James Humphries

Be honest with yourself

Every teacher has made mistakes - including you!

I've read many teaching blogs down the years and I generally enjoy hearing about other people's experiences. Most of the time I find myself nodding along in agreement when reading about the lives of other farang teachers.

However there is one thing I'd like to see more of - honesty.


Before I go on, I'm not calling anyone a liar, I simply would like to see a bit more self-criticism. I include myself in that. I am just as guilty as anyone of presenting myself as a know-it-all super teacher. I think we are all a little bit scared of admitting our weaknesses.

A few years ago my school hired a teacher for the last two months of term with a view to giving him a contract for the next year; however in a short space of time he managed to infuriate everyone, including the office staff, his co-teachers and the owners of the school with his bad manners and superior attitude. He wasn't a bad teacher but he refused to listen to anyone and he wasn't kept on.

I later read a blog written by him where he claimed he was treated unfairly. According to his version, all the students loved him and this made the other teachers jealous so they conspired to get rid of him.


This was nonsense of course but I don't blame him for it. When things go against you, it's natural to invent a narrative where you are the victim of an evil conspiracy.

I've seen other blog posts where teachers complain about everything, for example:
"The staff were unfriendly and didn't like farangs."
"They told me I should do it their way even though my way was clearly working."
"My lessons were awesome but the students didn't appreciate it."

These may well be true but a lot of the time I feel like these teachers are not being honest with themselves. While thinking about this I realized I have been doing the exact same thing for many years.

Sucked at the job

I was actually sacked (well, my contract wasn't renewed) from one of my first teaching jobs. There was no grand conspiracy, no disagreement with the boss - I just plain sucked at the job.

It's hard to admit that I was a crap teacher but it is a fact. I took a job on an EP program at a good high school. I felt pretty proud of myself as I had beaten other candidates to the job due to an impressive demo lesson and I had high hopes for myself. Things started going downhill pretty quickly however and I soon found myself floundering.


I had absolutely no clue what I was doing and the students knew it. My lessons were awful. I would stand at the board waffling about whatever the topic was for about five minutes, then I'd give the students some activity to do. I'd give them nowhere near enough time to do a task (which I had already explained badly), before changing to something else. I kept doing this until everyone lost interest. I'd then start shouting at them for not trying which made me even more unpopular.

Instead of try to make things better, I became lazier. I didn't seek advice from other teachers because I didn't want them to think I was clueless. After two months I was deservedly given the boot - although they offered to let me stay until the end of term so I could find a new job. I was disgusted. How could they treat me so poorly?

When asked why I left, I would explain it was because the head of the program never wanted me and the students were all a bunch of spoiled brats. I told this story so much that I started to believe it.

It was not nice to be fired for doing a bad job and I felt terrible at the time but I learned from it and enough time has passed for me to be able to laugh about it. I also haven't been fired from a job since which is surely a sign of progress.

Admit to your failures

I would like to see more teachers talk about their failures because, as hard as it is to talk about, it might be more useful to fellow teachers than "Let me tell you about all the brilliant stuff I did in the classroom."

Particularly in an industry where the majority of us learn on the job without much guidance, failure is pretty much a guarantee at first unless you're blessed with an innate talent for teaching. So why are we so afraid to talk about it? Perhaps the TEFL teacher has a more fragile ego than most. We constantly feel like we have to reassure ourselves that the job we are doing is worthwhile and our skills are legitimate.

But if we are going to write about our experiences in order to enlighten others, let's not neglect to mention some of the massive clangers we have made too. It's easy to criticize others but how often do we own up to our own flaws?

Has anyone else had a similar experience to mine? Let us know in the comments.


This is brilliant. One of the best articles I've ever read here.

Many that"teach" here are lazy, that is actually what has brought them here. Others are sincere but hit hurdles with no one to turn to professionally. The trick is getting on the internet and teaching yourself. Like anything after years of hard work you will break through. Keeping your motivation is key. When you achieve success you'll know it and so will everyone else. You will be confident and knowledgeable. The other teachers will then have disdain for you because they know that success is not achievable for them. They lack core education, motivation, technology skills and most of all curiosity. They will be tbe ones complaining about everything but especially how they are not paid 65k for teaching some bullshit listening and speaking course in a marginal, upcountry school.

Just because someone has been teaching ten years does not mean they won't be that hapless guy standing at the whiteboard thats got no game. They painfully slog through each quarter, term and year. Lessons are made once and repurposed for everything. They're not fooling anyone hence their defensiveness.

Great read

By Jim Beam, The Big Smoke (16th May 2021)

Another thoughtful article. Well done.

