Teaching a six-hour Sunday class
A world of classroom activity and the odd jaded colleague
I've now taught two sessions of a Sunday 6-hour class at a language school near Ekkami here in Bangkok, and I think I have a pretty good feel for what it's all about. The class is sponsored each week by the American Embassy, and from what I've gathered, it's open to any ‘disadvantaged' kids who want to learn English. I'm not sure about the application process, but I do know the kids must apply to be considered for it.
There are three separate classes each week, each with a register of 25 or so students, but typically not more than 12 or so show up on any given week. I'm also not sure exactly how the classes are divided, but I do know I have the lowest-level class in terms of skills. A British and Australian teach each of the other two classes.
This is actually my first experience with people who have "been in Bangkok too long." My colleagues certainly aren't terrible people, but I had heard that many expats who end up in Thailand have a tendency to become habitual complainers and a bit jaded after a while. Well, I've finally found some. I hate to be rude and not go to lunch with them, but they certainly don't brighten my day by doing so. I haven't seen that they're in any way detrimental to the kids, so I'll just smile and go about my merry business.
The kids are quite good, especially considering their ages range from probably 12-15 or so and it's a full day's worth of classes on a Sunday. When I was their age, I sure couldn't have dealt with sitting in a class all day on a weekend.
The class is divided into three hours in the morning (10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.), there's an hour for break, and another two hours in the afternoon. I've found that I can hold their attention to learn new vocabulary and whatnot for about 30-45 minutes, tops. This isn't surprising, but it does make for an interesting time ensuring they at least get SOMETHING out of the following hours.
I try to keep them as entertained as possible. I typically have them repeat the words I show them by acting out (they think I'm just as crazy as my Mathayom students do at school), have each of them draw a picture of each word, and hang it in the front of the room for the rest of the class. Considering they literally speak about ten words of English among the ten or so of them, I figure subconscious immersion by having the words with pictures around them may help them to at least remember a few words.
Being that Thai children are, by nature, highly competitive, I also like to have them all come up to the board (it's huge in my room), and compete to see who can draw the picture of the vocabulary word I say first. Since I had 10 or so students this last class, I did boys versus girls. There doesn't have to be a prize of any kind; they'll compete with each other just for the sake of whining.
Granted, there are one or two who definitely don't want to be there, and they make it a bit difficult to have any kind of control of the class. My mentality, and that of my director of studies for this particular program, is that they'll get something out of just being around English for so long each week, and not to stress about quantifying how much they actually absorb.
I think that, if the kids have any inkling to learn English whatsoever, they'll learn at least a few things; I'm big on repetition, and by acting crazy to explain the words in the first place, they're likely to least have a notion of what a word is in the future.
It takes an enormous amount of energy, I must say. The kindergarten class I had last week was hard enough, but six hours of these kids straight (minus the lunch, of course) takes far more effort than I imagined it would. I'm at school 40 hours a week, but I never teach more than about 3 hours in a row. Here, it's an all-day ordeal after a week with no days off. I complain, but in all honesty it's quite a fun experience.
After lunch, the kids are fairly knackered and can't be asked to focus on any hard-learning. The other two teachers and I plan something for them to do that's hands-on and not necessarily verbally English-intensive. Last week, we had them decorate Christmas trees (which put me out of 500 baht-the company didn't provide them), and I forced them to repeat colors and words for various items as they decorated them.
This week, we had them make Christmas cards. Sure, they probably have no idea what the words we told them to write on the cards meant, but I must say: just as I've said before, Thai kids seem to be the most artistic of any I've seen. I was highly impressed by the creativity and artsy-quality of the cards from all three classes, but especially mine... considering they're not the most behaved kids. They're not bad, but the fact that they were so rambunctious during the first three hours made it quite incredulous that they sat almost in silence and worked like madmen on Christmas cards for two hours.
There's something you could never do in the States. Christmas-related things aren't exactly smiled upon, and the fact that we were listening to Christmas music the whole time would certainly have sent a few U.S. parents over the edge. I'm not particularly a Christmas person myself, but I do think it's good to expose the Thai children to the highlight of the Western world's year.
All in all, they're great kids, and even greater for putting up with a class for their entire Sunday each week!
