The school year in Thailand is reaching its conclusion so in this blog I will share some insights with the aim of improving my teaching practice next year.
Speak Slowly and Check for Understanding
Developing a conscious awareness of my speaking speed and modifying it to suit my students was a major skill that I needed to develop. Gradually I learnt to convey English instruction slowly and clearly whilst continually ask students to verify their understanding.
My own experience in learning Thai is similar, listening is a difficult skill to master and I often haven to ask my Thai interlocutors to "speak more slowly please."
Often I would encourage an enthusiastic student to the front and get them to teach the students by repeating the same concepts. This was fun for the students and gave the "new teacher" confidence as they addressed the whole class. Any form of student to student learning is beneficial and assists in overcoming shyness.
Build a Collection of Effective Games and Activities
Having plenty of effective games and activities that keep the students interested is your best strategy to maintain successful, non-confrontational classroom management. Constantly peruse the internet and collaborate with other teachers to expand your arsenal of effective activities.
Be willing to experiment and don't be afraid to introduce a new game. Just explain a new game with plenty of gestures and take it slowly, slowly. Once the students understand the game they will enjoy playing it, and if it takes a while to get the game going then all the better.
When I was teaching some huge classes last year, (I had one group of 76 students), I found that bringing some small soccer-balls was a great aid. The balls could be used in a variety of games as learning tools and as a reward for good behaviour.
Creating a collection of effective realia was also a great winner for me. Large toy animals, weapons and vehicles effectively kept the students entertained and attentive. I also cut out three sets of the alphabet with individual cards from A-Z and used them in a variety of games that helped increase participation from K1 right through to P6.
A great idea that I picked up from a colleague this year was to invest in a laminating machine. You can pick one up for around 2,000 baht at sites like Lazada. Lamination effectively safeguards the durability and presentation of my teaching materials. Knowing that I can laminate classroom material makes my preparation more rewarding and worthwhile. Hopefully when I am ready to take on that next job interview my array of laminated teaching materials will impress my prospective employer.
Smile with the Radiance of a Beaming Sun
On many occasions while working at school I was reminded of the almost mandatory importance of emanating a sprightly and cheerful countenance. Your constantly beaming face should be constructed with a jocund stoicism as you deal with the unexpected obstacles that are cast upon your teaching ventures in Thailand.
I learnt throughout the year that professional communication in Thai schools occurs in a manner that differs widely from my experiences in Australia. This caused me to realise that argument and criticism, (no matter how positive the intention), were unwelcome and inappropriate methods of communication for a foreigner in a Thai staff room.
Feeling at times like a Victorian child who "is better seen but not heard", I decided to adopt the attitude that, "when in Rome do as the Romans do." Thus my strategy was to glow with a jovial smile and avoid involvement in criticism pertaining to issues occurring in the school environment. This was the best way for me to cope with frustration, but also developed my ambition to seek a school more suitable to my teaching personality.
Set Your Own Criteria
As I deeply respect many aspects of Thailand's fascinating culture and wish to continue teaching here, I decided to assess my own criteria for what I wanted from the school environment. I concluded that as I am passionate about delivering effective learning outcomes for my students that I needed to clarify some important prerequisites. I would advise any teacher mulling over the decision to continue teaching in Thailand to do the same.
English Friendly Schools
Firstly consider the way English is treated at your school. With a view to next year, take advantage of the experience you have gained, and seek a contract at a school that values your passion and expertise. Schools who have Thai English teachers who are more confident and outgoing when interacting with Western teachers are a definite plus.
Another good indicator is the presence of English around the school. Are there a lot of English materials on display in the English language classrooms? Are the students encouraged to speak and listen to English at assemblies and on other important school occasions like sporting carnivals and academic awards nights ?
Appropriate Student Age Groups
Another thing that you can control is selecting the age group that is most appropriate for you. If you feel a little bit uncomfortable in a Mathayom School, take an opportunity to work at a summer camp to discover if teaching Prathom or Kindergarten aged students would be more suitable.
If you struggle to keep up with the high voltage energy of younger students then think about teaching adults in after school tuition or at a business language college.
Personally, I prefer smaller class sizes so when I made my plans for this year I sought out a school where my preferences would be met. Rather than becoming overwhelmed with disgruntlement in regard to the Thai Educational System, you can take charge of your teaching destiny by finding a school that best suits your needs and teaching style.
Be willing to put in a bit of extra work with lesson planning and interact with students and staff as much as you can outside of the classroom. If you work in an environment where there is a degree of genuine mutual respect amongst the teachers then your teaching practice is bound to be more rewarding. Whilst we come from different cultures, all teachers should have at least one common goal, providing our students with the best educational opportunity, development and care that we possibly can.
If you can't find such a school in Thailand then check out some of the interviews on ajarn.com by teachers who have decided to teach in other countries. Maybe you could discover your dream teaching job abroad!
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