It's now been nine months, living and teaching in Thailand. In that time I've worked at a rural government school for a whole semester.
Previously I'd taught in the UK, from greater London to middle England, at various levels for twenty years. Yet it's my first time teaching conversational English as a subject, in a foreign country.
I thought I might share with you my account so far, with some practical advice that may help ease your transition to teaching in Thailand.
I've worked in all manner of classrooms shapes and sizes. The dreaded ‘L' shaped room, a five hundred seater seminar hall, construction site noise next door, no air con. I've currently got five fans, of which four are working. The classroom has a projector and screen, which I have to tie down when it gets a bit breezy. I also have those antiquated desks and chairs. The ones with graffiti, dating back to the seventies. Most classrooms have them arranged in an exam style.
I prefer the ‘U' shaped arrangement. There's about forty chairs and desks, space permitting I keep them as a large ‘U' shape with another small ‘U' within. This allows all the students to face you and the board as well as you being able to see their faces and keep their attention. Breakout arrangements are fine but you'll always have some students that need to arch their neck round to face you or the board. The ‘U' shape gives you enough space to walk around the class to check on learners and space for practical activities. Also useful for those times you need to play charades.
As with most aspects of teaching, it is paramount to set up some list of ‘classroom rules'. This also makes for a good first session with your learners to help establish rules in the classroom, whereby they will list them in Thai and their English equivalent.
I have a whole lesson plan about their school, which is great for the new arrivals. Throughout my time here I received a semesters worth of teaching resources from the agency I used to work with. I now work directly for the school. So the teaching aids I currently use are mostly my own, that I've adapted from other sources. I put together a loose twenty weeks scheme of work and then a lesson plan for each week. Planning is key, but allow some room for adjustment. Being flexible is also a much needed attribute as a teacher, even more so in Thailand.
Be prepared when they have unannounced activities taking priority over your class, ensure you keep track of each lesson. I tend to have a master lesson plan for each week, then adapt according to each level. This is mostly the case of pitching it at the correct level for Matthayom one and two, then adding some more stretch and challenge opportunities for levels three to six.
Each student has a plastic file with their name, in English, to keep their worksheets from each session. The classroom is rather open to the elements, so plastic wallets are excellent. This is also a handy way to keep track on your learners. I'll receive a spreadsheet of all the groups that I can transfer to at the end of the semester. So make sure those paper registers are up to date.
The students will also have hand me a copy of the register which I sign at the beginning of each class. Thais love paperwork, something I'd become accustomed to in the UK, having everything done in triplicate.
Now this advice may all sound rather ‘serious' but it gives you a lot of room in the class to feel at ease and then not take yourself too seriously.
Once the classroom's set, it's time for the students to arrive. With Matthayom one and two I'm a little bit stricter on classroom etiquette. Before the lesson starts I get all the students to take off their shoes and remain seated outside the class in one line. I have a clipboard with register and lesson plan to hand, then allow them to walk in one at a time to stand behind their chairs, bags under their desk.
As I walk into the center of the classroom, we all greet as one, then I allow them to be seated. I like to establish a sense of authority, also by walking into the classroom and standing in the center of the ‘U' arrangement informs the students to be quiet. This is a good technique to establish when you need to get the whole class's attention. I rarely have to raise my voice and you won't need to shout. In fact, never shout as their teacher. You'll lose respect from the students.
Losing ones cool in a classroom lacks professionalism of course and you're going to ruin your voice in a month. You'll find your own way of grabbing the class's attention, but the much practiced teacher ‘look' comes into its own at times.
Having established some ground rules you'll still get some minor issues in class. Punctuality can be a new concept for the students to grasp. Seeing as the lessons are timetabled back to back, I always expect some delay in students arriving on time. Any real latecomers, I make sure they politely ask permission to enter the class.
I believe that the students I see offer less behavioral challenges in the class to my time in the UK. Some of the younger lads may get boisterous from time to time but I usually keep them busy in helping me in class with handing out and collecting worksheets. Plus it's always useful to have some extension tasks to hand for the faster leaners.
I also like to get the students moving around the class such as helping complete answers on the whiteboard or facing the class to read out their work. Just remember, make the whole learning experience fun and engaging and you'll soon earn the students trust and respect.
Whilst finishing a session with ease, due to all that planning you competed beforehand, I then get all students to stand to ‘attention' behind their chairs that they push under the table. Many Thai classrooms seem to like putting the chairs on the desks or under the desk at an askew angle. I guess my health and safety experience kicks in here, so those chairs stay right under their desks.
I teach about fifteen hours a week so I have plenty of time for prep, checking students work and writing this blog. Its useful to reflect upon ones delivery and improve and adapt throughout the working week. I may not command the salary that I had in the UK, but it's a step up in the quality of life here. Hopefully this article will help make some of your experience teaching in Thailand that little bit more ‘sabai sabai'.