What are the challenges? Many! But here, as I see them, are the key ones:
1. English is a compulsory subject and the majority of students will never excel at it, let alone be competent in it or actually enjoy studying it.
Accept this. From day #1. Unless you teach primary 1 to 3 or 4, there is very little that you can do but help students pass tests and exams. Mein Gott, I hear you cry! Wait until point #2, please.
You can still create a good rapport with students by playing games though. [http://ajarn.com/Contris/geoff%20richards/geoffrichardsoctober2009.htm]
Build grammar and new vocabulary around trendy themes that students are interested in and try to make lessons as enjoyable and stimulating as possible. Any teacher that brings the NF friggin' L or baseball into the classroom should question what they are doing working in this country. The Thais are NOT interested in these sports.
2. Class sizes are far too large and English is just another foreign language and to properly learn it one-to-one dialogues are essential. And there's not a lot we can do about that with class sizes of fifty or more students and only fifty minutes to operate in.
This is the dilemma of a poor country that is trying to develop. If you haven't got a local teacher to keep discipline for you, I'd look for another job. Either that or a steady supply of valium, ibuprofen and ear-plugs.
Try splitting students up into learning groups [http://ajarn.com/Contris/geoff%20richards/geoffrichardsfebruary2009b.htm]
That said your focus HAS to be on reading, comprehension, writing, vocabulary and spelling. It's how students are judged during tests and exams. And isn't that the truth?
3. A standardised curriculum has never existed; neither has a clear mandate on what it is that we are and aren't supposed to do be doing. A whole variety of textbooks are used, both British and American English. There are even some Thai and Singaporean books in circulation that, while not exactly chock-a-block full of errors, do contain grammatical mistakes that should be penalised at test/exam level because they ARE incorrect.
The word ‘audacity' springs to mind when I read on Ajarn Forum about the visa woes of highly capable falang English teachers without a university degree. Can someone please tell me how a degree makes you a better English teacher to non-native speakers? Thailand also isn't a developed country like Japan or South Korea where students are paying higher premiums for education. I'll make an exception though and say it is a bit cheeky working at a university if you don't have a degree. Line firmly drawn.
A verifiable TEFL or CELTA and decent high school qualifications or diploma should suffice. The MoE could also develop a standard English grammar test that budding falang teachers must pass in order to get a license
Five periods a day for what? Approximately $860 USD per month. Come on!.
The cheek of this situation is that many falangs who are struggling to stay in Thailand are spending/banking all of what that they earn here.
And what about the local English teachers that can't have even the most simple and basic conversations with falang teachers? And they teach the subject to their students in Thai. It's just a reading and writing exercise. Full stop. Period. Dot. Funny little thing at the end of a sentence which doesn't matter a damn because teacher will just ‘red pen' it anyway. FACT: tests/exams NEVER judge listening/speaking abilities or punctuation [beyond the question mark].
I must stress though, that the local English teachers at my school do speak excellent English and you can have proper conversations with them.
MoE and TCT, look in your own backyard first please. The Cambridge ESOL TKT test that local English teachers were supposed to start studying a few years back quickly died a death because you need an IELTS score of at least 6.5 to pass it. BUT if you can barely answer a question about whether the coffee machine is working or not, then you're very unlikely to pass the test.
The latest supposed TCT crackdown on falang teachers is a farce and, in my humble opinion, lack of financial and human resources will bid it a swift farewell. Like I say, look at your own first please.
Bitching session over, NONE of this is for falangs to decide. This is MoE territory and rightly so.
4. I'm going to finish off on two soft challenges that require little debate. Firstly, always be prepared for the worst. If you do have air-con then assume there's always the chance of a power-cut. Sweat-faced city isn't funny. If you don't have air-con at all, the following is essential and is quite literally the difference between misery and comfort.
Put on plenty of talcum powder after you shower each morning and wear a loose-fitting white cotton T-shirt under your loose fitting cotton shirt. If you can, set a trend by NOT a wearing tie. Either that or take the damn thing off when the room starts to heat up.
Request or purchase your own cheap personal desk fan and always use a thick cotton cloth to wipe your face and head with. Shirt sleeves become sodden and dirty after a while!
Don't drink coffee at all and make sure that you drink plenty of water throughout the day.
5. Don't take complaints or awkward suggestions to your local head. Go to them with easy to understand positive solutions instead. And don't push your case or demand an immediate response. It can take time to consider and answer intelligent open-ended questions and ideas. It has nothing to do with language barriers. It's called being a human being.