The A to Z of TEFL in Thailand

A playful look at this sometimes crazy industry proudly presents the A to Z of TEFL in Thailand

A is for admin staff, the slip of a girl whose catchphrase almost every payday and whenever you enquire as to the status of your work permit application is usually "sorry, I don't know"

A is for actor, a particularly annoying kind of teacher who gets the most student requests and consistently pulls in the best student survey results purely on the basis of being able to make students laugh. 

A is also for academic director, the man or woman who has the responsibility of compiling schedules, choosing textbooks, and interviewing potential teachers. Mainly because no-one else wants the job of doing it.

B is for brainstorming - that magical time at the beginning of a lesson when you ask students to fill up the whiteboard with ideas and involves almost all the students either collapsing in a giggling fit or looking completely devoid of inspiration 

B is also for back of a beer-mat, where a teacher works out if he's going to make enough to pay the rent this month.

C is for cowboy outfit, a modern, plush-looking language school that's usually owned by a woman with big hair and more jewels than the Queen of Sheba. It's got smartly-dressed receptionists, expensive floor tiling, an exciting display of textbooks all fastidiously arranged in a bookcase, and yet can't keep teachers for shit because it pays barely six dollars an hour.

C is also for contract, the six-page document that tells you your responsibilities, your working hours, your remuneration package, and your employer's obligations. See also S for scrap paper.

D is for the Dunkin Donuts party pack, the cornerstone of every decent teachers meeting. It invariably involves the least popular teacher getting his hands on the most delicious-looking donut, and you getting left with the one covered in pink icing sugar.

D is also for danger zone, the awful realization that there are still five minutes of the lesson left and you've totally run out of material. "So...did anyone see a good film at the weekend?" is a classic example of a teacher entering the danger zone.

D is for drag foot, the name given to describe a student's gait as they walk into your English class.

E is for 'extra activities' - things that usually happen at the most inconvenient time, take up more time than your allocated teaching and are always conducted 100% in Thai, even when it's organized by the English Department.

Also E for 'experimental lesson plan' - closely linked with 'winging it' (see W), but sounds better when you say it to the DOS.

F is for first-day classes, when newbie teachers have students all standing in a semi-circle throwing a ball to each other or something equally daunting for a bunch of people who have never met each other.

G is for Graveyard Shift, the task of having to teach in a language school after everyone else has gone home. Dust covers have been placed over computers and stock-room doors have been locked, but in a lonely little corner of the language school burns a sad fluorescent light, because four students with no friends and nowhere else to go have signed up for a two-for-one promotion deal.

G is for gate duty, the responsibility of standing at the school entrance - at an ungodly hour each morning - purely to show parents dropping off their kids that the school has a foreign, white face on the teaching staff.

G is also for gap year teacher, that young free spirit who comes to Thailand for four months to teach English, muck about with elephants and get off their tits at full moon parties. 

H is for hole, something an inexperienced teacher will have no trouble in digging.
"Teacher, what's the difference between recognize and remember?"
"Ah that's easy. You recognize someone, but you remember something. So for example, you can say I recognize your face but you can't say I remember your face. Er....well, actually you can. Let me just get me coat"

H is also for hangover, the teacher's normal functioning state on Monday mornings.

I is for "I'll get back to you on that one", the time-honored retort when the palms begin to sweat and the H for hole becomes obscenely large.

I is also for itemized phone bill, and the chance for a school to find out which teacher made the 7-minute phone call to Canada. It then leads to L for locking of the telephone, an act which bars all teachers from using the phone even though the guilty culprit left the teaching staff six months ago.

J is for Japan, that mythical land where you can actually earn enough money as a teacher to survive on.

J can also be for jump, as in the hoops teachers jump through in order to obtain the visas and work permits we need to legally stay here in Thailand.

K is for Korea, where you go if you don't make it in J for Japan.

K is also for kitchen area, two square foot of space where teachers all stand and wait for the oldest member of staff to finish making his coffee. How can someone possibly be that slow?

L is for lead-in (not to be confused with warmer). The lead-in for a lesson on 'decision-making' might involve asking the students "tell me what you would do if someone you loved was on a life-support machine?" After two minutes of head-shaking and blank looks, the teacher wishes he'd just said "open your books to page 36".

M is for muppet, the 10,000 baht a month employee who has had plastic surgery to have his/her lips sewn permanently to the manager's ass. The muppet has basically two responsibilities - photocopying hundreds of exam sheets and making illegal copies of textbooks - both of which he/she manages to balls up with alarming regularity.

M is also for maid, that short, overweight woman in a bright yellow uniform that shuffles about, muttering to herself in a north-eastern dialect, and choosing to busy herself only when it's not possible to squeeze another dirty coffee cup in the kitchen sink.

M is also for meta-speaker, the kind of teacher who gives students a running commentary of the whole lesson - "now where did I put the board marker? ah there it is. No that's not it. It was here a minute ago. And where have my glasses gone to?

N is for nice little earner, one of those corporate jobs which pays 800 baht an hour and you also get to pocket the 500 baht travel money because a non-airconditioned bus goes door to door.

N is also for neglected TEFL website, the kind of website that announces itself as 'your one-stop shop for teacher resources and TEFL information' and hasn't been updated for five years.

N is for "not in Thailand" - the most common response to any suggestions or requests made by teachers based on common sense in academics or business.

O is for observation, The unenviable job of having your lesson evaluated by a bored-looking academic director who sits in the corner doodling on a notepad. Feedback from lesson observations can depend solely on how 'matey' you are with the evaluator. If he's your Friday night drinking buddy, then you can expect to get away with any old lesson performance. If the two of you don't really get along, he'll pick your lesson apart like a vulture on a dead antelope.

