What the Hell is Social Studies?

But actually you might enjoy teaching it?

My Thai co-teachers told me that social studies teachers in Thailand are scarce. If the school can't find a farang teacher for the job, they need to hire a Thai teacher. Thai teachers would probably be more knowledgeable in some of the fields, but if their English isn't very good, it evens things out.

To be honest, I got to witness one unsuitable candidate as well. This South African guy stayed with us a few days, but soon was asked to leave and never to return. He spent a lot of time moaning how he didn't know anything about Buddhism and how was he supposed to teach it. On top of that, he was rude to our eldest Thai teacher when she was only trying to offer her help. I think that was the final straw. Thank you and goodbye, Mr Saffa!

Don't let this anecdote to put you off, though. If you are not afraid of digging into new topics, you may have found your teaching niche in Thailand.  That said, officially, I think you need you to be competent in at least one of the fields that social studies consists of; Buddhism (or religion), civics, geography or economics.

But since social studies is a very broad concept, I think you would most likely have at least a few courses in this domain under your belt. My major at university was social politics which has a lot in common with sociology, and one of my minors was social anthropology. At least I ticked off the "social" part.

What's included?

In my home country, Finland, we actually haven't got a discipline called social studies. We do have history, economics, religion, civics and geography, but we tend to consider them as independent subjects, rather than falling under the same category. In Finland, you would be specialised in just one of these fields (or occasionally two, such as history and civics), if you teach at high school level.

Perhaps this is why it's hard to get social studies teachers in Thailand; you would have to be quite an expert to master all these fields. To reveal myself, I am not a well-rounded expert on all of the aforementioned. I wasn't actually sure what I signed up for when I decided to take the job, but my head of studies convinced me that it wouldn't be anything too difficult.

He was right. I did manage to pull it through, though I'm sure there would've been room for improvement.


This was probably my favorite subject to teach. I have always been very interested in different religions, and Buddhism definitely was no exception to that. I was happy to do some research online, to prepare the notes and lessons. I got to learn A LOT about Buddhism and hence, also about Thai culture.

Furthermore, Buddhism originates from Hinduism, so occasionally I was able to learn about yoga philosophy at the same time (it derives from Hinduism) and find similarities between the two. As you guessed, I'm a yoga freak also.

I was fascinated to hear chants in the ancient Pali language which is the "mother tongue" of Buddhism and in which the Buddhist Canon is written. It is beautiful! Hypnotic! Once again, we see the connection to modern-time "ohm" reciters (yogis, that is). Chanting and mantras are very important in yoga and they have a calming effect in general.

I quite often listen chanting or meditation music, if my day is hectic. It gives you balance, peace of mind and tranquility. This is by the way a tip to all of you teachers out there, *wink wink* (unless you are teaching sweet and innocent angel-like pupils, and don't need my advice. In which case you are obviously lying).

Moreover, now I know the important Buddhist days and what they stand for. Because I'm quite inquisitive, I frequently bugged my Thai colleagues and students to know what they did on these Buddhist holy days. A typical answer was to go to the temple, burn candles or joss sticks there or help at the "wat". Meditation was also mentioned frequently, though, it seemed to be something the students did on a regular basis and not just on Buddha days.


Errrmmm.. this was definitely my least favorite subject. I dreaded it beforehand. Luckily it went ok. A few times I didn't do such a good job with the phrases and explanations but I managed. I was also surprised how little the students knew about economics.

Then again, the way of life here in Thailand is very different and I'm sure that relates to fiscal policies and the mentality as well, when talking about money. In addition, I'm not great with numbers, so I understand that this subject can be extra challenging to some, especially when you need to study it in English. I had a few bright ones but some of the students didn't even try to pass the exam.


Civics was quite challenging because I didn't have a clue about the Thai society, in terms of the rules, regulations and law.

We had a civics book we based the lessons on and I tried to study it meticulously before making lesson plans. If I had any unclear issues, I would ask help from my Thai co-teachers. I also needed to filtrate the text somewhat, because what the book was telling me that often seemed to be quite far from the reality.

I learned that Thailand has a very complex set of laws for protecting the sick and vulnerable, but it is quite another matter how these things are dealt with, on a daily basis.

On paper, Thailand came across as a very modern, democratic nation that takes care of its citizens, and that these people would be able to voice their opinion, in which direction to steer the country. In reality, well... I guess we all know what to say about that.

With M6/18 students the topics were more challenging and perhaps close to sociology at times, such as group dynamics and social structure. I tried to make the distinction between left and right politics but... Dear me when I got to see their exam answers! To us, it's unfathomable how can they NOT know these things.

But is it only our Anglo-Saxon -centric mindset that is too sure of its grandiose? At least I get caught in that one every once in a while. Then you need to remind yourself that we are in Asia! This is NOT Europe nor part of the Western world. Many times they don't give a rat's ass how we do things in the West.


Unfortunately, I didn't have time to teach geography before I left the school. Well, I was supposed to have a few lessons, but you all know how something else always comes up in the Thai education system. So no geography for me.

I would've loved to teach them about Europe and Africa and made a few kick-ass lesson plans, but these will dust in a table drawer and be forever forgotten, figuratively speaking.

To sum it up,

I want to encourage all of you to consider teaching social studies in Thailand. It's not as hard as you would think. Sure, you need to spend time researching so you know what you are talking about. But we all know that teachers can do anything, so I don't think it would be a problem ; )

One more thing I'd like to add is that a good co-teacher is necessary so you can make questions on Thai society and things you are unsure of. Luckily, my co-teachers were fantastic! Super friendly and understanding.

Their English wasn't the best but you just need to be patient and make enough questions to make sure you are on the same page.

Anna Paananen

Check out Anna's blog - Hammock Stories - for lots more articles on living and teaching in Thailand, etc


Hi Ben, I think I was talking about just one South African ( to my knowledge). So I really don't get where you are coming from, when saying that I generalise. Yes, I was wondering as well, if to leave out the country, but in the end decided to mention it anyway. Goes without saying, there are gems and rotten apples in all nations =) And by the way, if you had a look at my blog, I actually visited South Africa a while ago and really want to go back. Nothing personal against Saffas =)

By Anna, Chumphon (3 months ago)

I actually hated teaching English in the 12 years I was teaching in Thailand. I much preferred using the English language in all the other subjects as it gave a real use of the language. Teaching English sucks but teaching all the other subject using English is much more interesting and truly Sunook.

Now I teach online and having researched the best ways to teach online the results i found and now use are to have the student learning about things that interest them. While they are learning they being introduced to new vocab as well mimicking current grammar trends.

Do not teach English, Use English to teach about life. Much more fun.

By T mark, Kampot (3 months ago)

Well, you make it sound that all South Africans are rude, moaning people. Good journalism is about being objective and factual. No need to mention a country at all - the fact is for anyone not to behave like that.

By Ben Steyn, Bangkok (3 months ago)

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