In defence of the edutainers
A young teacher's perspective on teaching in Thailand
The majority of the bloggers on ajarn are of the more serious variety and tend to focus on the quality of teachers and schools and the availability of the better ones.
Occasionally, this passion gets directed towards younger teachers and this is often where the word ‘edutainers' makes an appearance. I am here in defence of such teachers.
At age 19 I travelled to South-East Asia on a gap year, after my travels were up I thought I'd add another year and go back to Thailand as I loved it the most. Teaching was thrown about as a stress free way to cover the cost of living and fairly easy to get into, so I headed back out with the sum total of my overdraft to keep me going until the money started flowing in.
Choosing Chiang Mai, I soon learnt that it would not be that easy and got used to living cheap very quickly. Certainly doing a TEFL course at the Chiang Mai University was a good idea, if, nothing else, it looks good in the interview. I landed the standard 250 baht an hour job at a language school on the Huay Kaew road and picked up some private students as I went.
From the course, and the reaction of students, employers and parents it was clear that the job required was half teaching/half baby-sitting. Quickly falling back on my opinion that kids learn best when they are enjoying themselves I dove straight into the fun culture (also that's the reason why I, and I suspect most of us, came to Thailand).
I'm not going to brag about results or what I thought the students were getting from me as a teacher, mainly because I didn't expect them to get much, I was just amazed that about 10-15 hours in total ‘working' was paying for, as far as a 20 year old would be concerned, a good standard of living. My total earnings at their best were, thanks to 500 baht an hour private lessons, about 25,000 baht a month but then, at their worst, around 10,000.
Fine, up to this point everyone is getting what they want; I get my escape from reality and the students do learn some English. I wasn't kidding myself into thinking I was making a difference but happy in the knowledge that, on days when the mood was right and the environment cohesive, I could give the students something genuine.
Getting students on board
Of course the fact that I had such a low workload and few difficulties in my personal life meant I was perfectly happy to be a resource to my students who did want to learn and clearly found it easier to open up to somebody like me, who they could relate to.
Being myself in class made it easier for the students to accept me as myself outside of the lesson period, which resulted in one-to-one fragments which incorporated only what the student wanted to know and ended and begun when they chose.
Naturally a proper teacher, working proper hours with lessons to plan, tests to mark and everything else I was warned about and never seemed to have to do, wouldn't be able to be an active and accessible teacher for every moment they were in the classroom. I, and my contemporaries all of whom were similar age, mentality and had a similar workload, were confused as to whether staying in the TEFL industry long enough to become proper teachers would make us become jaded and, like many bloggers to this site and other career TEFL teachers, disillusioned about our reasons for being teachers.
Certainly, all the problems, raised by those who know best about the problems with the Thai education system, were evident at all the formal levels of teaching that I had knowledge of, but I did my best to focus on the positives.
After it was clear that 8 months was too long to spend living a relative holiday, I decided that, rather than returning home and consigning my discovery of teaching to memory, I would continue on to the bottom rung of the ladder of proper English teaching.
Thanks to ajarn.com, I found a job in a brand new MLP at a government school in Chiang Rai, I decided to treat it as seriously as possible (to get used to proper work as much as to learn more about the world of English teaching) but realised that government schools, or at least this school, have the same mentality as language schools towards education.
Becoming an edutainer
Ultimately, I realised that the methods I'd applied at the language school would be the most useful here and so I became that celebrated ‘oxymoron' an edutainer. I don't need to list the variety of ways I felt the teachers and administration at the school failed the students, that's all been thoroughly reported by the majority of the bloggers on this site.
What I will say is that, thanks largely to the fact I only had 10 hours of classes each week, the style of teaching I enjoyed most and worked best in the situation was also the style of teaching that the school, like so many others (apparently), desired.
One thing that most TEFL teachers have in common is their opinion that their job involves far more than just teaching English, imparting the knowledge of our superior culture seems to be high on the list for many of the teachers who furnish this website with their opinions.
I do believe that Thai students, indeed anybody studying English as foreign or second language, can gain from learning about Western culture in the same way I and everybody reading this blog has learnt from Thai society and been influenced by the other cultures they've experienced.
As a teacher I want to teach English so those who want to learn can realise their potential; acquire the knowledge of the language to the point where they understand the use it has in the modern world and how they can apply it to discover all this new stuff for themselves. The job of teachers is to inspire and inspiring students to further their education through knowledge of English should be the job of all English teachers.
Most of the English teachers in Thailand seem to be slightly older so it's understandable that they would view energy, positive reinforcement and affability in the EFL classroom with disdain and denial.
Thailand is, like Phil said in the 'Hot Seat' section, a young-man's game. But I don't subscribe to the view that all non-career teachers are short-changing students and under-cutting the serious ones, I took my job seriously and gave a lot of effort. I shouldn't be accused of laziness because I tried to make my lessons fun and used my free time to travel and enjoy myself.
I met one teacher who was so convinced by his teaching method and significance he ran out his entire contract picking esoteric fights with anybody who would listen and then complaining he never had time to teach and wasn't able to teach what he wanted.
