Ken May

Ken May's blog on Ajarn.com


Lost Stories

Experiences with one of Thailand’s most progressive educators

He single-handedly broke every stereotype of the Ministry of Education. He was outgoing, inquisitive, articulate, globally aware, and willing to debate ideas about education. I resolved to formally interview this man one day and tell his story.


Terry of the Bangkok Post

What's black and white and read all over?

To promote learning via newspapers, Terry Fredrickson has turned to the technology that many children love most – the Internet.


Carried away by modern waves

A Thai minority group struggling to adapt to formal education

They lived simple but hard lives. Moken caught fish and seafood with spears and hand-made nets, and they had no need for electricity or piped water. They informally learned to make nets, carve boats, gather wild plants, preserve fish in the sun and salvage fresh water for drinking. Their traditional knowledge included where to find seafood and how to navigate the flow of the seas. This education was a curriculum of survival.


Rising sun, helping hands

The work of the JICA organisation

Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is bringing thousands of Japanese youth into the global limelight with its volunteer-based development projects.


Have a seat at the cafe

An interview with Dave Sperling

Dave Sperling speaks about the trials and tribulations of his ground-breaking website, as well as where the education industry is heading


The end (sort of)

Reflections on a last decade

It has been a long and interesting decade. When I applied for my first passport I was still living in a car. I imagined that an overseas teaching job might get me off the streets. I ended up teaching homeless and illiterate Americans instead as an VISTA volunteer. This is how I acquired the taste for classrooms.


You will always be an outsider

The dark underbelly of the Thailand TEFL industry

These questions lead to the dark underbelly of Thailand’s EFL industry. Let’s face it: the cowboys have invaded and they’re here to stay. Many English teachers are tourists who only want to extend travel by getting a quick paycheck. Some are fly-by-night sex-pats who have run out of cash. Many English teachers are fleeing a criminal past, or hiding from life back home.


Where it all came from

A short history of Thai education

King Chulalongkorn is highly revered today for his advocacy of modern education. However, he did much more than that. Between 1899-1905, King Chulalongkorn was able to abolish the old system of slavery. This made it more possible for commoners to seek education even at the secondary level.


Cheats and copycats

Text messages and talking dics

It is a problem when students are more technologically advanced than you. They can figure out ways to outsmart teachers on tests. In one particular incident, one of the smarter students text messaged the answers to another student from the hallway. However, I often switch the order of questions on my exams so, unfortunately for them, the answers didn’t match.


Skeletons splitting the sky

Alternative tours around Ayutthaya

I was given my present class on tour planning and management. It was a good opportunity to try something different. There are some decent day excursion that can be done from Ayutthaya, however hotels and travel agencies are reluctant to offer anything new. Therefore, I assigned my students several unique tours to see if they could be made affordable.


Eating limes in Disneyland

An hilarious look at the differences between British and American English.

Each day our students are bombarded with English from all directions. The modern EFL student interacts with native speakers from across the globe. British teachers provide one version of English, American lecturers contradict this version, Canadians waver mysteriously between the two, and the Australians and Scottish – well – let’s just be nice and say that they are in a league of their own.


Unseen Thailand

Travels on Klong Takian

Why spend a Saturday afternoon learning to Kayak on a canal that few people have ever heard of before? Well, it is just sort of there. It was one of the few local canals that I hadn’t explored yet. Long-tail boats can’t navigate down its thin curves. They always break to a halt in frustration. Twice I tried to penetrate the canal to no avail. It felt like quitting in defeat before unhooking a precious bra strap.


Rebirth of the old city

How Ayutthaya survived

Historians really love dates. They need dates to give life value and context. The Ayutthaya period is often listed as 1350-1767. Some detail-oriented historians argue that the Ayutthaya period actually began in 1351, and perhaps this has led to a few fistfights around the campus coffee machine.


The teaching river

the waterways of Thailand and ayutthaya

Truth be told, I have taken as many as 150 boat rides in Ayutthaya. My love of this city’s waterways first struck me in the year 2000. I had just flew into Thailand for a new teaching job. Luck was with me. The first place that I looked at for housing was located right beside the Chao Phraya River. I rented the small stilted bungalow on the spot. There was no reason to look for anything else. After years of teaching abroad I had finally found what I was looking for.


Go to Hell

Leading my students into hell

In Hell you can see human bodies with the heads of chickens, cobras, and toads. You can peek at naked people scurrying up thorny trees while red-clad demons stab them with spears, hungry crows pluck out their eyeballs, and rabid "soi" dogs bite their genitals off. You could have a better day, if you know what I mean.


