Let's talk to a nice young lady teacher (yes, the job has its perks) Cola has been teaching in Thailand for four years and currently works at a kindergarten in Thailand's deep south. She lives with her Thai partner and one-year old son. She also puts together some great short videos on living and teaching in Thailand.
Hi Cola. Welcome to the ajarn hot seat. Now one of the very few things I pride myself on being good at is recognizing where people are from just by hearing their accent. I watched some of your YouTube videos (and very good they are too) and oh boy, you were one tough lady to place. But do I detect a north-eastern twang there? Newcastle? Sunderland? Somewhere up that way?
Great guessing Phil! You couldn’t have been more spot on. I’m from Gateshead, which is a town between Sunderland and Newcastle. I was born near London though and went to University in York, then moved to to Hat Yai, so I guess it’s been a bit jumbled along the way.
You've worked in the Hat Yai area for about four years. I haven't been there since the days when I used to do border runs in the early 90's. But I always liked Hat Yai. It's a busy city but still had a slower-paced feel to it. You clearly enjoy it there?
I really enjoy Hat Yai. I feel like it’s a bit of a hidden gem. It’s a busy city like you say, but not too big!
It’s very easy to get around and has everything you need (H&M, Imax and an Olympic sized swimming pool being some of my favourites!)
If you drive for around half an hour out of the city you will find countryside, waterfalls and beaches too.
What's the general environment like down there for a teacher. Are there plenty of jobs around? Do many of them pay over 30,000 a month?
There's definitely plenty of jobs around. I think most of them pay between 31-34,000 baht and offer 11-12 month contracts. One great thing about Hat Yai is the private tutoring pays very well here too - usually 400 baht plus per hour.
Tell us a little bit about the kindergarten school you work at. Are they treating you well?
The teachers at my school are all really nice and a lot of them are trying to learn English, which is great. However, I’m still seen as the ‘farang’ teacher and never seem to know what’s going on until the very last minute!
That's par for the course I guess. What do you think are some of the more negative aspects of the education system in Thailand at the kindergarten level?
I think they put too much pressure on the students at kindergarten level. They’re made to sit tests where they’re all sat at individual desks and if they’re seen trying to copy, they’re yelled at and dragged out of the classroom.
I have students in my classroom crying because they’re worried they wont get full marks on a test. I think they need to learn to let kids be kids more.
Let's talk about your family life. You're a full-time working mom and juggling around the responsibility of a one-year old son. That must be tough. Who's minding the baby?
I’m quite lucky in the fact that my teaching hours are only 18 per week and I don’t have to be at school when I’m not teaching.
My partner is a freelance architect with an office at home so he looks after our son when I’m at school which is great. It's definitely tough but my little boy brightens my day so much!
Your partner is Thai I should point out. How did you two guys meet?
My friend actually introduced us. She met him in a bar and was talking to him about music – she told me that we should go to a bar this guy recommends as it sounds like something I would enjoy (I don’t really go out much but I do enjoy a good band). A few weeks later we met him there and since then we became friends.
I was reading on a UK news website last week that the average rent in the UK is now almost a thousand pounds a month. To me that's just crazy and it sparked an interesting conversation on Twitter. Who can afford to live in the UK any more? This of course is one reason you live in Thailand right? - you feel it offers a better life for you and your family.
Yes definitely. I feel like if we worked in the UK we’d be working all hours in a day just to be able to pay bills.
In Thailand, we have a lot more free time and spare money to do the things like take our son to nice places and just enjoy our family life together.
We’d really love open our own little business here one day, maybe our own tutoring school at home.
You fancy your own school then?
It’s definitely something I’d like to do.
I have a few private students that I teach at home at the moment and really enjoy it as it gives me more freedom to teach the way I want. Hopefully if I have more students who want to study with me we can try and develop it into something more.
Let's go back to those early days when you first came to Thailand. Surprise! Surprise! you had a bad experience with an agency?
My agency was an absolute joke! It makes me angry just thinking about it. I think we received our work permits a month before teaching ended - after a lot of nagging. They were very disorganised.
Actually I was ‘fired’ from my school (two weeks before the end of term), I went home one evening and had a phone call that night from my agency telling me not to go back the next day! Talk about short notice.
They didn’t give me a real reason but I’ve heard rumours that it was because I'd had a little conflict with another teacher working at my school.
It's a question I ask most teachers in the hot seat but why choose Thailand?
I chose Thailand because I’d met a lot of people who’d told me that Thai people were absolutely lovely and I thought that because it was my first time travelling,
I needed somewhere like that, as-well as somewhere that was safe. After reading a lot of blogs, the actually teaching side of things looked really fun too.
In the little chat we had before I put these questions together, you described yourself as a 'pretty good Thai speaker'. It's actually quite a hot topic on the ajarn website at the moment with some teachers saying that studying Thai is a poor investment of your time and others saying that learning Thai is essential. Where do you stand on the debate?
I definitely don’t think learning Thai is a poor investment of your time. How can learning anything new be a poor investment if it challenges you and makes you think or learn something?
Also, if nothing else, I feel like having knowledge of the Thai language makes you a better teacher because you can explain how English is different to Thai language.
I definitely enjoy being able to understand and speak some Thai and I think language helps you get a better understanding of the culture too. However, in another odd way I kind of enjoy not being able to understand 100% as it gets me out of having to be social sometimes!
OK, let's get to these 'teaching and travelling in Thailand' videos that you obviously enjoy making. I bet a lot of work goes into even a short 5-minute video? A lot of preparation involved?
Yes actually the last five-minute video I did took me two days to do! One day for planning and recording and another day editing.
There’s so many things to think about before you can film; what you’re going to say, where you’re going to film, the lighting, whether you yourself look okay or like a sweaty mess from a day of teaching in Thailand!
The editing part is very time consuming too. You definitely need a lot of patience, but it is all worth it in the end when you see what you’ve created.
Is video-making something that you dabbled in in the past and you've sort of rekindled the passion?
Sort of yeah, when I was young I always made my friends little 'happy birthday' videos and things like that.
When I was at university I was involved with making lots of short films about university life for the marketing team, which I loved. I also I had a lot of friends from the film and television course and used to help them with making their films for fun :).
Are you a social media person? I notice you have a Twitter account but are you keeping the plates spinning on Facebook and Instagram and all that stuff?
If you’d asked me 6 months ago I would have said no, but ever since I started my Youtube channel I have been hooked- I’ve realised it’s really nice being able to connect with people all over the world with similar interests.
I use Youtube, Twitter and Instagram a lot but I’ve not really expanded much over that, yet. You can follow me at /teachercola J (shameless self promotion).
Thanks for the chat Cola. And I really do urge new teachers to check out your videos because they're kind of bright and breezy and a lot of fun to watch. I certainly enjoy them!
So check out Cola's video channel you guys at https://www.youtube.com/user/teachercola