You can't change the system by constantly fighting it, playing the game and literally playing games in class is far more productive than constantly arguing with Thai administrators. Thailand is a fun country, that's the reason we came here and that's the reason the TEFL system is the way it is.
Besides don't Thai students get guaranteed grades anyway?
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I'm one of those older teachers you speak of . Here's an alternative perspective........
How does the Thai ministry feel about English education? Seems they try adopting the British style of education. That focuses on reading writing, listening n speaking skills. Grammar vocabulary......serious stuff.
Fun is good once in awhile .... but do note that the top academically advanced nation's in the world.......like South Korea,Japan, China.. all dont feature fun.
Their idea of education is that it prepares children for the adult work force.
Additionally.... At the end of the day...... Kids need to settle down to a 1-2 hour language paper. If school is fun .....will children be used to sitting still, thinking n writing?
What happens when they grow to adulthood?.... What quality of skill will they bring to the work force?
The top academically advanced nations have will n discipline. That's what it takes to be the strongest of the strong.
So if Thailand wishes to improve it's global literacy rating, why not imitate and innovate?
In truth........What's fun to kids?....video games, toys, cartoons, movies. These things are all part of family time. So I personally prefer to leave fun to the family so they bond with their parents. I'd prefer to play bad cop so parents get to play good cop with their child. I feel it's better for family bonding. Consider the parent teacher dynamic. Think what happens to the family if you are more fun than their mum/dad. Is it good for the child's emotional well being when you leave at the end of the year?
Discipline? Be firm, but approachable, never push your students to the edge. Leave a door open, always.....even for the kid who literally shortens your life teaching him.
Yes all kids pass....... let that be a reassurance , a confidence builder so I can do a little extra, explore more fields, push the boundaries in curriculum.
Because there's a safety net, even if my experiment in education fails, kids get exposure to something new. Academically, they will still pass.
Passing all kids isn't an excuse for teacher complacency..... It's a safety mechanism to be creative in education. ( With limits of course )
What thinkest thou of mine humble contemplations?
By Leonard Wong, Bangkok (5th August 2019)
Grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary. Literature?
Students will get a feel for good grammar by using the language; that is how we naturally understand English grammar as native speakers.
Students will practice pronunciation in the games that they play, and will hear the correct pronunciation over and over again from any reasonably well-educated native speaker.
Vocabulary can be learned through games.
Literature is for higher-level students.
It's best to learn vocabulary first, and then to learn grammar when you have a decent amount of vocabulary and a good feeling for the language.
The Thai education system is a torturous one that pushes students through the material far too quickly. A bit of edutainment gives them a nice break. They are already overworked. It really is a sink or swim system. Most kids that are not sinking are in ten or more hours of extra classes a week. Imagine your childhood being spent studying with little time for relaxation. And for what? In the end most of them will get their jobs through personal connections. In the end most people do one type of job and don't use half of the stuff that they've learnt. Perhaps the edutainment will give birth to an interest in English that might develop into more dedicated study later in life.
I started learning Thai in my mid 20s and am practically fluent now. To me it seems that some people have more natural ability in language learning than others. I know a few people who are very good at Thai; all of them have learnt in a different way. Perhaps the person is more important than the method
Finally, 30000 baht a month or maybe 40K if you're lucky. All of the issues with the teaching license, no right to own a house in your own name, for most people no other work options, citizenship very hard to get, visas granted one year at a time. Edutainment is a fair deal I would say. If you want to be serious about education or making a good living, try another country.
By John, Bangkok (19th December 2016)
Grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary. Literature?
In low end schools with even lower expectations hiring foreigners who are quite happy to 'teach' to the lowest common denominator.
The end of the post says it all. So what the fuck, no one can fail anyway. The ceaseless banal poverty of low expectations.
Few weeks back, met a young lady off to Texas to attend a NASA program on full scholarship. They told her if she performs well, MIT is in her reach.
I will never accept this bullshit and will be fired for being a dry, old turd before I waste my students time. If they don't want to learn, fine. I'll still be teaching them something revelvant.
But I've no illusions, many respectable schools in BKK are quite OK with this nonsense. 90% of Thai teachers are dead weight as well.
These sorts of people are the same crying about making 30k a month. It belongs in a crappy language center not a school.
Blaming the system is a total fail. Sorry.
By Lou Mak, The Big Smoke (19th December 2016)
You are right. For most Thai students with a low level of English, edutainment engages them, builds their vocabulary, and gets them used to the language. For higher-level students, a more serious approach is needed to bring their English up to a professional level. Young edutainers are not in short supply so you are unlikely to make much money going down this road. One day you'll have to consider that, especially if you have a family to look after.
By John, Bangkok (17th December 2016)
All teaching and education should be "interesting" to the student to optimize effectiveness. Obvious "interesting" means something different to small children than to professional or graduate level students. Adjust accordingly (or specialize where you feel comfortable).
If the teacher is satisfied, the school is satisfied, the parents are satisfied and the students are satisifed, who cares if a grumpy old git who is not directly involved finds something to complain about when another teacher uses a particular style of teaching.
