The uphill fight to make a difference.
There are many obstacles in your way that you can do almost nothing about.
It's not your fault... most of the time!
Your students speak an alien language... they are young, they think literally and without much academic imagination. Your subject though is NOT literal nor is it tangible... it's an abstract concept that too often defies logical analysis through young eyes.
Teaching any foreign language in Thailand has an added hurdle because there are no connections between their native language and what you're trying to teach. Europeans can learn English more easily because there are many things that connect the two different languages... most importantly the shapes and sounds of the letters!
Another thing to think about is just how important a child thinks learning English is. Probably not very! The further away from Bangkok and other large cities you go, the more apparent it is that English is just something bewildering and annoying that Thai kids try to bluff their way through before playtime or going home time.
Vegetarians eat vegetables, so zombies are humanitarians, right?
The rules of the English language... there are none, really! Just do an investigation on phrasal verbs and you'll quickly understand why Asian students scratch their heads and zone out in their classes! And don't get me started on ditransitive construction grammar... or adjective order. Grr! What we take for granted as native speakers is bloody hard work for those who aren't.
One of the mistakes that many English teachers make is the compulsion to correct kids for things that don't necessarily need immediate attention. Instead of teaching them good English language skills, it's often easier to correct bad habits they've picked up or mistakes they make. This isn't always good teaching practice and it doesn't help the students, especially with their confidence.
In a recent forum debate I took part in, there was a teacher who claimed that people (like her, of course) were good at teaching English because they explain things in great detail. I put forward the argument that explaining things 'in great detail' can be counter-productive and end up doing more harm than good, but it fell on deaf ears.
"I taught that last week. I'm amazed the kids haven't learned it!"
If you've ever worked at a Thai school you'll hear kids in the classes near you chanting. They'll be chanting their Thai lessons, English lessons, science lessons and chanting their chanting lessons! It's how Thai kids learn. While repetition and memorizing stuff isn't a bad thing, it's too heavily relied upon in Thailand. It's a lazy way for teachers to teach stuff rather than a critical way for students to learn stuff. Also, the chanting exercises leave more time for teachers to mark homework and check in with Facebook, right?
And the further away from the big city you go, the worse the Thai teachers are. People who are hired to 'teach' English are very often poorly educated in English skills themselves. Thai school owners and administrators have no way of knowing how competent or qualified teachers are, so there are tens of thousands of Thai 'English teachers' who aren't up to the job of teaching.
Another thing slowing down the retention of English language in Thai students is the absolutely appalling standard of textbooks on offer. I've seen them all and they are ALL rubbish. They range from simply inaccurate to liberal trash about climate change! It's horrifying how irrelevant and disconnecting the materials are.
Yet another stumbling block is the lack of freedom native English teachers are given to make changes that would help the kids learn. Many schools want the expensive farang hire to 'stick with the program' rather than come up with imaginative and useful exercises that might actually work. And even if you are lucky enough to be given some scope to make your classes more appealing and useful, the back up from the school may be so bad that you end up spending your own hard earned cash on materials to make things happen.
If you're feeling frustrated that your message isn't getting through or your lesson plans are just a waste of time, don't take it too hard. There are many obstacles in your way that you can do almost nothing about.
So, there we have it. Lots of good reasons why teachers are struggling to get the job done and the good news is that none of them are your fault!
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"Since Thai bashing continues and maybe even is intensifying, the question that arises is what has the thousands of Thai bashing articles and comments on this site done to improve education in Thailand?"
Dunno, Jack. Why don't you ask the 1000s of students protesting for educational reform as they're fed up of being brainwashed and want a better future for themselves and Thailand. Why don't you ask the kindergarten kids beaten by their teachers recently what they can do? Instead of moaning about people who moan - why don't you listen to what the students are saying before you defend the things you do?
The days of saying, "but it's the culture" are eroding fast in Thailand. And not soon enough. Foreigners like you are just vulgar enablers. Instead of vociferously boring everyone on this website with your bile, why don't you go to the next protest and tell them that the piss on their back is just rain.
The kids are smart, Jack. But you're clearly the smartest. They wouldn't be able to humiliate you like they did the educational minister. Now jog on.
