needless to say, your first time walking through a Thai market might be a bit alarming. Especially if you’re in a small rural town like me where EVERYONE is staring at you too.

Getting A Lot of Attention

Walking into the market, all eyes are on you. The people are wondering who you are, what you will buy, how you speak, and much more. At times, it can be a challenge to not be annoyed at all the stares. Sometimes I just want to shout, “I AM NOT AN ALIEN!!!” Other times, it’s kind of fun to be looked at like a celebrity. You’re literally getting a taste of what its like to be famous. Regardless of if you enjoy the stares or not, walking through the market is when going with the flow is an important tool to thrive here.

You need to go with the flow in order to maneuver through the masses of people. You need to go with the flow when you’re trying to ask someone the price of something and get no definite answer. You need to go with the flow when everyone is stopping you to take a photo of you. Going with the flow is the best and do I dare say THE ONLY WAY to survive around here.

Everything about living in a foreign country can be an adventure. This includes the small task of walking through a market. Yes, you need patience, but it will only help you grow as a person. After living in a foreign country, you will learn to not sweat the small stuff and focus on what matters about the culture. The one thing that is for sure about living in a foreign country is, you will leave a completely different person than when you entered with possibly a new motto to live life by – Mai Pen Rai

Be Like Oprah

“Why Thailand?” This is a question I get asked daily, and it’s a good question. What made me leave my own business in Southern California to teach in Thailand? The answer lies in the story.

Getting the job was easy: Bachelor’s degree – check, TESL certificate – check, experience teaching – does that two-week English camp count? Yes, then check. The truth is, I was as prepared as possible minus the loads of teaching experience.

Here we go – My First Class

English Classroom in ThailandMy first class, I walked up the old wooden stairs to the outdoor bungalow style classrooms and saw 45 second graders going nuts. They were yelling in a very foreign language, wrestling really rough like unsupervised baby bears, and there were about ten paper airplanes soaring through the air. My throat clenched and I thought, “I am not a teacher.”

Lesson number one, never believe the voices in your head. The greatest part about teaching in Thailand is that the children love to have fun. It’s the “Land of Smiles” for Heaven’s sake. The students are accustomed to working hard and playing harder, so anything that involves competition or games or new people, they’re ready to rumble.

When I walked into that first class, do you know what those little animals did? They stopped what they were doing and cheered. I got a unified class greeting, “Hello Teacher Rose,” I was appalled. They clapped and sat down waiting for what I had prepared for them. Even though I couldn’t understand a word they said and vice versa, communication took place and they saw me as someone that would teach them.

The following classes went the same way. Students yelled in approval as they saw their new white teacher. They hung on every word as I passed out pictures of my home, and they wrote me love notes on the homework I assigned. These kids worshiped me, and all I had to do was show up and have fun with them.

The atmosphere in My Classroom          

Thai StudentsThe classroom can be an intimidating place, but that’s a tiny portion of a teacher’s actual vocation. Every day I hear my students chant in preparation to meditate after lunch, they bring me bugs I’ve never seen to watch me jump ten feet in the air.  They wave to me in the street and bow to me in class, and mostly, their parents will stop me in the store, at the night market or walking down the street to feed me, give me a ride or thank me for teaching their children.

Every day as I ride on the motorbike home from school, children of all ages throughout the city wave and shout to me. They may be from a different school or even a different city but when they see me I might as well be a one-man-band stand; and heaven forbid I’m with other teachers, we might as well be a parade! It’s fun for all of us.

Even the students that belong to the other English teacher come to my office to greet me, practice English and play games.  And vice versa, my students love the other teacher and love to pretend he’s chasing them, when he’s actually just trying to pry them off our door so he can go to the bathroom.

I live like Oprah every day with an audience to applaud me just for walking in a room! I am revered for my role in the community, and that makes me want to give everything I can to all 2,000 students in the school. So why Thailand you may ask because I wanted to be happy, and I am.  

Working with Thai Teachers

Working with Thai Teachers

As part of working in Thailand, you will be working with Thai teachers and the students. I know this may seem simple when you first arrive but, there can be challenges with this, as well. Thai teachers are generally there to help you and show you the dynamics of the school.  The dynamics will need to be figured out as you continue working during the semester.

First Day and Meeting the Faculty

Working with Thai TeachersOn your first day at the school, you will meet so many new people that it will be challenging to remember who is whom but, it will be remembered overtime. The most important teachers that you will want to make a connection with are the ones that you will be working with daily. This includes your foreign department head, your co-Thai teachers and their bosses, and of course the directors of the school. 

The head foreign department head will help let you know what is expected of you.  But in a demeanor, that may not be forth coming and this is when your co-Thai teachers will be extremely helpful. They know about the levels you teach, what classes may be affected due to activities, and may be the ones to observe or cover your lessons if needed. You can usually tell within the first month of how well behaved your students are and if they have a great Thai teacher.

