In this dog eat dog world of teaching EFL in Thailand, isn't it nice to know that are still some kind souls who believe in giving up a few hours a week to do voluntary work. Good on ya mate!
Hi Greg and welcome to the hot seat. How long have you been teaching in Thailand? Why not give us a brief resume?
Well, I started teaching around October 2001, working for an agency. After a short camp in Kanchanaburi, they put me to work at Rajinibon, an all-girls’ school, where I stayed until June of 2003. During that time, I also taught part-time at Satit-Chula as well as privates and weekends. Since June of last year, I’ve been working as a consultant, dealing with large corporations, working on teambuilding workshops and management training seminars. I’m still involved with Rajinibon and several other schools on my own time.
Tell us a little bit about your time at the Rajinibon School?
At first I started off teaching the Prathom 4, 5 and 6 girls, which I did for about five months. Then the guy who was teaching the Mathayom 4, 5 and 6 girls got fired, and they asked me to take over his post. That’s where I stayed until I left. I absolutely loved my time there and, despite the cultural and organizational hiccups that go with working in Thailand, managed to get on very well with everyone. I got to know my students quite well and developed a very strong teacher/student rapport with almost all of them. I’m still in contact with quite a few of them, as well as many of my ex-coworkers. Great school, wonderful students and staff.
In the ongoing Bangkok vs. rural areas debate, where do you stand?
Well, besides a school on the outskirts of Bangkok that I’ve volunteered at, I haven’t really spent much time teaching in the rural areas. I know people that have though, and the feeling that I get is that if you want the ‘genuine’ small-town Thai experience, you just ain’t gonna get it in the ‘Kok. I guess it all comes down to what you prefer: teaching amid the sounds of birds chirping with not a 7-11 in sight, or the sounds of birds coughing with more sev’s than you know what to do with.
You’re doing corporate work these days. Is it the Business Basics textbook stuff or more specialized?
It’s very specialized. I’m not really involved in the English training part of things. Most of our clients speak English fairly well, and my job is to lead teambuilding programs and management training seminars. That being said, I do have to deal with clients of all creeds and English levels, so I often find myself doing a bit of teaching whether I planned to or not.
What do you think is the hardest part about teaching corporate groups?
The mix of cultures and nationalities, but it’s also the most exciting. In a team with 8 Thais and two farang, the shy Thais usually take a backseat to the farang. People from India are very aggressive, people from Japan are nearly polite to a fault. It’s interesting to watch all these different people communicate to and interact with each other.
Do you agree that there are just too many schools trying to muscle in on the corporate training market and making a very poor job of it?
Actually, I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer that, as I’m not really familiar with corporate English training. But I imagine it’s like any business that fills a demand – after a while, people start taking advantage of things and inevitably, you end up with some crap situations and worthless companies.
We did an interview with Al Lock, who is one of Bangkok’s best-known corporate consultants. He says that HR/training managers are becoming far choosier when they look for a provider. Would you go along with that?
Again, I have very little experience dealing with that area of things. I could only speculate.
Can you understand why teachers are beginning to leave Thailand in droves (if in fact it’s to be believed?)
I’d say the money issue has, and will continue to be, the number one reason. The longer you stay here, the more people you meet who are (or have friends that are) making/have made busloads of money in other countries. One couple I met while I was teaching couldn’t come to grips with the fact that they weren’t chauffeured to work everyday, like they were in Korea! I’d guess that the teachers who give weight to this theory are the ones who’ve been here a long time, made lots of friends and have come to see the cracks in the veneer of the whole teaching thing. The bottom line is, other countries pay more money and their system of visa’s, work permits, organization, etc is just more organized, more sensible. That being said, there seems to be a never-ending supply of people willing to give Thailand a shot, but the majority of them only stay for 6 months or a year.
Complete this sentence. “I’d rather die than teach…”
Yet another group of fat, dumb kids who are sent to a top-class school by their fat, rich parents. Luckily I didn’t have to do that too often.
You do voluntary work at a Muslim school. Do you think more teachers should be giving up a few hours a week for a worthy cause?
Absolutely. The joy of volunteering can’t fully be appreciated until you do it. I’m not saying I’m Victor Volunteer; I don’t do it nearly as much as I should. But when you work with a kid or group of kids who go to a school that doesn’t have the money to hire a farang teacher, the results are amazing. Not only are you a rock star for a day, but to make such a big difference in a kids’ daily grind just by doing something so easy is a great feeling; really heartwarming. You rarely have to have a lesson plan – more often than not, it’s just fun and games. The very fact that these less-fortunate children get to speak one-on-one with a farang about football or their home country is a lesson in itself.
How does teaching Muslim students differ from Thai students. Firstly, the cultural aspect?
I didn’t notice a difference, to tell you the truth. Except for the wailing coming from the loudspeakers at the mosque, the cultural difference was pretty minimal.
And what about the actual English-teaching aspect? Are they better students? More serious?
Again, the cultural side of things didn’t really figure into it; it was more the societal aspect. It wasn’t really a question of being better students, but I would say that most of them took their education pretty seriously. These kids were quite poor and for the most part, knew that the line between sleeping in a house or under a bridge was often quite thin. But they were very excited and behaved very well, stoked to participate and eager to learn and to talk to a farang. I spent three days there and it was a great experience. Incidentally, if you want more info about volunteering, head to www.smilingalbino.com/community
Going back to the Thai education system, do you see things changing for the better? Are typical students getting more exposure to English?
I don’t think they can avoid it. MTV, English music, magazines, radio, etc. Like it or not, English is everywhere and I can’t see it fading away anytime soon. Whether or not the Thai education system will change for the better is a big question. I think that right now, the tenets that guide the system are frankly quite outdated and old-fashioned and need to be changed. The base principles that the kids get taught by their teachers and parents need to be brought up to speed with other international countries. Thai students need to be taught to seek out information for themselves; to be taught the joy of learning, not the monotony of it; to be more aggressive and to speak their minds and think out of the box, for themselves. And if I could teach Thai students going into the business world just one thing, it would be this: When you shake someone’s hand, look into their eyes, smile, say a confident “How are you?” and grasp that hand firmly!
How long do you see yourself staying in the profession?
Until I get bored, which doesn’t look like it will be anytime soon.
If you had to give up on teaching here in Thailand, which country would you move on to?
Japan. Always wanted to go there, but just never found the opportunity.