O is for 'Oh Christ...' The thought we have after asking a student what they did at the weekend and they respond with "watch tv, eating, go to shopping or read a book"

O is for obvious teacher - usually seen standing on the sky-train and looking like he's just got up.

P is for picket line, the totally unforeseen event that occurs about twice a year at any private language school when the person responsible for opening up the school oversleeps. This leads to an embarrassed gathering of cigarette-smoking teachers and confused students all making uneasy conversation while waiting for the key-master to arrive.

P is also for personal phone call, the kind of lengthy phone call that school receptionists engage in when they should be working. Usually cutesy and lovey-dovey, you have the best chance of overhearing such a conversation when there is an emergency, such as one of your students has just fainted in class.

P is for private student, a special breed of student who feels no shame in calling you up ten minutes before the lesson is due to start and saying she's decided to ditch the study for today and go shopping with her mates instead.

Q is for quota disparity, in other words, how lessons at a private language school are divided up. Teacher A gets four lessons a day from 9.00 - 1.00, while teacher B has two hours from 9-11am and two hours from 7-9pm, with a gap in-between that allows enough time to do a little shopping. Or to get married, divorced and start a revolution. Teacher B is teacher B simply because he doesn't like to make a fuss.

Q is also for qualification - the document that says the magic words: ‘Teach', ‘English', 'Foreign', ‘Language' and possibly ‘Speakers' somewhere on it, ideally in a fancy cursive font and topped off with a crest or arty logo

Q is for quick drink after work, when a group of teachers decide to have one beer together at the end of the teaching day - and eventually leads to 2.00am in a Patpong disco surrounded by freelance hookers.

R is for revision - a word that no student across the whole of Asia understands.

R is also for rumormonger - when some well-meaning soul posts on a forum that you are no longer allowed to do more than two visa runs back to back. This is followed by someone posting that the Thai consulate in Penang is refusing to give out any kind of Thai visa whatsoever and those with more than four pages of entry stamps will be frog-marched into the nearby woods and shot. This news is followed by someone posting that timeless legend - "the honeymoon's over. Goodbye Thailand. I'm off to Vietnam where foreigners are more welcome" Five years later, they're still in Thailand - and still moaning.

S is for sound lab, the room in the furthest corner of the building which has more knobs and buttons than a space shuttle, is used less often than a space shuttle, and the door of which is only ever opened when a) some bigwigs are visiting, or b) The Farang Ajarn wants to find somewhere quiet to sleep off his H for hangover.

S is for student survey, the chance for students to evaluate the teacher's performance even though the students haven't a clue what the questions mean.

S is most definitely for shock horror resume, the kind of resume that usually belongs to men who have gone through a terrible mid-life crisis. The shock horror resume contains entries in chronological oder such as 'from 1978-1998, I was responsible for 500 sales people in the Pacific North-West' followed immediately by'1998-1999, I taught three hours a week at ABC language institute. And as the interviewer, you're thinking 'what the hell happened?'

S is also for supplementary textbook, one of those meaty offerings entitled something like 'non-stop discussion' or '500 activities that work', and even though you've flicked through them countless times, you've never managed to squeeze a single decent lesson out of them.

S is for school lunch, a luke-warm, unidentifiable clump of meat that sits atop a luke-warm clump of low-grade rice. But it's either cheap or free and that's all that matters.

S is for shared teacher accommodation, a crumbling building full of dangling electrical wires and mouldy bathroom tiles that new teachers put up with purely to keep living costs down

S is for sweatbox, the non-airconditioned classroom usually found in rural schools.  

T is for teacher's room notices, those sheets of A4 paper, often decorated with tacky clip-art, that contain messages such as 'please kindly to wash up your cup of coffee after you will finish' The fact that such a grammatically incorrect and incomprehensible message could adorn the wall of a language school goes by and large unchallenged depending on the seniority of the person that wrote it.

T is for teacher's book, that thickish manual that says "begin the lesson by getting the students to tell you about a time when they felt frightened or scared. Or some other piece of teacher advice that's guaranteed to sink faster than the Titanic.

T is also for teacher's pet, the mainstay of any corporate training group. Usually female, she's the kind soul who fetches your glass of water and cleans off the whiteboard five minutes before the rest of the rabble arrive.

U is for 'under consideration, that timeless legend which is stamped in your passport at least four times whenever you go through the work permit process. Whether it's because the immigration department genuinely have meetings to discuss these things or whether they just like to make you keep coming back is not really known. If you're a gambling man, put your money on the latter.

V is for visa run chaos, the task of shuffling teachers around to cover Bill's visa run to Malaysia. It begins with "can you cover Bill for just one day?" Then it becomes "Bill called to say the embassy was closed for a Muslim holiday" Then "Bill's lost his passport" And finally "has anyone heard from Bill?" After two weeks, the students have forgotten who Bill is.

V is also for video lesson - closely related to to 'winging it' and 'experimental lesson plan. The video lesson is a frequently used lesson type employed by farang teachers who have imbibed a scoop too many the previous evening, and usually involves watching something a lot longer than the allocated time and pausing the machine every 10 or so minutes and asking 'ok, what do you think will happen next?

W is for warmer, one of those fun-filled, run up to the blackboard, whisper to your partner, fold up the paper activities that the students enjoy doing so much that you totally lose them when it's time to do some serious work.

W is also for 'winging it', that essential - but much frowned upon by TEFL course providers - activity that all TEFL teachers have to fall back on at short notice.

X is for Xenophobia - something that every English teacher will experience in Asia.

Y is for yakety-yak - what the students should be doing when they get themselves into pairs, and not discussing where their partner got their new mobile phone from.

Z is for student feedback. ZZZZZZZZZZ



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