By Craig, Bangkok (29th September 2020)
Thanks for answering my question.
I'm not aware of having inferred before posing it that the youtube video and blog article represented, or typified, your opinion about anything. But if that was your impression, fair enough.
I wouldn't dream of depriving anyone, still less an honest englishman, of the pleasure of a good moan or whinge and it's something I resort to from time to time. There may be a difference of intensity, duration or frequency..
The opposite of 'required optimism and positivity', for me, would be 'optimism and positivity not required'. That could work in some job descriptions. I understand the value of catharsis and I'm willing to view your productions accordingly. Whether I will trawl through the canon for complaints is open to question.
As they say in Yorkshire, 'there's nowt so queer as folk'. I will leave you with that thought just now..
By David Burrows, Chiang Mai (25th September 2017)
"Do you actually enjoy teaching efl in Thailand for the most part? If not, why do you do it?"
The inference being that my (allegedly) negative YouTube video is the totality of my opinion about what I do and how I feel about it.
It's a bit like saying "Mark, you're always bitching about Thai food... do you really enjoy eating!"
It's still possible to enjoy food and at the same time have a go at the food you don't like... and so it is with work. Surely one of life's pleasures for any honest Englishman is to have a good moan about the industry he works in, isn't it?
I'd be willing to lay odds that every nurse in the UK has a bloody good whinge about her job, but actually, would never dream of doing anything else!
Also; what you see as a lack "of the required optimism and positivity" could be just the opposite. It may be that my frustrations about my line of work are because I care very much about it and my sardonic online reactions are simply cathartic relief!
To answer your question, I do enjoy my work. You can trawl through every one of my videos and articles and you'll never see a single word where I have complained about my job.
As for the industry that I'm a part of... well, that's a different story. It's a right mess! The articles I write about it are mostly evacuant for my soul!
By Mark Newman, A. MUANG (25th September 2017)
I am relatively new to the TEFL scene and have been in Thailand only for 5 months. Yesterday I completed my first semester in a vocational college.
I came across one of your youtube videos last night and have just read this article. I sense that your sense of humour can be somewhat dry, even dark, and I can certainly find much to relate to in that. But sincere questions: do you actually enjoy teaching efl in Thailand for the most part? If not, why do you do it?
You may infer that I have been unable to detect enough of the required optimism and positivity in your productions!
By David Burrows, Chiang Mai (24th September 2017)
Jack, I think you're being a bit hard on me.
The article was intended to discuss a few issues that English language teachers have that they CAN'T do anything about... so this is was always going to be almost entirely about things that Thais CAN do something about... which is worth talking about.
It certainly wasn't meant to be a hit piece on Thais or Thailand. No 'bashing' of Thais was intended... although the Facebook comment was a bit cheeky!
It's still worth discussing how we as guests here can get bogged down by stuff outside our control and how we sometimes let that affect us.
I'm well aware of the situation here and, in general, I'm sympathetic to it rather than hyper-critical.
By Mark Newman, A. MUANG (24th July 2017)
The title of the article: 'There are many obstacles in your way that you can do almost nothing about.'
Chris' awesome response: 'I didn't get any useful information or solutions for anything here.'
Thanks, Chris... That made my day! Now, where's that noose!
By Mark Newman, A. MUANG (24th July 2017)
The article started out pretty well trying to explain the reasons behind the lack of interest of many students and the problems this can cause, but I see Mark couldn’t resist the temptation to engage in some seemingly required Thai bashing as well.
Yeah, there are a lot of problems with the Thai educational system (And most Thai people realize this as well) but the average English teacher does not have the experience, training or cultural understanding to really identify or developed solutions to this complex situation, nor is solving every problem in the Thai education system in the job description of many English teaching jobs. But I guess a little Thai bashing is needed in every article and most comments on the site to maintain the self-esteem of many English teachers by asserting the “fact” native English teachers come from a superior culture and the Western ways of doing things are always superior to the Thai ways, even within the Thai context.
Few native English language teachers in Thailand have ever mastered learning a foreign language but many seem to think they know all the answers needed for students from a different culture to master a skill the teacher never did.
