Mark Newman

Getting the kids hooked young!

My goal is to not frighten the lives out of my students

Teaching English in Thailand isn't just about sharing your knowledge of the language. You're also sharing your culture, your stories, and your quirky ways, etc. All of you and what you eat and how you dress are important aspects of being an English teacher here in the Land Of Smiles.

Schoolday memories

In addition, I'm more and more convinced that it's just as important for us to not scare kids away from learning English from someone else in the future. This is especially true if you teach younger kids as I do.

I know this can happen because my chemistry teacher at school was an utter bastard and he put me off chemistry lessons for life. On the other hand, my economics teacher was brilliant and I learned a lot from him and pursued the subject into higher education with enthusiasm, years after he had exited my life. I owe a debt of gratitude to that man and I also would like to kick my chemistry teacher in the bollocks!

In the twenty-first century, language learning has to be an enjoyable experience. You can say the same thing about other subjects, so really... education itself must be enjoyable for it to be effective. I've singled English out because I teach it and it's also the only subject at school with so many different and confusing angles to it.

For example, in my school, the students get an hour with me, an hour of 'sound lab' and three hours with a Thai English teacher in a typical week. That's three ways to learn one subject. It's confusing for the students, it's ineffective as a way to teach and it's putting children off learning all together... and that's my beef!

In general, Thailand has happy-go-lucky students who enjoy school. State schools don't pressure students to do well or work hard compared to Asian neighbours like Japan, South Korea or Singapore. This is reflected (very apparently) in their global educational ratings - but that's not what this article is about. I have long since stopped raging against the machine. The machine didn't care when I did and I just got depressed!

Working within the Thai system

No matter how important you are at your school - there have been farang teachers before you and there will be farang teachers there after you leave. Your students will move up through the system and have new teachers and learn from new books.

The textbooks will probably be awful because Thai administrators can't accurately judge them for their efficacy and ease of use. The foreign teachers may be found wanting because the people who hire them have no way of measuring their ability to do their jobs. And even if they do have a handle on what makes a good native English speaking English language teacher (deep breath), it's not likely that their budget can afford one.

So, the books change each year, the farang teachers come and go and the Thai teachers fumble through their classes doing what they can to make their own lives easier. Added to that, the kids are being ushered in and out of different rooms to learn one subject. I've found these elements of my work to be frustrating, as this 'system' provides no consistency for the students when they are trying to absorb a difficult and varied subject like the English language.

Try until you can't be bothered!

But for me, the most debilitating aspect of teaching is the Thai students themselves. It is their eagerness to throw in the towel when something looks like getting difficult that does the most damage. Thais are competitive and attentive only until there's a chance that they will lose or fail. Then they quickly lose interest and move on to something easier! If there's a rung missing on the ladder, Thai students will step off the ladder rather than try to find a way up it.

This lack of drive and initiative is my biggest source of frustration in a classroom. (I'm not blaming the kids for this... it's just a fact of Thai school life that initiative and inquisitiveness aren't on the test so it's not taught.)

Thinking of the future....

This brings me back to my point about kids being scared away from learning English. As well as judging myself on how well my kids absorb knowledge, I should pat myself on the back for not having frightened the life out of them and putting them off learning English from someone else in the future!

Perhaps in the past, I was taking things a bit too seriously in the classroom. Maybe I was teaching my lesson plans faster than students were learning them. Perhaps the textbooks were just impossible to teach and learn from (which is very likely!) Maybe the students were taught things by other teachers that were simply wrong! Grrr!

If you want what's best for your students, it's easy to let all these frustrations creep into your classes. I've done it... we all have. It's hard not to.

So I'm stepping back from the serious, academic approach and working on making my classes something that kids look forward to - even if they aren't learning as much. I'm sure a lot of the more serious-minded 'proper' teachers will tell me I'm doing it wrong. That's fine and they may have a good case.

I've been teaching for a long time. That doesn't make me a good teacher - it means I've been teaching for a long time! In my experience and in my opinion - it's too easy for a teacher to put students off a subject for life. It's happened to me and I don't want it to happen to students that I teach. Perhaps in time, long after I've disappeared from their lives, they'll benefit from that. They may even thank me for it.

At least they won't think of me in fifty years time and want to kick me in the bollocks!


I agree with you Mark. I do not have anywhere near as much experience as you, in fact this is my first year teaching in Thailand. However already I can see that when I relax and just try to enjoy the lesson -and that means the students also enjoy it - that both they and I finish the lesson feeling better about the time spent. I think you make a good point about the danger of the students giving up if it all seems too hard.

By Steve, Bangkok (16th June 2017)

Hi, Shireen.

Thank you for your nice comments.
Reading your response encouraged my next article, which I dedicate to you.
(This next one's a bit more upbeat and inspirational!)


By Mark Newman, A. MUANG (9th June 2017)

After three years of taking the teaching really seriously and trying my best to get the most out of the students, this year I've decided to relax. Am still making sure they are learning, but have introduced more fun, games and smiling into my classroom. And guess what, when I relax, so do the students. I am lucky enough to teach MEP where the parents are paying extra so have a vested interest in their child's education, and only have a class of 24 not 40 students. But seriously, not being too serious makes teaching a joy and a happy place for the children. Learning can be fun. Thanks for the article, oh and enjoyed the one on the Thai wife! Friend in New Zealand lost 40 000 dollars on a Russian, Phillipino and Thai before he learnt his lesson!!!

By Shireen fillbrook, Thailand (7th June 2017)

A good read - I'm going through similar experiences here in NZ as a teacher (who travels in Thailand and SE Asia volunteer teaching a bit) - making my lessons and general programme more enjoyable and something to look forward to. I'm also shooting for more engagement from the students through including them in the planning stages so they have a sense of ownership of what they're learning...Sometimes though teachers think everything has to be fun for students to learn or like it but I say 'engaging' is more accurate - if they're engaged then even things that aren't fun will be at least tolerable!

By Brent, New Zealand (7th June 2017)

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