Well, this is something of a ‘first’ for the ajarn hot seat – our very first interview with a Thai national - Kattreeya Walker to be exact. ‘Katt’ has taught English in Thai schools. She’s run online businesses. She’s lived abroad in The USA. She has plenty of opinions. Honestly, I don’t know where to start.
Katt, welcome to the ajarn hot seat. You’re our very first Thai national to put themselves up for an interview. I just knew that one day this day would come. It’s only taken 13 years. Seriously though, I’m guessing not that many Thai teachers read ajarn.com even though they may have heard about it?
Thank you for the warm welcome. Actually, you’d be surprised how many “heads of the English Department” at government schools are aware of your job postings. I don’t think they read much of the other stuff though! hehe
Probably not. Let’s get to your own story Katt. Your father has been a teacher at a rural government school for 30 years. So teaching is in your blood?
Yes, that’s true…and somtam, of course!. When I was little, I told my dad that I didn’t want to be a teacher because I saw him work so hard, especially with his students. He always cares about them. I didn’t think I could do that.
But I was the freshmen at Udonthani Rajabhat University in business English and graduated. My dad asked me to help him teaching English to private classes. From that moment I thought teaching was attractive.
Before we go any further, I must tell readers that you are married to a foreigner (as if they couldn’t guess from the surname) How did you guys meet?
We met in Udonthai. At that time I was in the last year of university. I wanted to practice my English and wanted to make friends with foreigners. ( I used him to be my unpaid teacher (just kidding) For me, learning English from the classroom and using it in real life were so much different. I was glad to meet him. We’ve been married for 7 years!
Great stuff! My wife always says that if she had her time again – she would still choose to marry a foreigner. However – and it’s a big however – she says that being married to a foreigner is never easy. I’m not sure what she means exactly but what’s your opinion on the whole Thai / foreigner marriage aspect?
I don’t think marriage with Thai or foreigner would be too different. The main thing is how much the two people understand each other (including language, personality, culture, etc). I would say that most Thai/foreigner relationships end quickly and ugly.
I'll bear that in mind. Do you think Thailand makes it too difficult for good foreigners to stay here or has it got things about right?
I think it is fine for now but immigration change the policies too much. And I want the officers be a little nicer to foreigners. Don’t they realize that without foreigners they wouldn’t have the job?
You worked for several months at the immigration office on Koh Samui. What were your duties? Those must have been interesting times with different characters coming in to renew their visas?
My duties were checking that foreigners fill in the applications correctly, and answering the visa questions. This helped me to get used to various accents from people from all over the world which has helped in my online Thai/Isaan teaching.
After your stint at the immigration office, I believe you and your husband moved back to The North East and you both ended up running an English language school? How did that work out?
It was fine at first, but then the company owners had a fight and closed the school. It did help me to learn the different aspects of running a business though.
Then came one of the biggest decisions in your life – to move to The USA for a while. Why did you go?
I wanted to visit my husband's family. But at that time the easiest way to get there was by getting the student visa. We stayed in the USA for 6 months. I studied English at school for for months…Humboldt State University.
I met many good friends and teachers. Also I traveled a lot before I came back to Thailand. I went to South California, Mexico, Disney World, Florida, Santa Fe and went to the SF Giants baseball game (current World Series Champs!!!). I learned so much about the American culture, language and people. I like America as much as Thailand.
Well, travel does broaden the mind.
Yes, I always get excited every time when I think about it. My most treasured memory is Disney World in Florida. Because the dream came true. My brother-in-law also taught me to kayak…in the ocean!
My best memory was the first time we took our son there. He was about 6 months old and got to meet his American family for the first time. Also, I like rock music. I got to see Joe Satriani and Iron Maiden play live…awesome!
When you returned to Thailand, you went straight back into English teaching right?
Yes, I could not wait to use my experience and skill. I worked at Matanedol School for 6 months. I liked teaching there but my husband missed me too much. And he had the idea to start teaching on-line. That’s when we started Khon Kaen Education & Travel Programs.
Tell us a bit more about that?
My husband created the website www.kketp.com for teaching Thai and Isaan on-line by using Skype. And for organising tours in Khon Kaen and another provinces nearby. I love being my own boss and helping others.
I’ve been dying to get to this question because you’ve watched a lot of foreign English teachers come and go in your time. What do you think of the general standard of English teachers that look for work in Thailand? Is there anything that never fails to amaze you?
I think we need good quality teachers who have good teaching skills and the heart to care about their students. I saw many teacher who cannot work long enough for schools because mostly they have problems with their co-workers, especially Thais.
If you know how to handle those problems, then it's a big advantage. Also we want real teachers - not some teacher who wants to teach because they lost their job and are just trying to get easy money. I have met some really good foreign teachers, but many of them I wouldn’t want within 50kms of my son!
We often hear about the shortcomings of the Thai education system. OK I’m putting you in charge. You’re the Minister of Education. What are the first three changes you are going to make?
First, I want the class sizes smaller because now there are about 40-50 students in one classroom. That’s ridiculous. Also, Thai teachers should be trained in a variety of teaching methodologies..not just the current rote method.
Second, I want to support small and poor schools to have the same quality as big schools. They should have bigger budgets to make their future have a fair chance.
Also more money to hire English teachers for poor government schools. That way we will have more people speak English.
Third, there should be the way for foreigners to get a work permit if they teach at a language school. Also, I think government schools should be more loyal to the good foreign teachers and get rid of the idiots who aren’t.
You’ve clearly led a very busy and varied life so far. Are there any regrets or things you would have maybe done differently?
I would like to study in education. That way, if I wanted to be a government teacher in the future I would be qualified. With a business English degree it’s not enough to qualify. One more thing…I wish my husband was a little younger. Ha!
Thanks Katt for being the first Thai in the ajarn hot seat. Maybe you’ve got a Thai friend or two who would like to volunteer. It’s always good to get the Thai perspective.
I’ll look into that, Phil. Best of luck to ajarn, your wife and you in the future. Chok dee, na!