For me, teachers may not be the most self-reflective people because to put in all of that hard work (as many of them do!) preparing and delivering lessons you have your work cut out keeping your focus outside of yourself. Some would buckle, or throw in the towel, if they listened to their inner voices. Systems of education, in many countries, reinforce this idea that teacher knows best and may not be questioned- or be questioning.

It's nice to reach a point where you can smile at your 'failures', accepting yourself as the fallible creature you are, but perhaps the bar could be set a little lower, James- that teachers should be more open about their mistakes and setbacks. 'Failure' is a stronger word, and more discouraging in my view.

As for me, I will delve into my own rich store of failure and mention just one incident. I realised, 40 minutes into a lesson of 1 hour, that it was the very same one I had delivered to this class just 2 days previously. I was about to start from scratch when I paused and looked for signs -of recognition, distaste, boredom etc- from the students. There were none. I continued the lesson; my heart sank. One of my teacher friends did try to cheer me up afterwards with the adage that 'repetition is the royal road to learning'! Who knows?

By David Burrows, Chiang Mai (28th September 2017)

I've got sympathy for 'younger' teachers thinking they're the dog's bollox. In many schools, if you're not getting any complaints from the parents and you're a fairly affable person, you will get complimented a lot. This will go to most young people's heads. Most are just inexperienced in life, but hopefully they will mature with time.

The worst people I find are the teacher trainers. Particularly the older ones. I've worked with a few but only met once decent one. I liked him because he was very honest in his approach. He didn't pretend to know all the answers. He knew that teaching wasn't black and white and there were many variables depending on 'your' own personal circumstances. His ideas to help you were genuine and from the right place.

I lost patience with a few teacher trainers for simply not explaining themselves. They were too comfortable in their role. Too many newbies hanging on their every word but without ever asking for clarification. As you get older, as you teach longer, you can detect bullshit a hell of a lot easier. I always asked them to explain and it often irritated them. I wasn't trying to annoy them. I was merely asking so I could better understand their way of thinking. If you can't explain why you think something is a good idea, it's not a good idea, or you're just repeating something without understanding it yourself.

Basically, I found their attitude was that they were above explaining themselves. They had formed this psychological tenure. Their ego was too big, and asking them to explain themselves was basically a criticism of their ideas. I think once you've developed this attitude then it's time to move on. You've become a detriment to the education system you're in.

By Tony, Nonthaburi (18th September 2017)

Haha! Spon on! This is me right now. However may I say that as a teacher in an EP school, we learn the job as we go along and our head (who only has a B1 English level) is of no help at all. It will be her 1st year on the job at the end of this 1st term, say more than 20 teachers have come and go. So, who's the real problem? Why are teachers moving on and some of them are very experienced and have moved on to better schools (Int'l 45k with free housing and education for the kids).

I don't mind being told what to do, but the EP head shouted at me for the kind of test that I gave to the higher level kids (Small test, the higher the dumber). However, she couldn't do that to the NES teachers and would kiss their ass.

Btw, I'm near native, IELTS 7.0, TOEIC 980, MA from the UK. Speaks for 4 languages, 3 fluently. So tell me, why should I be scared of losing my job? There are many teaching jobs around the world where they will welcome you with open arms and not a pittance.

By Cha, Trang (18th September 2017)

Employers do not generally fire good workers and this applies in education as well as in other industries, although there are cases when jealousy or personality conflicts come into play, but in these cases there is generally fault on both sides, or at least the employee didn’t know how or was not willing to play the expected game of showing respect or deference to those higher up in the hierarchy (I know I have been guilty of this transgression more than once).

However, at least in the short term, blaming others or external circumstances allow us to move forward with our pride and self-esteem somewhat intact, and after the passage of some time we can often then revisit the situation and take a more balanced approach to evaluating our performance and hopefully learn from it, but the pain is often too intense when fresh and at this time most of us are incapable of rational thinking about the situation. This is the period of time many people post rants on Ajarn or similar sites.

However, in the long-term, if we never take that step back and insist on blaming “Thailand,” the education system, the students, co-workers, all managers or other individuals or situations for our failures we are unlikely to learn from our experiences and unlikely to have a success or productive career.

By Jack, Not at home (17th September 2017)

Brilliant teacher, maybe 20 percent of the time and even those may surprise me. Awful teacher 20 percent of the time, I'm human, tired, frustrated. Just a teacher, loving her job, doing what needs to be done , the other 60 percent. Roll with it, the kids are forgiving of the bad times as long as they know that your heart is really in it. Much like bringing up your own kids.

By Shireen Fillbrook, Phuket (16th September 2017)

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