Phil Roeland

A teacher's lot

A week in the life of an English teacher

Welcome back to the column folks. What can you expect when you work for a language school? This month I am giving you a look into my daily routine. By the way, I am a full-time teacher at a well-known international language school. At the weekend I teach mainly kids and on weekdays adults. There are between 1 to 12 students in a class, with an average of about six to seven. I work on the edge of Bangkok, about 50 minutes from the city centre.

A week in the life a an English language teacher

As Friday is my day off, I consider Saturday to be the start of my working week. Yes, that’s right, I work six days a week, not unusual if you work for a language school. Unlike Thai schools, the weekend is the busiest time for language schools.
My day starts at nine o’clock, with a three-hour class for young learners, kids between five and seven years old. Yes, this is the horror class I wrote about in my first column (October), so read that one if you want more detailed information. Basically, there are seven kids whom I try to teach English. Four of them are what I consider good kids, the other three are disruptive elements. Playing games among themselves and driving me up the wall is what they do. A pity for the good kids really, because not enough learning is going on. Luckily there are two fifteen minutes’ breaks.
After lunch, I teach a similar group of young learners from one o’clock until four o’clock. They are four girls and their level of English is above average. More importantly, they behave well and are a joy to teach.
I end my day with a two hours’ private class. Two 18 year old university students come once a week to brush up their English. They are good friends but they shouldn’t be studying together, as the command of English of the first girl is much better than the second one. The better student has a reasonable grasp of English. I’d call her level upper-elementary. The other one, well, when I talk to her, she looks at me as if I speak Russian. Thank Buddha the other one acts as an interpreter. I’d call her level pre-elementary. I’m not sure it’s a good idea for them to study together. Not my call though. At six o’clock I go home, have dinner at a local restaurant and relax. I seldom go out on a Saturday night as Sunday is another busy day.

Sunday kick-off is at nine o’clock. I’ve got two private one-on-one classes that keep me busy until noon. The students are two thirty something men trying to improve their English in order to get a promotion. The first one is very nice but the second one is a bit stuck up. The bastard complains he has difficulties understanding the English other Asian people speak. I should just tape his own voice and make him listen to it!
In the afternoon it’s kiddy time again. From one to four I am the host of a class of seven kids, aged six to seven, who try to make my life miserable. Unfortunately for them, I’ve recently discovered another method for keeping energetic kids in line: give them a writing exercise! They already know quite a few words, most of them know the alphabet, but they don’t know how to read or write words. So in order to prepare them for the next level, and to keep them quiet, I now make them write stuff in their notebooks the first hour. I started a picture dictionary. Some of the kids really do an excellent job. Another bonus is that the parents who check the kids’ books will definitely have the impression that some learning is going on, and rightly so.
It is remarkable how quiet the classroom becomes when I write a number of words (and accompanying pictures) on the board and make them copy them. I make them draw the pictures of the words in their notebooks (that's easy for colours, body parts, clothes, fruit and veggies and so on). Only the die-hard troublemakers, in my case a boy and a girl, try to disrupt the event. They are the slowest students and when they get too noisy, I gently take them by the arm and suggest that they can do the exercise in the hallway under the supervision of a Thai employee. That quickly calms them down. Sometimes I really have to put my money where my mouth is. After a session alone in the hall, they behave a lot better the following week.
Luckily my day ends with a two-hour session of nine to eleven year olds. They behave very well and seem to like me. They are quite smart and reasonably willing to learn. I have to admit that their maximum attention span is limited to one period. After the first period we always have an activity or a game. This puts them in an extra good mood. I do invent a few rules of my own though. With Monopoly for example, I make them talk English, otherwise they cannot buy property or collect rent.

On Monday my day starts at one o'clock in the afternoon. That's when I teach my dream class for two hours. It's an elementary level and there are three students in it. Three Thai girls/women/ladies, mid-twenties to early thirties. They are very motivated and are not afraid to talk. There was a fourth student - the ugly duckling really - who was lightyears behind the others but she quickly dropped out.
All of these classes are fun to teach, as they are keen on learning new things. I don't just follow the course book but I supplement with some extra activities, like games and songs. They love it. I love it too. The fact that they are very pretty is just a bonus. Some other teachers probably hate my guts because I get to teach them. Others will start calling me Charlie soon, because these girls are angels.
After that I have a four-hour break. My place is about a ten minutes' walk from the school, so I usually go home and relax. In the evening I have another elementary class with seven people starting at 7 PM. Three university students and four thirty-something people with a job. They are not as good nor as good-looking as the afternoon girls, but motivated and eager to learn, which makes the class also fun to teach. I finish work until nine o’clock and go home.

Kick-off is fairly early for a weekday, at ten o’clock. Then I teach another beginners’ class consisting of five students. Two of the students are extremely weak, but one of them is already improving significantly. The other’s pronunciation is horrible. It will take a lot of effort and practice before people understand what he says without repeating it at least six times.
In the afternoon I have an intermediate class from one to three with three very knowledgeable students. They know a lot of words and can already manage a decent English conversation, but their pronunciation is still weak. I really have to listen carefully to understand what they say. I sometimes make them read out loud to practise their pronunciation. The way they read out loud makes me laugh out loud sometimes. They read – or rather try to read - twice as fast as I do, which doesn’t help their pronunciation at all, quite on the contrary. I’ll have to find some other phonics exercises.
My day ends with a pre-intermediate class from five to seven. There are seven university students in it, which makes it a bit special. The atmosphere is great and we get along very well. They understand the value of being able to speak English and appreciate my way of trying to make learning English a fun activity.
At seven o'clock I go home, have a meal somewhere or have a drink with some colleagues after work.

Wednesday - Thursday
My Wednesday activities are an exact copy of Monday and Thursday is an exact copy of Tuesday so I am not going to repeat myself. As I finish “early (7PM)” on Tuesday, I sometimes go to central Bangkok to do some sightseeing. Friday is my day off, so I don’t have to worry about getting up early.

Relaxing is the main activity of the day. That could mean cleaning my room (not), going shopping, reading, writing or going away for a day to do some more sightseeing. I recently bought a digital camera, and there are lots of things to capture on “film”. I try to relax mentally too, but I still think of how I will teach kids on Saturdays and Sundays and try to come up with new strategies of how to keep them in line and interested at the same time. Not always easy, I can assure you.

So that’s it. If any of you plan to become a teacher in a big language school, this is what you might expect to be doing. You will be teaching at the weekend. I don’t mind it. I get a modest bonus and personally I don’t care when I work. I can’t really tell the difference between weekdays and weekend anyway. As for working six days a week, that can be a bit annoying sometimes, but if you get along fine with the head teacher, he’ll probably be able to get you a few extra days off from time to time. Have fun.

I wrote this piece a few weeks ago. One of the regular teachers went back home for a couple of months and we seem to be having difficulties finding a decent replacement. That means some of the other teachers – including me – have a pretty full schedule. I’m teaching eight hours a day on weekdays and always finish late. Never mind, it will get more relaxing next year and it means more money as I get paid by the hour. Only problem is I don’t have to spend right now… Cheers!


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