Since Thai bashing continues and maybe even is intensifying, the question that arises is what has the thousands of Thai bashing articles and comments on this site done to improve education in Thailand?
By Jack, Not at home (24th July 2017)
"Also, climate change is a great topic to teach if you have a group of class that is ready to engage in a debate."
I entirely agree. .. so long as we stick to scientific facts and empirical evidence and NOT liberal funded propaganda and hippy guesswork.
Also, it's important that we do NOT make climate change a 'moral' cause. We don't lay a guilt trip on cows for farting or for people owning fridges, right?
Here's what I mean: The earth is getting hotter, right? I dunno... it feels the same to me. But if it does get hotter I'll wear fewer clothes, and crank up the A/C, OK? The problem is solved.
Ah, but there's more... the future of humanity is at stake? So what? Maybe it's time for 'humanity' to move over. Let the ants have a go at it.
I don't see anyone knocking on my gravestone in a few hundred years saying "Look what you did!"
If you want to make this nonsense your cause then that's fine by me but make it YOUR cause, not mine!
By Mark Newman, A. MUANG (24th July 2017)
Tbh, I didn't really get anything out of this article except "I'm a great teacher and all the other teachers suck, but none of it's my fault"
If you're such a great teacher, why are you trying to inspire with elitism rather than practicality? I didn't get any useful information or solutions for anything here.
By Chris H, Bangkok (24th July 2017)
I am following this to see whether I can offer any insight from my own perspective which is probably quite different to the other contributors.
As I said in my first post, both me and my wife’s two lads were motivated in the first place, but now I spend quite a lot of time with the older lad - we play golf together twice a week - and he is getting to be quite a chatterbox.
I asked him whether they had ever had an English person teaching at his school, and he said only for one term. He also thinks English lessons were three or four hours a week, so that sounds quite a lot to me. When I was learning German and French at school we only had two half hour lessons per week, and I have to confess I have hardly retained anything.
If Thai schools are dedicating so many hours to English then they must want the pupils to learn, but perhaps they are just going about it the wrong way?
As for climate change and drying clothes outdoors etc., I would have thought the best way to deal with that is to ask the kids what they think and try to engage them in a conversation, although as I said before I am not a teacher.
I doubt many children are motivated by pay scales for different jobs. That comes later on in life when you realise some people seem to be working less than you and earning more.
If anyone wants me to ask my wife’s eldest son any questions about his schooling I will be more than happy to put them to him. We communicate well enough for him to give me a sensible answer, and I promise to tell you exactly what he has to say…. be careful what you wish for!
By Stephen Emmott, Jomtien (23rd July 2017)
Great article! However i would like to add a different perspective in why Thais possibly don't see a need to learn English.
I am starting to assume that the wages given to majority of the Thai population is enough for them to economically sustain themselves in Thailand. They don't really get paid a vast amount of money unlike people from Europe, Japan, China etc
Maybe if the wages were better and majority if Thai people had money to travel about and see the world they might consider learning English and realise how helpful it it but with the current wages it seems like they will only get to know Thailand and for this reason learning Thai is sufficient and nothing else.
Also, climate change is a great topic to teach if you have a group of class that is ready to engage in a debate.
By Net Guy, Phayao (22nd July 2017)
Thank you for your thoughtful and considerate reply.
"I'm tired of getting angry..."
Yes, those prophetic words hit me too late in my career as an English language teacher in Thailand! Ha ha!
Sorry, this planet mumbo jumbo is trash and has no part in English language education in Thailand. But I'll prove my point anyway...
Here are just some of the badly thought out actual examples from my textbooks...
Under the heading "If you want to help the environment."
"If we dry our clothes outside we'll conserve energy."
Well, it may be a bit faster to dry your clothes outside but it certainly does NOT conserve any energy in Thailand... or did the crappy writers assume that all Thai households had an electric clothes drier? These wankers have never even been to a country in Asia.
"She'll conserve energy if she grows her own vegetables."
This is demonstrably untrue. The time and energy spent by a Thai person to grow their own vegetables is almost entirely wasted as vegetables are extremely cheap here thanks to the economic and agricultural adoption of mass means of production. And do you really think Tha people have the time or interest to maintain an allotment to provide for their families? More bloody stupid nonsense.