By Jack, Not at home (15th December 2016)
Excellent. Learning by playing. It is the enthusiasm which inspires the brain to learn. Even an 80-year-old fellow can learn chinese if he falls in love with a beautiful chinese girl. After being a clinic clown for over 12 years I have been teaching "humor" in schools for medicine practioners in third age houses and hospitals, as well as magic tricks to managers which helps to perform with self-confidence and perfectly sell a product. I worked with patients of severe dementia and I have written about in a german book. I am now teaching juggling, magic and other entertaining arts online. Maybe that is something for you.
By Manfred Paier, Chiang Mai (15th December 2016)
Am I to assume that the writer of this article is still on an extended Gap year? What about actually getting an education yourself? You speak as if your skill at navigating around students like some kind of dancing bear means you have 'mastered' it here in Thailand.
Perhaps your edutainment skills (because it doesnt look as though you have much else to show for yourself on a CV) would be put to better use as a tour guide or concierge in a hotel; perhaps juggling oranges on the beach? Then you wouldn't have to go the Shrimpton route and pretend to be someone who has tangible qualifications.
By Roger, BKK (15th December 2016)
Well, it's been a few years since I read this! But nothing has changed...
Education should be entertaining no matter what the subject is.
When I was at school my music teacher made learning to read music something fun. It wasn't easy - but I persevered and learned it. She inspired us. My swimming teacher was just a sadist. He turned something that should have been fun into a terrifying experience! But that was half a century ago and things have changed, right?
Well, actually - not that much. Kids are inspired by fun and imaginative teachers and will usually find interest in most anything in their worlds.
Edutainment gets a bad rap here for a good reason - teachers often use it as a crutch to stumble past their lack of subject knowledge and classroom experience and/or training.
Also - subjects that are difficult for Thais (and English is a good example) absolutely NEED to be as much fun as possible or students will quickly lose their interest in learning if they are not.
By Mark Newman, Thailand (15th December 2016)
Do children really learn with an Educator or pregress into thinking the teacher is like some game at a local Internet cafe to be played with and then later discarded.
When you apply at an ESL government / language school, they tell you to play mind games with the students and keep them entertained so they will come back for more and tell their parents you are keeping them happy. I call it mental masturbation.
It's alright to add some activities to your class, not everyday. The children have to learn for their future. Some of the government schools near where I live at have advertisments from ESL agencies who teach this format. After their classes end, you go up to any of these kids and they don't know or haven't learned anything beyond the "Hello. I'm fine, thank you." "How are you."
By Charles, Bangkok (15th April 2011)
Well, you wrote the truth from your perspective and obviously know what you're doing ( or not doing).... I came here while you were in grade school and I'm still working as hard as ever 12 years on, with only a few years in the US, as a non-teacher. I've aged in that time of course, but fine wines do too.I've probably become and evolved (I hope)into a better and better teacher. Much of what you say is okay and both sides of readers' comments fairly well express opposing viewpoints. A 50:50 mix of fun and 'serious' learning within the students abilities are appropriate in my opinion, and of course Sanuk = fun is the best thing Thais enjoy (with a couple of exceptions) and if you give them something that's useful, valuable, etc. that they won't get from a Thai teacher,(LIKE CONVERSATION) then you've done okay I think...age is no gauge though, bro.You could be great at 19 or piss at 99,or vice versa, for some it doesn't matter, a teacher should be young at heart to succeed well, body age is just what's on the outside of you.Career opportunities are more important for veteran teachers who want the rewards of their labors, not just enjoying Thailand/touring around on gap years, which is very understandable, though neither is 'wrong'... I'VE spent 99% of my time in Bangkok, ..working. That's okay, TOO and maybe later I'll 'get ahead' and do more of what you've done.I hope I will or be able to retire early (55 is the new 65!)...and then just have fun and teach some part- time.
By Niels, Bangkok (16th February 2011)
I agree I personally don't play games in class, as it pampers to the student wish not to take study seriously. I write poems related to the core lesson but I try to keep the language used to short forms and common usage with new words including the Thai meaning. With speaking and spelling combined with writing (minimum copy from blackboard except for the four /five classes were they still need spoonfeeding and nailing to their seats!). This is followed with pronuncation of words and sentance speaking. and finally marking of work,one to one encouragement and attendance signing. Time 40/45 minutes. It works for me in Government school. It is a 50-minute full on session, but, you do feel that you are doing some good!
By Lomsakpeter, Phetchabun (28th January 2011)
Right on son. The best way to learn anything is for it to be purposeful, meaningful and fun. This motivates student to come to class and habituates them into a learning frame of mind. I myself am an older teacher at 47 some of the BS that older teachers spout is quite frankly ignorant. One would have thought that these professional teacher types might have studied psychology. But no English, English, English and guess what teaching EFL is not the same as teaching English language or literature. These people are misguided academics and should not be allowed near schools they destroy personality, creativity and dynamism.
By Ben, Prachuap (19th December 2010)
Games are great to use in class but should be used to reinforce some aspect of language that you've just taught. If you spend your lessons playing nothing but games with no particular reason other than pandering to your own ego and the student's pleasure, then I think you are going the wrong way about it.
By Timbo, Bangkok (18th December 2010)