Taking a CELTA or TEFL course will help you with the basics of teaching but one thing it doesn't cover is teaching students with learning difficulties.
As a teacher in Thailand it is more than likely you will have students with various disabilities as it seems there is very little provision for specialist care for these students. This can range from teaching students who are autistic through to blind or deaf pupils. I remember in my first week at my government high school there was a student who was severely autistic and I just wasn't prepared for the task at hand.
At first I was shocked and didn't know how to approach him or what I should say to calm him down whilst he was running around the classroom screaming at other students and trying to kick his classmates. One of the girls in the class came to me and said they would look after him and to just pretend he wasn't there. It seemed ignorance was the key.
After this class I approached the head of the English department and told her about the situation. She shrugged her shoulders and told me it wasn't a problem - "Just teach the other students and don't worry about him". I asked her if there was a support teacher for him and she looked at me as if I was suggesting something crazy.
That night I spoke to a Thai engineer who lived in my apartment block about the problem. He told me that there isn't care for people with learning disabilities and that in a lot of cases the parents and teachers won't even acknowledge that the student has a disability. He also said that a lot of Thai people believe that if you are disabled or have learning disabilities it is because of sin in a previous life and as such there are sometimes negative feelings towards these people.
I felt like I was between a rock and a hard place. I wasn't equipped to deal with the situation. Teaching 50 kids isn't easy on your own and I had no idea how to deal with students with learning disabilities.
Students left alone
In my school in the UK we had a couple of deaf students and a student with Down Syndrome. They all had specialist equipment and a teaching assistant to help them. Here in Thailand, at least in government schools, they are left to their own devices and have to make the most of the situation. I would be interested to hear from anyone at a private / international school or a university to see if it is the same situation there.
I decided in my next class to start an activity with the class and then approach the student with autism. It was then I noticed that the other students in the class are very protective of other students with learning difficulties. They helped him to do his work, explained instructions and gave motivation. It actually made me feel very proud of these students but also sad that they had been left to do this without any support from the school.
There were other students at the school with learning difficulties. Some had mild symptoms and were great students, often just having problems interacting but being able to write fantastic articles in English.
Decent support system
I now work in a language school for adults (age 16+) and have a few students with learning disabilities. It is much easier now as my class sizes average 8 students but I still haven't had training on specialist teaching methods for students with learning disabilities. There have been occasions where I have had to ask the student to leave the class or have an assistant come in to help as there isn't the relationship between the students where the others are prepared to help. However, at least we do have a support system for them and can be more focused on their needs.
Another issue which always gets people talking is ADHD. I'm not a doctor or a specialist but even with everyone arguing about the diagnosis of this condition there is likely to be a time where you have to teach a student with ADHD. In your CELTA / TEFL course they will teach classroom management but this brief overview isn't enough to fully prepare you for every circumstance. Those teachers with QTS are likely to have more experience and training in dealing with learning difficulties but in their own countries they will receive help and support which is lacking here in Thailand.
Improvement surely needed
There are plans afoot to improve education standards in Thailand but I have yet to hear about improving conditions for those with learning disabilities. As for us foreign teachers it seems we are getting orders from heads of departments to ignore these students and just focus on standing in front of the class and do our best.
It's not possible to change the world overnight and even more unlikely to change the education system in Thailand in such a quick time but I feel lost when it comes to teaching and helping those with learning difficulties. I'm sure many of you have faced similar situations and would love to know your approach and the support you receive from your school.
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