Are you thinking of coming to Thailand and teaching the kiddies how to teach your lingo? Are you about to start on a career that is so far removed from your previous one that you have nightmares about your first few days on the job? Did you spend two weeks in Pattaya last summer and have since decided that being a spot welder isn't what you really should be doing with your life?
Well, if so (and you are serious about what you want to do in the classroom) then read the following top ten tips on succeeding in your new vocation... Actually at first glance the list may seem obvious to you. If it does, then - you clever clogs! Get on a plane next week and show us all what you've got!
New teachers teaching Thais in schools are often placed into an awkward and stressful situation, not really sure of their authority and sometimes not even placed with assistants who are much help. That's if you even get an assistant at all! The books they are given to work from are often inadequate and that's if they get any at all!
These tips can help first time (I hate the word ‘newbie') Thai TEFLers as they begin their first teaching assignments.
It's worth noting before you read any further that this is NOT a guide on how to deal with students. You can get that kind of advice anywhere and there are ten different answers to each question about that aspect of tuition!
Also this is not aimed at setting you up for getting qualified to teach. Anyone can do it, so if you are friendly, able and willing you'll be a success.
Rather; this ‘top ten' list is more for how to most effectively succeed in your new teaching environment.
It is in order of what I consider to be the most important, too!
1) ALWAYS Be On Time
Duh! (Well, you'd think so wouldn't you?) Punctuality is very important in 'the land of smiles', but it only is important if you are a 'farang'! Weird, eh? If you are late, you will definitely NOT start out on the right foot with your colleagues and superiors.
If you arrive after a class has begun which you are supposed to be teaching, you are placing yourself and your bosses in a very awkward situation.
There is a horrific shortage of teachers in Thailand and abusing that situation by being late is the worst thing you can do if you really want to succeed at this new way to make beer coupons!
2) ALWAYS Dress Appropriately
Thailand is very much a ‘style over substance' orientated society. If you don't look like a teacher then you are not going to be an effective one.
Many people disagree with me on this, but looking the part, I believe, is about half of everything you need to do outside of actually teaching the little rascals! As a teacher, you are a professional and you really should dress like a professional.
Don't look at fellow Thai teachers for help on this. The male Thai teachers are often sloppy looking as well as sloppy in their teaching methods. Don't look toward your fellow farang comrades either. They may not have anything like the enthusiasm to do things in the classroom that you have.
There is nothing wrong with over dressing during your classes. This is especially important if you are fairly young and feeling a bit of a fraud being called ‘teeCHA' for the first time in your life!
Also, your dress lets EVERYONE know what your attitude is - from the girl that gives you your bowl of swill in the canteen at lunchtime to the vice principal who is reviewing who to sign on for the next round of contracts.
Your appearance says something of your professionalism and dedication to what you do.
3) Be Flexible (most of the time!)
How do you react when the principal or head of department adds an extra couple of hours to your day without any notice? How do you feel about coming in early to do the gate duty and perform for the fee paying parents? What if your pay is a couple of days late?
What if your so called new best mate got shitfaced last night and you have to combine your classes with his because he's watching CNN in his apartment nursing a hangover and the bird that you fancied about eight hours previously! Are you called in last minute to spend the weekend on a ‘Youth Camp' in the boonies somewhere when you had already made plans?
It happens and a whole lot worse happens besides! But that doesn't mean you have to sign up and do everything that you are asked to do. No sir! In fact if you did you would be quickly chewed up and abused. Also you would be burned out in a few weeks!
So - "KNOW WHEN TO SAY NO!"
If something is no trouble, then by all means do it and get a few brownie points. But early in your career you must learn to say no and offer a sweet white lie as a reason why you can't do that extra unpaid something!
You will be asked to teach the heads' kids in your own time or transcribe the novel he or she is writing! You'll be asked to perform extra hours and duties when people are sick or lazy or they simply think you will say yes! Be flexible but learn when (and how) to say NO!