"If we take reusable shopping bags we'll conserve energy."
Again... simply not true. How is energy 'conserved' by this? More bullshit from a lefty agenda or maybe the person who makes reusable shopping bags is in the educational information field, too!
These clueless retards are more interested in their own potty politics than the English language. Well, this crap doesn't fly in my classrooms.
By Mark Newman, A. MUANG (22nd July 2017)
Thank you for this! Indeed, it is an uphill battle that one can't seem to win. This is my 1st time to teach in Thailand at an EP Public School, I think I can tolerate the kids, but the bad management has left me searching elsewhere. No discipline, no consequences. I think that the admin is just the grown up version of the kids themselves and far worse.
Exams are coming up and upper years have pissed me off. I just told them, good luck with your exams, it's multiple choice. However, the real problem is your comprehension. You don't understand and you don't ask. How would I know which part you're struggling? I'm tired of getting angry, so I'll piss them off with an even more difficult test.
By Cha, Trang (21st July 2017)
My wife's two sons both over 20, came to live in one of the condos my wife manages about 18 months ago. They were both educated in the north and when I first met them I didn't think they spoke a word of English. It turned out that they were very shy and also that they had a problem understanding me, either because they had never heard English spoken by an Englishman before, or maybe because they were struggling with my Yorkshire accent.
I am not and have never been a teacher and I have to say I found it very hard work.... mostly to keep it interesting. The plan was to get them to be able to help out as best they could with my wife's business, at whatever they turned out to be capable of. So both they and I were motivated.
I spent half an hour every evening (about all I could stand!) of what in my view was a concentrated question and answer session. The surprising thing was that they knew a lot more than I originally thought, and once they had learned how to pronounce certain words, it turned out that they already knew them, and didn't forget them. They also got into the routine of putting words they didn't know into their mobiles and reading the Thai translation - both of them can input text a lot faster than I can.
These sessions finished about 12 months ago. The younger son now man's my wife's office and deals with checking in and checking out, meter readings etc. and the older one does various repairs, mostly electronic, for a growing number of tenants.
Both lads are now both very confident and while they do not speak English well from what I presume would be an English teacher's point of view, they nevertheless earn a living through their ability to speak English.
They find it easier to understand people for whom English is their second language - we have a lot of Scandinavians here - but if they are stuck, they just get the customer to type his question into their mobile 'phone (this makes the questioner organise his thoughts, which frequently is more than half the battle) and they can then translate it and understand.
So, in my very limited experience I think that you teachers do a lot better job than you think. Whatever you are teaching is being absorbed and just needs a bit of motivation to bring it out again.
By Stephen Emmott, Jomtien Chonburi Thailand (21st July 2017)
Thankfully, your issue about the teachers and coordinators telling you that the kids are 'lazy' is actually something you do have full control over.
(I never understood how kids have the energy to run around, screaming in the playground at lunch time then slip into a coma during class times! )
It's down to the teachers to motivate the kids and get the best out of them... and frankly this is easy to do. Only a lazy teacher would say that his or her students were lazy.
Kids come fully charged with energy... harness it!
I supect that you're in a difficult situation, though. If you start waking these kids up to their potential, the unprofessional cast of clowns around you are gonna get very resentful.
By Mark Newman, A. MUANG (21st July 2017)
I was going to comment about your interesting ideas on language learning, and then, suddenly, out of the blue....."liberal trash about climate change"!!!
Climate change is not political or liberal, it's scientific fact. Anyone who denies it is contributing to the endangerment of the planet. Please read some science books.
By Charles Cornelius, Chiang Mai (21st July 2017)
I work in Bangkok. I never asked, but my employer's coordinator told me, that the kids (including herself, when she was in school) are just plain 'lazy'. Thai teachers keep telling me exactly the same. (Again, everyone who told me that, did so without me even asking! They just volunteered to tell me.)
So, there you go. Also, most kids in Europe I know, and also expat kids living in Thailand, just love (learning) the English language, while most Thais seem not to be interested to (seriously) learn any foreign language.
By Mr. X, Bangkok (21st July 2017)