Adventures in rural Thailand
My first six months at a Thai government school
The first six months of settling down in North East Thailand have flown by. During half of that time, I've been teaching at a rural government school.
Having completed three months probation through a teaching agency, the school seem happy with their farang, native English speaking teacher. I'm no stranger to the teaching profession, but a complete novice to teaching English in Thailand.
The initial hurdle a teacher needs to make with the students, I believe, is gaining their respect. In Thai culture, teachers get that in spades. Something I was aware of, although this was my first hand experience with the Thai wai from students.
After a week I'd settled in, despite my lack of speaking Thai. The school weren't concerned about my inability to converse in Thai, as they were very keen for their students to improve their spoken English. I discovered that many of the student's reluctance to speak English were through lack of confidence or shyness. I constantly engage with the students out of lesson time and they're now keen to try ‘talking with teacher'.
Initially, my priority was to get to know the students and their names. In the UK, it wouldn't have been a problem recalling three hundred students' names in the first few weeks. However, in Thailand, trying to grasp their names, or nicknames for that matter, has been somewhat of a challenge.
Calling the register always proves fun, when I mispronounce their names. I've tried using name badges, photos, students drawing self portraits (a fun activity). Yet I've found talking with them, getting students to write their names frequently, helps both the student and teacher. I've noted how well the students hand writing skills are, as well as their reading ability.
Plenty of resources
Starting the teacher post in semester two, I was fortunate to receive ample teaching resources from the agency, in the form of a work book and supporting PowerPoints, with some rudimentary training. The students each had their own workbook that is kept in the classroom. I think workbooks are a robust system to get you started, and it's also a good means to monitor student's progress. Thai students really appreciate seeing feedback on their work and I'm always quick to give them praise in class.
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Over a typical week I see four hundred or more students, across Mathayom levels one to six, aged twelve to eighteen. I see each group once, that's sixteen groups in all, so equates to about sixteen hours of contact time.
Classes range in size, from twenty to thirty, which suits me fine. Free periods and between classes, allows me sufficient time to prepare lessons, test papers and marking. Utilising the workbooks I compliment them with student activities and extension tasks for the higher learners. I'm very adept at lesson planning; I also tend to incorporate lesson plans from TES and the British Council, in conjunction with my own library of teaching materials.
The schedule is very manageable and I have a desk in the staffroom, sharing a hot desk for internet access, I have a projector and PC with no internet in my classroom. So I tend to work between the two. I just ensure that I'm readily available and approachable, to both students and staff.
The job has been made all the easier by the Thai English department staff. They've also been friendly and accommodating and I've been happy to help out when needed, although I know when to refuse politely. The department manager has pretty much let me be, so no micro management or classroom intrusions.
The director has popped into my class once, and sat in all the lessons when I'm asked to teach the Thai English staff. That's also proved fun, especially the class on English culture and making a proper cup of tea.
Before teaching in Thailand I did my research as to where I wanted to continue my career. Despite getting offers from various institutions, the prospect of teaching at a government school proved more appealing. Purely because I'm keen to immerse myself in the culture, whilst experiencing the educational system from the grass roots up.
Different to the UK
So I was under no illusion with my expectations. And I've been lucky, to say the least. The school has character, as do all the staff and students. It's a stark contrast to the colleges and universities I've taught at in England.
The biggest difference is the respect teachers garner from the students. I've also encountered minimal behavioural issues here. Some students can be boisterous but in the classroom they are excellent. Fifty minutes for a lesson means I can use a variety of teaching methods to keep the students engaged. Making the lessons more student centred, less chalk and talk.
The students always enjoy ‘activities' of sorts and Christmas was great fun, helping them to make snowflakes and rehearse for the Christmas pantomime. It's encouraging to see the students make further progress in speaking English, even though by small increments.
The school recently had an inspection and I could see the staff busy collating the relevant paperwork. I was informed to have lesson plans at the ready. There appeared to be minimal frenetic panicking, that I'd been witness to during many Ofsted inspections. That's something I don't miss about teaching in England.
I've also not been privy to any form of differentiation within the school that I'd been heavily indoctrinated to in the UK. I've taught at a college where there was so much data, you could tell the BAME of every classroom and where any student was at any given time. A tad Orwellian.
What I really miss is the camaraderie, office banter, the colourful language that teachers would exchange within the staffroom.
I shan't return to teaching in the UK any time soon, the stress, strains of the job has led a lot of good teachers to pastures new. So why not make that leap like I did and teach in Thailand.
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Hi Jeanette. Initially I went to all my local schools in person. Then registered with ajarn.com and a few agencies replied.
By Nigel Quinn, Thailand (2nd February 2016)
Which agencies did you contact for a teaching position in the government school system? I am currently at a private school and would love to transition.
By Jeanette Rich, Sisaket Thailand (1st February 2016)
Cheers Mark. Just as well I live in a bungalow. Thank you Jack. I agree it helps to have an 'unfuckwithable' attitude ;-)
By Nigel Quinn, Thailand (1st February 2016)
Ditto! (What Jack said.)
The biggest personal challenge is getting used to the fact that you are teaching 30 kids for 50 minutes a week and then expecting some kind of improvement in English ability.
Basically, in an academic year, you are spending about one hour with each student!
If you can limit your expectations and get along with a host of other variables standing in your way, then your life can be fun and instructive.
Good luck, Nigel. Look forward to that article in five years time when you are texting from a phone on top of an apartment building in Jomtiem just before you jump!
By Mark Newman, Thailand (1st February 2016)
Nigel, sounds like things are working out pretty well, it appears you have a flexible and positive attitude, and I suspect that makes all the difference in the world.
Good luck, stay positive and enjoy your teaching experience, whether it be 6 more months or 16 more years.
By Jack, At my computer (1st February 2016)