4) Follow the School Rules
This might seem obvious to you but it is very important in Thailand that you are not seen to break the (admittedly sometimes rather bewildering) school rules.
If the campus is 'smoke-free', do not light up during your lunch period. This is definitely not professional and would be a mark against you when it comes time for your review.
Any Thai teacher with tenure can either be a powerful ally or a deadly enemy! They can screw you over on a whim or lie in your favor. Find out what the rules are if your not sure and if in doubt - don't! Should I really have to mention that boning or even touching a student is a bloody stupid thing to do? No? I thought not! Good - carry on, then!
5) Try to Plan Ahead
If you know you will need copies for your students, do not wait until half an hour before the lesson to get them done. Many schools have pedantic procedures that have be followed for copying to occur. That's if the copier is free to use when you want to use it. And that's if the copier is even working that day!
If you don't follow the procedures or you don't plan for your classes in advance you will be stuck without a lesson and will probably look unprofessional to boot. Do you know that you are filling in for someone who is away? What are you going to be expected to do? Find out - it's worth it.
Have you heard a teacher say that they are so good that they can ‘wing it' with no lesson plans? Well, if you haven't then you will! Don't listen to a word they say. They are crap teachers and you'll learn nothing from them.
6) Be Friendly with the Office Staff
This is an especially good idea if you hope to be extending your contract or even if you believe that you will be staying in the same area to teach. These people's opinions of you will have an impact on whether or not you are hired. They can also make your time during your first few months much easier to handle.
Smile and say good morning to the office staff. Don't underestimate their worth. Bring them in a tin of cookies once a month. It's a very sound investment, especially when things go wrong (and they will) and you need their help!
(Also a word to the wise about the canteen staff should get a mention here. It's amazing how big your portions can be when you know their names!)
7) Maintain Confidentiality
If you are writing notes about students or classroom experiences to turn in for grades, you should either not use their names or give them codenames to protect their identities. You never know who you are teaching or what their relationship might be to your fellow teachers and bosses.
If you are privy to personal information about a student or teacher then keep it to yourself. For one thing the information that you have uncovered may be of dubious authenticity.
8) Don't Gossip
It might be tempting to hang out in the teacher lounge and indulge in gossip about fellow teachers over a coffee and some cake. DON'T.
Thai TEFLers are an odd (and sometimes dangerous) breed. Distance yourselves from the gossips and don't give too much information away about yourself to start with. You might say something you could regret later.
In addition you might find out information that is untrue and clouds your judgment of other fellow teachers. You might even offend someone without realizing it.
Rise above the gossip and stay away from the chit chat! Remember also; these are teachers you are working with now may soon be colleagues or even bosses of the future!
9) Be Professional with your Fellow Teachers
Do not interrupt other teachers' classes without a genuinely good reason. You can easily disrupt the flow of a lesson.
When you are speaking with colleagues (both Thai and farang and whether or not you personally approve or like them) treat them with respect. You can learn a lot from these teachers, and they will be much more likely to share with you if they feel that you are genuinely interested in them and their experiences.
Offer to sit in and ‘observe' them. Many teachers don't like this intrusion, but some may let you share their secrets. You can pick the brains of people around you.
Do in the classroom what you like seeing and remember not to do what you secretly disapprove of! This tactic has certainly helped me a lot more than any amount of ‘education' could have!
10) Don't Wait to the Last Minute to Call in Sick
You will probably get sick, hung-over or lazy at some point during your term and will need (or want) to stay at home for the day. Remember that your chums will have to take over the class during your absence. If you wait until the last minute to call in, this could leave them in an awkward bind making them look bad to the students. Call in as soon as you can!
As a closing remark I would just like to add that if you do not want to be in the classroom then don't be. If you really want to be a good teacher and you are dreading your classes then change jobs or take a month off. You are burnt out!
There are NO effective teachers in a classroom that do not want to be in there.