Ayutthaya island

Tales of ghosts and spirits in deepest Thailand

I have yet to see a ghost in Ayutthaya myself. But, I am learning to speak Thai, so maybe that will help. The main problem today is this: wailing ghosts don't attract western travelers, who are celebrating on vacation. Nobody likes whining and misery. We can always get that at home.


Teaching scams

Legendary scams, blacklists and the midnight run

I tested my marketability and checked the options available. My recently acquired TEFL certificate definitely opened up new opportunities. University job offers poured in from China, Japan, Latvia, Poland, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Thailand.


The madness to the methods

The often crazy world of teaching in Korea

Despite being sequestered on the furthest border of the Kumi frontier, nearly fifteen miles away from the closest foreign teacher, I am still surrounded by hagwon mania. These private schools are everywhere. Due to all this severe competition, schools habitually search for new angles to draw in students. At times the teaching methods advocated are only passing fads and cheap gimmicks.


Sweet spastic, silly swarms

Back in Korea again

Korea was the same as when I left it. New swarms of hagwons proliferated like rabbits on viagra and cheap wine. Every street twinkled with the latest corporate offspring – doe-eyed upstarts of whatever educational franchise chain. Small, independent, family owned schools struggled to compete; while saturating the nation themselves oblivious to supply and demand.


Are you certified?

Finding your way through the TEFL course maze

Teaching was no longer challenging. I was stagnating. Sure, I could always shake my life up with a weekend of debauchery, an occasional fling with a sexy female expatriate, or by traveling to a different city – and, truth be told, I often tried combining all three. But, at my core, I knew that I wasn’t growing productively. As a teacher I wasn’t developing. My methodologies had become stale. I needed a new bag of tricks. I needed rejuvenation.


Thirty minutes of a thirty day visa

Travels in Indonesia

This time I'm travelling through through Indonesia’s Bali and the Nusra Tenggara Islands, but location is not the point – this experiment is all about the writing process, and an author’s ability to chose the decisive moment to snapshot. It should still reflect the mystery, hardships, and exotica that accompanies travel.


Expatriate waves

Socializing with Mr Expatriate

When in a foreign country, expatriates have a way of forming unlikely bonds. Mutual disagreements can melt away when you discover the common denominator of living in a foreign county. People who wouldn’t give you the time of day in your homeland can strike up friendships with you abroad.


Anti-American protests in Korea

How the ugly american ate the ugly duckling

There is a time tested strategy that nearly all nations use to deflect criticism about their poor economies and failing domestic policies. Put simply, the technique goes like this: blame it on the foreigners and the minorities. In the United States economic hardships have triggered the lynching of Blacks and Hispanics. In the United Kingdom migrants from Pakistan and Africa have been the targets of animosity. Therefore, it is not surprising to witness this strategy placed into action within Asia.


Lost in transformation

Observations on Korea's Tourist industry

The problem is that Korea has difficulty finding an image that it can advertise to the world to bring tourists in. There are many beautiful beaches, mountains, and temples that are worth seeing. However, many other countries in Asia and Europe also have similar attractions that can heavily compete. Why sacrifice a visit to a topless Greek island, in the Mediterranean climate, to sleep on a crowded Korean beach?


The staff room

Inside a Korean hogwan

A total of seven teachers work at my school. All of them are Korean except for myself. Three of these teachers can speak English with me, but the others are too shy to do so. Staff meetings are held in the Korean language. I seldom understand what is discussed, but that is my fault for not learning to speak Korean fluently. If I want to learn about the meetings I will talk to the director afterward.


Anarchy in the S.K

getting to grips with the karaoke microphone

Korean karaoke, known as “noraebang”, comes in two distinct styles. The first is the family-oriented singing room in which alcohol is prohibited. Entire families attempt to harmonize current pop songs together, teenagers bond over the latest romantic heartthrob’s production, and children run wild murdering Korean nursery rhymes.


Dong chims and dried squid

Changes in Korean education

Education in Korea has rapidly changed in recent years. Up until the end of the Yi dynasty (1392-1910) Korean education was heavily influenced by Chinese practice. Only a few privileged children were allowed to enter elementary school to study Confucianism, Chinese language, and literature. At age 15-16 elitist students attended secondary school. Graduation entitled them to sit for a crucial lower level civil service examination.


First impressions

Korea's EFL roots

If you scratch the surface of many English teachers in Thailand, underneath all that fine polish of discount dress shirts and shiny veneer of silk ties, you can often glimpse a trace of Korea. English teachers have either sacrificed their prized cherry of lecturing in a dusty classroom floor of a Korean hogwan, or they are fleeing to the country from Thailand to refill depleted bank accounts with a 2.1 million Won monthly salary.


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