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I'm not sure it has anything to do with Thailand or teaching in general, really; to me, it's all about your personal outlook on life. You can choose to take things in stride, or your can choose to be angry about every little hiccup in life.
Personally, it takes far too much energy to be angry or upset all of the time. But I say, hey... if it makes you happy, go for it.
Certainly understand here that I'm not saying these particular individuals whom I work with are bad people or bad teachers; I'm just saying it's my first experience being around a touch of negativity. It's certainly nothing to write home about, so to say.
Keeps life interesting, eh?
By Sam, Bangkok, Thailand (16th December 2012)
"The very negative types appear to be over-represented amongst middle-aged male English teachers in Thailand.
I have no idea exactly why this is"
There must be an article in this topic Jack. My own theory (for what it's worth) is that there's an underlying element of 'paradise very quickly lost' where Thailand and trying to survive as a teacher on a teacher's wage are concerned.
The Pattaya Beach Road 'hello sexy man' syndrome can soon fade when your laundry lady ruins one pair of trousers too many, you can't get a taxi in the rainy season and you realise that a weekend break can swallow half a month's salary.
Sit around and bitch and moan on internet forums. It's free!
By philip, (12th December 2012)
"I think it’s unfair to single out ajarn.com as a unique platform for teacher whining. You go on any Thailand-focused teacher discussion forum and the vast majority of threads set out to complain about the TEFL business here or to knock Thailand in general."
I agree, and one does not have to go online to be exposed to the negativity. It can be found throughout Bangkok wherever middle-aged male English teachers congregate.
Maybe it is just my impression, but I have not experienced the same level of negativity in English teachers in other countries, or other expats in Thailand or other locations. In fact on average, expats seem to be some of the most adventurous, ambitious and interesting people one could ever want to meet.
Of course there are a variety of types of people in every profession and location, but the very negative types appear to be over-represented amongst middle-aged male English teachers in Thailand.
I have no idea exactly why this is (or is it just a false impression on my part?) and frankly cannot even hazard a guess. This seems like one of life’s unsolvable mysteries. Thailand is one of the world’s favorite tourist locations yet so many middle-aged male English teachers who have decided to live here seem so miserable.
Teaching English is not a highly paid occupation, but on average it involves lower levels of stress than most other ways to make a living. It doesn’t seem to be an occupation which would drive people into severe depression, but maybe I am missing something.
Is it the English teaching profession in LOS attracts negative people or does it turn people into whiners and complainers?
By Jack, In a nice comfy chair (12th December 2012)
"Anyway, I have enjoyed Sam’s first few blog posts and hopefully he will continue to provide an alternative view to the “let me tell you what is wrong with Thailand” blogs, letters and comments which continue to a common feature of the site, year after year after year"
It's the nature of the beast though Jack. I think it's unfair to single out ajarn.com as a unique platform for teacher whining. You go on any Thailand-focused teacher discussion forum and the vast majority of threads set out to complain about the TEFL business here or to knock Thailand in general.
I don't think there are many teachers who come home and think "wow! that was a fantastic day in the classroom. Let me log-on to my regular forum and tell everyone how brilliant it was"
Human nature. Eat a great meal at a restaurant and you'll tell two people. Eat an awful meal and you'll tell ten.
By philip, (11th December 2012)
"But I had heard that many expats who end up in Thailand have a tendency to become habitual complainers and a bit jaded after a while. Well, I've finally found some."
From my personal experience, I would change expats to English teachers here. Avoiding the middle-aged constantly-complaining English teacher in Bangkok is a well practiced skill of most expats (and many locals) living in the city. However, I have not seen the same tendency of other expats, whether retirees, missionaries, diplomats or business owners, towards bitterness and a need to share one’s misery with everyone else within earshot. I am not sure why this seems to be the case, maybe a good topic for a future blog article.
Anyway, I have enjoyed Sam’s first few blog posts and hopefully he will continue to provide an alternative view to the “let me tell you what is wrong with Thailand” blogs, letters and comments which continue to a common feature of the site, year after year after year.
"All in all, they're great kids" Nice idea to keep in mind, even if some are not great students, they are probably still great kids.
By Jack, Someplace Nice (11th December 2012)