David Solomon is firstly an Australian and secondly a very well-qualified teacher trainer for a well-known TEFL course provider down in Pattaya. He contacted Ajarn.com and offered to be 2007's first hot seat candidate. Take it away sport.
Dave. Welcome to Ajarn's first hot seat of 2007 (you can feel the pressure building). Now, you carved out a successful career in the corporate world and also worked in the Royal Australian Air Force before deciding to become a teacher. What prompted this drastic career change?
I had an unfortunate accident that forced an early retirement from the Royal Australian Air Force. I had always dreamt of becoming a teacher as a child and found that this was the opportunity to pursue that goal. I had completed a Certificate in Vocational Education and this had renewed my passion to become a teacher. I was also lucky enough to have commenced my Grad. Dip in Education while I was in the Air Force. This I completed at a Private International School in Southern Queensland. I went on to complete my M. Ed while I was teaching for Education Queensland.
Although mainly known for your work as a TEFL course trainer, you do keep your hand in as a teacher I suppose. How many hours do you currently teach and where?
I still do some teaching with Text and Talk in their school. I have been teaching adults and children as well as helping teach a corporate client. During the last school term, I also taught some lessons in the Government Schools in Pattaya. I have also done some corporate training in Pattaya.
Do you prefer teaching adults or children?
Other than teaching my TEFL Courses, I prefer teaching children. My most enjoyable teaching experiences were teaching in the Government Schools in Pattaya during my first 18 months in Thailand. Children are our future and one reason that I came to Text and Talk was to give trainee teachers the benefit of my experience in working with children and an insight into the way teachers can gain maximum learning outcomes for their students.
Pattaya has always struck me as very slim pickings for an English teacher. I remember when I took over ajarn.com about five years ago. The salaries in that part of the world were a joke given the amount of money you could conceivably get through. Any comments?
For the properly trained teacher, a good salary (by Thai Standards) can be made in Pattaya. Teachers in the government school project receive a salary of approximately 30 000 baht per month which is above the given average of about 25 000 baht per month. I have not been to other areas of Thailand so I can not comment further on this issue.
Let's get on to the TEFL courses. This industry has become fiercely competitive. Do you think that's been a good thing?
Competition in any industry is good as long as it is kept on a fair playing ground and that the trainees are taught properly and effectively. I have had students come to me when I have been teaching and asked for help. When I have asked them to show me a lesson plan, they have responded with “What’s a Lesson Plan?” The proper planning of a lesson is one of a teacher’s most important aids.
On a typical course, how many of the trainees want to stay and work in Thailand compared to those who want to go elsewhere?
In the 18 months that I have been a TEFL Trainer, all of the trainees that I have taught except for three have wanted to stay and work in Thailand. Of those three, a couple of them are now working successfully in China and the other in Indonesia.
The general vibe must be that Thailand has become less attractive to an EFL teacher though?
Due to the changes to the rules regarding visas, work permits and other things, many trainees are quite concerned about teaching in Thailand. Alternatively, good teachers are made very welcome here and they are given every assistance by their school to stay.
Which part of your TEFL courses do trainees enjoy the most and which part do they 'dislike'?
From what I have seen, the trainees especially like the Evaluated Teaching Practice. At first they are nervous about teaching Thai students face to face but when their first lesson is completed, the comments are normally, “It was nothing like I expected. I really enjoyed myself”. On the other hand, I feel that many dislike taking their written exams. Most trainees state that they have not had to study for a long time and it is hard work.
How do you keep things fresh (for yourself) when you are basically teaching the same course month after month?
Every course holds its own challenges and motivations. Every trainee is an ‘individual’ and must be treated as such. I never teach the same course exactly the same way as each group of trainees are different and have different needs and abilities. The trainees themselves keep me fresh and active. Also, as the teacher, it is my job to motivate myself as well as the students.
It's often said that TEFL courses are so intensive that trainees should put everything else aside for four weeks so they can concentrate solely on the course itself. Let's be honest - that must be difficult (or more difficult) in Pattaya given the obvious distractions?
TEFL Courses are definitely intense and intensive, especially the first 2 weeks when trainees are being prepared for their evaluated teaching practice. It is true that a trainee can find many distractions in Pattaya and our 6 week course requires the trainee to work very hard but they still can find time to enjoy themselves. Due to many trainees not having been in a learning environment for some time as well as a variety of leisure activities in Pattaya, most students coming to Pattaya prefer to do the 6 week course instead of the 4 week course.
What do you do when you get a particularly difficult trainee - someone who knows all the answers and would probably benefit from a good old-fashioned slap. You must get them surely?
I keep my patience whilst teaching that particular part of the lesson and then talk quietly with the relevant trainee. With good interpersonal communication we can come to a workable understanding. Any teacher who can not control themselves and work through a specific situation is not a ‘genuine’ teacher. As a former Teaching/Principal, my worst situation was actually in Australia – but I won’t elaborate on that.
What do you think is the falsest claim that TEFL courses come out with?
Personally, I feel that the falsest claim is that a person can be trained as a teacher in 1 or 2 weeks and without the benefit of proper classroom instruction. From a personal point of view, less than 100 hours of face to face classroom instruction would be ineffective. I have seen this from experience where there was a teacher in a school who could not write a lesson plan and had no classroom management experience.
I've got to ask you this one because it's one hot forum topic that never goes away - do you need a degree to be a teacher?
This is a very contentious point. I have trained (and worked with) some very excellent teachers who have not had degrees and who could teach much more successfully than people with degrees. The opposite is also true. It really depends on the individual, their ability and their dedication to teaching.
And while I'm at it - do you think we're about to see a huge foreign teacher shortage as more and more teachers get cheesed off with the ever-changing government and immigration rules?
I can see a teacher shortage in Thailand. The rules need to be stabilized for the benefit of all, or most importantly, the Thai children will be the ones who are going to miss out on the benefits of a good quality education from a native speaking English teacher.
Are schools going to have to do without their native-speaking 'ajarn' or will more and more schools be throwing open their doors to the non-native speaker? What's the future for these institutes?
From personal experience, schools need their native speaking teacher. Some schools will need to complement their staff with non-native speaking teachers but these teachers need to be properly trained and in Thailand. Native speaking teachers should be given first preference for employment and then the non-native speaking teachers who did their training here.