Your co-Thai teacher is a great resource to make a connection with because they can assist if your kids misbehave regularly, are absent too often, and let you know of any important information that may affect you or your teachings.  It is always best to double check with them when a student suggests a change in the schedule due to an activity. I have shown up to class and have been informed that there are no classes for a particular mathoym due to tests, scout day, cheerleading competition, etc. This helps to confirm this with either your Thai teacher or the head of that mathoym so, lessons aren’t missed. At times, it can be quite difficult to get all the information that is needed and how the Thai system works. 

Embrace the Difference

Working with Thai TeachersThe Thai system is quite different than any western system I have ever seen. It has been said that a student cannot fail the education system here. They told me that they can receive an incomplete but, the lowest mark they can receive is a ICT 1, which is equivalent to a grading system of 50-54 points. The student will still pass with this grade and moves on to the next level. In addition to this grading system, we will grade the students from a 1-3 (3 being the highest) on loyalty, believing in the king, patriotism, money and behavior. 

This was outlined for us in a book when we started at our school but, really had to be figured out along the journey of teaching here. This is all part of a system that the government set up and it has been in place for a long time. Just remember to ask a lot of questions if you are unsure about something to ensure that your semester goes smoothly from start to finish and that all of your duties are completed.

Our Daily Tasks

The duties of a foreign English teacher usually consist of gate duty. Morning assembly talk (once a week depending on the school), teaching students, teaching Thai teachers English (if you are approached about it), and the school ICT system and books (pending on how your school tracks grades). These duties may vary depending on the school you reside in and it is best to find out who can help you figure all this out.

Our school outlined our most important duties as gate duty, morning talk, and teaching Thai teachers.  I still think the students are the most important as a teacher.  Overall, teaching in a foreign country can seem overwhelming but with the right help around, it can go smoothly. Just remember to always smile and work with your Thai teachers to the best of your ability.  Do NOT cause any ruckus but, most importantly have fun with what you do.

My First Teaching Class in Thailand

First of All

“STAND UP PLEASE” says one student. The whole class stands up and says together, “GOOOOOOD MOOORRNNINGG TEAACHHER”.  These are the first words you will hear when walking into your first class of around 30 students, all said in perfect unison. To which you respond, “Good morning students, how are you?” Again, in seamless harmony, they respond, “I AM FIINEE THANK YOU, ANDD YOUUU?” You would then answer and tell them to sit down.

This short little conversation with your students is one of the cutest and funniest things that you will grow to love about your time teaching abroad in Thailand. Every day, no matter what mood I am in, this rehearsed conversation from these students to the teacher can always bring a smile to my face. From this point on in the class, the experience will vary widely depending on the skill level of your class.

While all students know this short conversation, for some, that may be all they know. This is when teaching can get a little bit tricky. I have 19 different classes, and I may dare say it,  with 19 different skill levels. This means that while I suppose to teach the same thing to all of the classes, I have to adjust for each class!  HOW do you do this you might ask?  Well, my friends, I am still figuring this one out.  Basically, it’s something that comes intuitively and on the spot. You can plan and plan and plan for what you think might happen and what might work for a class but then you might get to the class and everything has changed.
Teach in Thailand

Every day teaching here, I am learning just as much as my children are, if not more! In this way, teaching is tremendously rewarding. Not only because you feel like you are helping (at least some) of your students learn a very important skill, but because you are learning and growing so much as a person. Your patience will be tested. Your motivation, your energy, your enthusiasm. Essentially every socially defined “positive” characteristic of a personality will be tested and almost forced to be worked on. You WILL go back to wherever you are from a completely different person, whether you realize it or not and this is just talking about what you will be learning from teaching! Actually living in Thailand is a whole other blog post!

Be Grateful

Teaching in Thailand is an amazing opportunity, but it’s also what you make of it. To come here, you must be mentally strong. I think a lot of people come out here thinking that they are going to live on a beach and get all of these awesome experiences, and eat awesome food, and meet awesome people, and just have a real awesome time (sarcastic tone if you couldn’t tell). While this can be realistic, you can’t forget that you are teaching children English. This is your job. You will get those awesome experiences, I promise.

English ClassLife here has been everything I can imagine and more, but it’s not always a cakewalk. Teaching can be draining, the language barrier can push you past your frustration point, and your bed might not be comfiest. You must be strong before you come out here and you must BE GRATEFUL for the experience you are getting. It’s an amazing thing to be in a position to even be contemplating teaching English in a foreign country. Teaching English in Thailand has been the best decision I have ever made in life.  In my 22 years on Earth that is, and I say that with 100% certainty. Every challenge I have faced has made me a better person. And well the kids, they’re just the cutest.

And then, just as class began, they say, “THHANNKKK YOUU TEEEACHER. SEEE YOU AGAIN NEXT TIMEEE… BYEEE!”. I smile every time.